What Bartenders Drink When They’re Slurping Down Oysters

Cold oysters and cold booze—it’s a match made in summer heaven

There really is nothing more perfect than cold oysters on a hot summer evening. And since they’re so light and fresh, these pearls of the sea are versatile enough to pair with most any booze, not just de rigueur champagne. We sought out the bartenders and sommeliers from some of the best restaurants in L.A. for their top picks to sip between slurps of oysters.

Faith & Flower: Sparkling Rose. Sommelier Jared Hooper’s current favorite oyster-enhancing drink is Charles Bove, a sparkling Rose of Gamay and Cabernet Franc, from Touraine in the Loire Valley. “The Bove is just the right bit of rebellious with oysters if you really feel like letting your hair down,” he says. “While the Kumumoto oysters in particular are known for cucumber and fruity notes, (I know, odd for an oyster, right?) it’s the Yuzukosho mignonette in particular, that really deserves and encourages a fuller bodied sparkler like the Charles Bove. That’s not to say a blanc de blanc wouldn’t be welcome at the table, it’s just a great occasion to bring in a funky cousin.”

Hungry Cat's oyster shooters.
Hungry Cat’s oyster shooters.

Photograph courtesy of Hungry Cat

Hungry Cat: Vodka, reposado, sake. The oyster shooters at Hungry Cat aren’t your typical shots of bi-valve and booze. Rather the shot of liquor is served with the oyster on the side. “We want you to taste the oyster!” says General Manager Mari Tuttle. “Chef David Lentz’s food is borderless but takes many cues from his Maryland roots, SoCal living and Asian flavors. We wanted to pair oysters with three distinct spirits that embody those influences. it’s not uncommon to see a table ordering a round of vodka shooters then get a round of tequila shooters and sometimes a round of sake shooters. They’re fun, playful, and dare we say, a little sexy.”

Connie & Ted: Sake. Beverage Director Hoang Nguyen only carries one sake: Jokigen Junmai Ginjo from Yamagata Prefecture. But he only needs the one. Its rustic tendencies and melon and jackfruit notes are delicate but can still stand up to the full body mouthfeel of his oyster picks of Naked Cowboys, Tomahawk, and True Blue Points. “These Ostreidae can be compared to robust men on the flavor scale, whereas the sake would be more of a Misty Copeland, a formidable partner that can weave allegros around them, taming the calcified beast with finesse,” he says.

Republique: Muscadet. Out of the four classic wine pairings, Beverage Director Taylor Parsons prefers Muscadet over Chablis, Sancerre, and Champagne. “My pick of the litter will always be Muscadet, and preferably one that says ‘sur lie’ somewhere on the label,” he says. “It’s affordable, it’s accessible young but ages beautifully if you want it to, and has an impossibly refreshing combination of mineral, rocky coolness and bright acidity. And, because of the unique way it is produced—which involves extended contact with the cloudy sediment produced by fermentation (called lees, hence the sur lie bit)—great Muscadet has a pronounced creaminess in the mouth, which acts as a perfect foil for the racy, lemony acid.”

Upstairs at Ace Hotel: Dry Martini. When Director of Beverages Daniel Sabo thinks oyster he associates its flavors with a classic martini. “The flavors most often associated with them (i.e.: bright salinity on east coast or cucumbers for west coast) are also associated with gin, and bring out its best qualities. And a good floral London Dry martini, being so crisp and clean, really accentuates those flavorful finishes from the oysters.”

Kendall's oysters.
Kendall’s oysters.

Photograph courtesy of Patina Restaurant Group

Kendall’s Brasserie and Bar: Absinthe. The downtown brasserie hosts a “Green Hour” Tuesday through Friday 3 to 5 p.m. and 8 to 10 p.m. where it pairs $1 market-fresh oysters with absinthe. Enjoy the green stuff either from an old fashioned absinthe drips or via cocktails.

Petty Cash: Mezcal. Although mezcal has been growing in popularity, pairing it with oysters is still an underrated culinary experience, according to Bar Program Director Hilary Chadwick. Crazy considering they have similar flavor profiles that are enhanced when paired together. “Generally, briny East Coast oysters demand a mezcal that can stand up to their bold ocean flavor. Espadin is always a good choice (La Nina del Mezcal and El Jolgorio are my go-to’s) with its charred green agave notes,” she suggests. “West Coast oysters tend to be sweeter with a more delicate flavor profile, sometimes highlighted by cucumber or melon. Madrecuixe mezcals (Rey Campero!) lend soft notes of green aloe and cucumber, and Arroqueno (Real Minero if you can find it) can bring incredible banana and clove components.”

Terrine: 50/50. When slurping down Fanny Bays, chase them with sips of a 50/50 martini, says Head Bartender Ryan Wainwright. “Fanny Bays are soft on brine and big on cucumber finish…you need something to play off the finish, not increase ocean fishiness and build flavor so the next oyster you eat is bright not heavy.” Give it a try during Terrine’s $1 oyster hour Tuesday through Thursday, 5:30 to 7 p.m.