Luscious sips of the sea perfectly made to be savored with cocktails
A biker bar is where bikers gather. A gay bar brings in gay people wanting a drink. And a beach bar is for people coming in off the sand.
So, what is it with oyster bars?
A cocktail lover may claim the world is his oyster, but an oyster bar will not be his world. Or as Oscar Wilde once wrote, “The world is my oyster, but I used the wrong fork.”
Truth in advertising should insist many of these places be called oyster beer halls rather than bars. Not only do oysters not gather in these places to down a few drinks, a whole lot of oyster bars don’t even serve cocktails.
The sad part is that oysters, these luscious sips of the ocean, are perfectly made to be savored and enjoyed with well-paired cocktails. While many people insist that wine is an oyster’s best match, the right cocktail can better enhance the salty, vegetal flavor of a fresh oyster or sharpen the spicy, tangy bite of a fried one.
With oysters, there’s also more than just pairing a drink with them. They can dive right in and be part of the drink.
Almost a decade ago, famed Houston restaurateur and chef Elouise Adams Jones, better known as the Ouisie of Ouisie’s Table, found herself with an abundance of freshly shucked oysters from a luncheon at her restaurant.
Unable to bring herself to dispose of or cook the delicious delicacies, and with a cocktail party planned for just a few hours later, she came up with a pearl of an idea.
Calling in her bartender, the two went to work. They sipped and tasted, tossed out and started again. With less than an hour before the cocktail party, the raw oysters were slipped into the freezer, martini glasses were chilled and cocktail shakers stood in a row.
Into each glass went a slightly frozen oyster, the bottom of each dabbled with a few drops of Tabasco sauce. Over this was poured an even mixture of Bombay Sapphire Gin and Absolut Vodka. And then, for the grand finale, a queen-sized olive stuffed with Stilton cheese was plopped into it. The Ouisie’s Table Oyster Martini was born and lives on today.
Bombarded with compliments for both her creativity and the drink at that party, Jones replied, “It’s not just that I like martinis, I also like my oysters sterilized.”
Freshly opened oysters and martinis have a natural connection, said Tom Tollett, owner of Tommy’s Restaurant Oyster Bar, 2555 Bay Area Blvd.
“Oysters have kind of a mineral taste to them and that fits just perfect with vodka,” he said. “You think of the brine in the olives, well the oyster brine can be one step above that in a dirty martini.”
When Shaw’s Crab House in Chicago celebrated its 30th anniversary last year, it challenged a number of bartenders to create cocktails that best paired with different kinds of oysters from all coasts. The drinks were incredibly creative as well as instructive.
As with mixing any cocktail, bitter flavors always offset salty ones, so many oyster-paired cocktails began with a smoky scotch such as Laphroaig Islay or the wickedly biting Scandinavian aquavits. These cocktails were always topped off with a splash of bitters or, taking something usually served after a meal to the beginning, dashes of herbal digestifs.
While oysters may not drink at oyster bars, they do often get sauced.
Those sauces, usually horseradish-laden tomato mixtures, point directly at another popular cocktail, the bloody mary.
“Bloody marys are great with oysters,” Tollett said. “One thing we offer at Tommy’s is a small glass of our own bloody mary that comes served with a freshly shucked oyster on the side. Very popular.”
Almost all seafood goes with citrus, and almost any citrus goes with a cocktail, so if one thinks this through, another whole world of oyster cocktails opens up.
Angela Clark, manager of the Black Pearl Oyster Bar & Grille, 327 23rd St. in Galveston’s downtown, introduced a drink she knew would go with her dining spot’s oyster dishes, but even she was a bit surprised at how her clientele quickly took to it.
Called the Calypso Punch, the drink is a mixture of peach schnapps, Malibu Rum, pineapple juice, orange juice and a few drops of grenadine. Once shaken and poured, it’s topped with a bit of Bacardi 151 Rum that’s left to float in the drink.
“It’s our absolute best seller,” Clark said. “It goes with raw oysters, fried and oyster gumbo. You name it. Everyone loves it.”
Anyone who has eaten and loved a chocolate-covered pretzel or a dark chocolate bar with sea salt, knows that salt and sweet are not opposed to joining forces, so Clark’s inclusion of not one, but two rums is no surprise. And of course, is there another alcohol around today that has such a long history of being at sea than rum? Hello? Pirates. Rum. Pearls.
Rum brings a variety of flavors to the table, from chocolate to cinnamon and with just enough bitterness to complement the saltiness of the oyster. In fact, two years ago in London, several hundred oyster lovers gathered one evening for a complete meal of oysters, prepared in a variety of ways, and all paired with some half dozen Caribbean rums.
Of course, it is a diverse world. There are, surprisingly, people who do not and will not ever like oysters, having them neither in a drink nor with one. Novelist Paul Neilan deadpanned, “The world is your oyster. Too bad you’re allergic to shellfish.”
Even more direct was Anne Ursu, author of “The Shadow Thieves,” who wrote, “What’s so great about the world being your oyster? Does that mean it’s really hard to open, and when you do, you have something slimy and gross on the inside?”
Some people should avoid oyster bars.
Recipe created by Black Pearl Oyster Bar & Grille
¾ ounce peach schnapps
1½ ounces Malibu Rum
2 ounces pineapple juice
2 ounces fresh squeezed orange juice
3 to 4 dashes of grenadine
1½ ounce Bacardi 151 Rum
Pour the first five ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake, then strain over ice into a cocktail glass. Carefully float the rum into the drink. Garnish with orange peel or fresh fruit.