First thing that comes to mind is an ice cold beer, right? A little savvy? Prosecco or Sauvignon Blanc. Savvier? Chablis or Sancerre. Oh, you know your shit? Vinho Verde, Hendricks Martini or maybe a Muscadet. I’m the first to admit that my wine knowledge is minimal, at best. But, I do know my "oystas." And knowing that, I can tell you straight, there is no perfect beverage pairing for the crass and almost “phrenologic” generalizations about oysters. Oysters, like their wine pairing partners, are as diverse as can be. They're like you and your local high school rivals. Much the same but oh so shockingly different at the same time. Having recently tested many Oyster wine pairings for an event we're holding at the end May, I can tell you that it’s hard. Very hard. However, we found some amazing matches and some demystifying conflictions. Honestly, whatever tastes best to you, drink it. That’s what matters in the end. Although, some suggestions may be able to guide you along.
Wine is too hard. Too much. Too ubiquitous. Too many possibilities and intricacies. I will certainly post a few what-I found-to-be-magical pairings, but I’m saving those guys for the event in May. I'm new to SF, and still learning about wines. I just know that having had two of the exact same varietals and tasting drastic differences when paired with Oysters is testament to how nuanced it really is. I’d rather leap out the gates strong. No messing about. Scotch & Oysters. Can I get a Stuart Scott “BOOYA.”
Bunnahabhain 12 Year Old & Bruichladdich 12 Year Old
Both of these whiskeys are made on Islay. Bunnahabhain on the Northeastern side and Bruichladdich in the Southwestern Inlet. I know I'd be flogged, maybe even drawn and quartered, by the creators of these for having lumped them together, but I feel they both carry much of the same flavors. Both are very light on the nose, have a mild peatiness, almost driftwood muskiness, and that familiar Islay brine up front. All the better, they finish with a lemon pith and grassy hint. If that doesn't say Oyster pairing to you, I don't know what does. Celebrate these Scottish sensations with the more strongly flavored of Oysters. The European Flats jump right into mind. Belons are certainly for the more daring oyster eater, but their strong iodine and coppery notes dance beautifully with these Scotches, especially up front. Olympias play nicely, as do those musky Washington Skookums and Steamboats.
Scapa 8 Year Old & Highland Park's 8 Year Old MacPhail's Collection
Scapa is teetering on the cusp of even being called a Scotch. There is practically no smokiness whatsoever to it. This is due to the lack of peat in the distillation process. What you do get is an intense Atlantic brine and hints of sour apple. It's an Island Scotch, but not an Islay Scotch. It's made on the Northern Scotland Orkney Islands, one of only two major distilleries on the Islands, the other being the latter in the title. Both of these Scotches deliver strong on the ocean saltiness (exactly what I'm looking for to pair with oysters). I'll be honest on the Highland Park. I have not had the chance to sample it with Oysters, only on its own. But something tells me with with its nice brine up front and orange peel finish, it's definitely a major player. Stick close to the Rhode Island Oysters with these treasures. A Moonstone or a Ninigret Cup works perfectly with these Scotches. Both come through with a nice mineral lemon finish, pairing wonderfully with the Scapa. Even the mild New Brunswick Oysters like French Kiss and Beausoleil go nicely.
It's certainly going against the grain, pairing Scotch & Oysters. But, they are two of my greatest passions. And I've found that these particular couples ring true.
Hog & Rocks
19th Street between Mission and Lexington
I went to Hog & Rocks Monday night, after my first post, and again last Wednesday. Honestly, I heard about it from eavesdropping on a couple walking behind me talking about it. The concept of this place is awesome. Few things pair better than cured pig and shellfish, and this place is testament to that (sorry kosher-keepers). I mean, bacon is addictive, literally. It plays with the same receptors heroin does. And thrown together with some succulent bivalves, it’s hard to beat. Bacon wrapped prawns, paella, jambalaya, prosciutto wrapped scallops, gumbo, clams casino, Oysters Rockefeller, bacon-laden chowders. The list can go on and on. It's a pretty fail-safe combo.
The bar itself is pretty nice. Fairly wide booze selection, dim but not dark lighting, family style tables, music is noticeable but doesn't hinder conversation. There are even some interesting "food porn" photos on the walls. I'm not restaurant/bar critic, but I think it's a pretty cool spot. A nice escape from the hipster infested 18th and Valencia area. Seriously, living in the Mission, if I see another skinny jean Sanskrit or Japanese tattoo combo, I might lose my shit. Ride your single gears back to Wisconsin and talk about nihilism and vampire-punk bands there. I'm actually writing this at the Haus Coffee House in Mission, so I've got a lot of fodder. Twenty bucks says the barista has a liberal arts degree from Middlebury or something and is more than happy to share her feelings on Eugene Debs or Sylvia Plath. Go ahead and "consume more cool" guys. Anyway, Hog & Rocks is a place where you could bring a nice date and also a place where three Harley bikers could comfortably hang out (they were at my family table next to me).
First thing I noticed were the $9 beer and shot pairings. Sold. Any place that has boilermaker deals is good by me. Plus, if you order a second, it’s only $5. Two beers and two shots for $14. My dad's from Pittsburgh, so it's in the blood. I ordered the Stout and Jameson (Stout and Oysters are a classic Irish pairing...
...coming up May 14th...case and point)
The menu consists of some clever and trendy offal dishes, pickled and charcuterie jars, and your standard wings, fish & chips, etc. Of course I wasn't there for these things, though.
They have separate menu you specifically mark and hand to the server for which oysters and hams you want and the portion size. They seem to keep a selection of five hams and six oysters on the menu consistently, which is a sign of commitment to, well, it is the name of the place so they better be committed. I imagine, and hope, that seasonality dictates the varieties they carry. Hams can also have a terroir to them, like Oysters. Depending on the aging process and location (like the caves of Andalucia, Spain), flavors can change immensely. I'm not a Salumi Nerd, though. I do know that standard American Hams are quite embarrassing when compared to most European Hams. France, Spain, and Italy all define their hams by aging processes and appellations. We, on the other hand, define ours by percentage of protein and the amount of water added. It's more like ham product than actual ham. However, conscious and artisan ham producers are on the rise in the States. The Hog & Rocks hams were very tasty, topped with some traditional and not-so-traditional accoutrements. I had a Monte Nevado Spanish Serrano with an extra virgin olive oil drizzle and parmesan, San Daniele Italian Prosciutto with fig and balsamic, and a spicy Iowan Picante by La Quercia with roasted pineapple. All were excellent, but I don't think I've ever had a bad artisan ham.
Now, the important part. They had the following served with the traditional mignonette of red wine vinegar, macerated shallots, and cracked pepper.
Hood Canals from Washington, USA
Cranberry Creeks from Washington, USA
Malaspina from British Columbia, Canada
Beausoleil from New Brunswick, Canada
Kusshi, British Columbia, Canada
Point Reyes, California, USA
I ordered two of each, except the Hood Canals. It's a generic name for Oysters from, well, Hood Canal, Washington and I've shucked enough to know that the quality, size, and flavor is inconsistent and often poor. They're pretty mass produced and you know how quality vs. quantity goes.
I'd had each before, except the Malaspina. Beasoleils were on point. It's a mild, shallow-cupped, high liquor for its size, medium salinity and minerality Oyster that always pleases. Even has a nice freshly baked bread aroma to it. It's a great starter Oyster, if you're a beginner. Cranberry Creeks were tasty as well.
The Kusshis were definitely a few sub-par ones the first time around but perfectly delicious on the second round. This could have been from time spent in the walk in, genetics, or environment. Some Oysters just aren't quite as blessed as others, my mother would probably say. Doesn't mean they're bad, just means they're not spectacular. Also, West coast Oysters tend to deteriorate and die much more quickly than East coast oysters due to a weaker adductor muscle. So, keep this in mind when buying retail Oysters at a fish market. East coast Oysters can live up to a month if properly maintained, while West coasts I wouldn't push past two weeks. Does this mean Oysters are an analogy for the U.S. coastal wars? For which has more strength, prowess, resilience, or any other complimentary adjective you want to throw at it? Being from Philly, I'm going to say yes. Or they're just a bunch of assholes that won't tap out. Whatever vantage point works for you.
Back to the Kusshi, though. They're usually an excellent new try if you're a Kumamoto or bust person. They're fascinating little beasts as well. Grown in suspension bags and then literally tumbled in a sort of rock tumbler so they develop stronger and deeper shells. This makes it sweet, clean, crisp, and with a citrus finish. Comparable in size and cup depth to the Kumamoto. Hog & Rocks just didn't deliver on this one the first time around. They most certainly did on the second, though. But hey, I've put a few not %100 amazing oysters out. It's not a deal breaker for a place.
Point Reyes. Okay, here's where I did have an issue. Granted Point Reyes is another generic name for Oysters, but you're a Californian Oysterbar, with one California oyster. I'm fine with that. There are many better oysters out there than Californian ones, quite frankly. Sorry CA, but you've already got plenty more going for you. However, some people stay latched to that "well, we're in California, so the Californian Oysters must be best." Freshness by locale is a major misnomer these days. The freshness of a product depends on the restaurant and its turnover. As in a sushi bar or a seafood market, stick to the more popular places for Oysters. The higher the turnover of product, the fresher it's going to be. Certainly, the purveyor is important, but most quality establishments are getting their products to market and then to restaurant within 36 hours. Even in San Francisco, a Cape Cod Oyster can be fresher than a Tomales Bay Oyster, depending on the situation.
My issue with the Point Reyes Oysters I was given was that they were poorly shucked and creamy. They were cut right through on opening with the gut exposed. Creaminess can be nice sometimes, but when it's to the degree where the Oyster is clearly spawning or about to, don't serve it. It's a bad sign when your flagship Californian Oysters are not culled properly when shucking.
Now, the thing that eclipsed all else was the Malaspina Oyster from British Columbia. Apparently these Oysters are grown in a secluded bay with practically no residents, far north of Vancouver. Suspect, at best. Oompa-Loompas must have a hand in crafting these little Wonkalicious delights. It was one of the best Oysters I've had in a long time. Many Oyster descriptions claim hints of watermelon, but this one truly has it. Medium cupped but full, plump and juicy, little to no brine with wonderfully overwhelming flavors of watermelon. Okay, so it's not like sucking on a Now & Later or Jolly Rancher. But seriously. An Oyster that tastes like watermelon? Pretty awe-inspiring in my opinion. Hog & Rocks did shuck and present these beauties perfectly, as well. This was the first time I've seen this Oyster, and, seriously, on a free night, I may just call local raw bars to see if they have it and base my dining choice on that. I also recently had Evening Coves, from the same Vancouver Island region. They, too, magically had this watermelon hint to them.
All in all, Hog & Rocks was a nice dining experience. Hams, drinks, and most Oysters were excellent. Servers were very friendly and attentive. It's a nice change up from the traditional Swan's or Hog Island raw bar experience, and one of the few places you can get your Oyster-fix just shy of midnight. Plus, we must not forget, few to no hipsters.
I've got an Oyster Wine Pairing event coming up on May 23rd, as I mentioned before. The advert has yet to be made, but will be shortly. You can be sure that's what I'll be following with on the blog. And, as always, please tell me new places to try.
The SF Oyster Nerd