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There are a number of types of restaurants that St. Louis doesn't really have: The avant donut bakery. The Japanese noodle shop. The, erm, crème brûlée truck (seriously!). How ‘bout the Chinese restaurant with transvestite cabaret? Then there are other sorts of eateries that we do have, but they're as rare as a yarmulke-sighting on The Hill: the pizza-by-the-slice dive, the authentic bagel bakery, the Filipino restaurant on wheels. And, we submit, the seafood shack.
The seafood shack, common enough in parts of Maryland and Louisiana, for instance, is a geographical oddity here. In the landlocked Lou, seafood often becomes a delicacy, a cuisine for "special" nights, that may involve a babysitter, valet parking, and wearing shoes that are not high-tops. In other climes, closer to the saltwater, a simple crab-salad sandwich can be obtained for a reasonable price at a grease pit with a walk-up window.
The point is that when the affable Tuyen Hua, proprietor of the Pho Long, Vietnamese soup shop in U. City's string of strip malls, aka Little Asia, announced he'd be opening a casual seafood bar with an emphasis on cocktails, late hours, and a taste of Asian-inflected Cajun/Creole food, we got excited about an unusual new player in the seafood scene -- and a place where you could, presumably, eat quality seafood without having to genuflect before a pair of saffron-dusted, apricot-scented, truffle-smoked scallops lying lonely on a platter like the exquisitely prized bollocks of Neptune himself.
Joining other decidedly not-fancy local seafood players like the Broadway Oyster Bar and the Gumbo Shop, Hooked Seafood Bar is just a couple doors down from Pho Long, so Hua can literally run from kitchen to kitchen all day, as the hard-working owner is apt to do.
Hooked's interior is cozy (read "on the small side") and unpretentious. Its cocktail menu is positively lascivious. Many of the original libations have a "sexy pirate theme" -- "Sex with the Captain," "Captain's Booty," "Wench's Kiss," and the big offender, "Right Between the Wench's Legs." (That last one, complete with visual aide, aroused -- no pun intended -- a minor kerfuffle.) Many of the drinks are fruity and rum-based, and one of those, the "Buried Treasure," is quite a visual -- it's a shot of Rumple Minze at the bottom of a glass of Bud Light, with a drizzle of Goldschläger coruscating through the beer, and an endpour of Bacardi 151 pooled at the top of the drink and set aflame. There's a buried treasure, sure, but, with apologies to oil derrickmen everywhere, there's a fire on the surface, too.
Appetizers are highlighted by coconut shrimp (below left), dredged in a batter made with local Kräftig beer, and served with a piquant orange-peel marmalade/mustard sauce that's good enough to bottle. Standard iterations taste only of batter and coconut-- judicious use here meant we could actually taste the main component. Other pre-courses include fresh oysters; mussels cooked in Corona-brand beer and a garlic-onion butter; calamari; and "gator bites," alligator meat breaded and fried, with a remoulade sauce made with a bit of horseradish and relish.
The New England clam chowder is generously served with in-the-shell clams in the bowl, too; it's as filling and satisfying as it looks (above right). Notable salads include a "fish salad," which might include salmon (below left) or the fish of the day. Po' boys are made with everything from fried oysters to brisket to fried fish filet to calamari. If you're feeling the N'awlins vibe, swap fried okra for the French fries.
One entree that made an impression was the unusual shrimp and clam miso pasta (above right), made with seafood stock, red miso paste, toasted garlic, basil and tomatoes grown in Hua's garden, and other goodies. It has a complex flavor, one especially appreciated on a lazy Sunday afternoon, when a lingering hangover demands a high-carb, gastric sponge, if you will. Other entrees feature grilled shrimp, scallops, salmon, crab legs, lobster tails, and the catch of the day, which might be mahi mahi, shark, tuna, or swordfish.
So, there are potent cocktails at Hooked, with racy names. There are quality seafood dishes. And every now and then, as in the case of the seafood miso pasta, there is a fusion dish that rewards the adventurous diner.
Perhaps best of all, there is a friendly owner who will demonstrate his kindness by giving first-time customers a complimentary cup of clam chowder to begin their meal. Where Louisiana bonhomie meets Vietnamese industriousness, a seafood bar is born -- in a fried-catfish kind of town.
Hooked Seafood Bar
8613 Olive Blvd.
Tue-Thurs & Sun: 11:30 a.m. to midnight (kitchen open 'til 10 p.m. or so, apps only after that)
Fri-Sat: 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. (kitchen open 'til 10 p.m. apps only after that)
On Facebook: Hooked Seafood Bar