Garbo’s has found a devout following in Austin of lobster roll lovers, but that’s not all the purveyor of New England cuisine has to offer.
The North Austin restaurant — which opened last year after owner Heidi Garbo fed a market hungry for fresh lobster served out of a couple of food trucks — expanded into an adjacent wine and oyster bar a couple of months ago. These two make for a classic food and beverage pairing that Garbo’s is exploring in a new way: with a special menu offering that allows you to try one type of oyster with four different types of wine.
For $26, order Garbo’s Oyster & Wine Study, which comes with four of the same oysters paired with four 2 oz. glasses of different wines. The pairing, curated by general manager Alex Ramirez, showcases how the complementary flavors in each can interact and influence each other, some to striking effect. The oysters (and, to a lesser extent, the wine) in the study will change depending on their seasonality and availability; currently, Garbo’s offers raw Wellfleet oysters from the Cape Cod region.
“I think they work as a pairing because they’re similar,” Ramirez says, “in the fact that (the oysters), like wine, taste like where they come from. The idea of terroir. The Wellfleet, for example, comes from inside of the bay at Cape Cod, exposed to nothing but salt water, so they’re going to taste more briny than other oysters.”
He says the oyster and wine pairing originally started as an education tool for the staff, but he realized how fun it could be for customers to also learn how certain flavors in food and drink are covered up or enhanced by their influence. So far, the study has been a big success for the people who have tried it.
It’s important to remember that like other pairings, he says, finding the right wines and oysters to go together is a careful art. That’s why Garbo’s is starting with four oysters and wines but may move to a half-dozen later.
“I think the nature of the oyster, grown on rocks in a shell, gives it a lot of mineral characteristics, and I think wines that pair with them have a lot of mineral characteristics, too,” he says. “Oysters seem to demand wines with good acidity and minerality. Not so heavy and tannic.”
For that reason, rich red wines with the oak and vanilla notes of the barrels they’re aged in don’t pair as well. On the other hand, pairing oysters with light whites or sparkling wine, the bulk of Garbo’s wine list, draws out favorable characteristics in both wine and oyster.
This rule-of-thumb led Ramirez to the first Oyster & Wine Study pairing featuring four Wellfleet oysters and four European wines, in order from driest to sweetest: Flor, a 2013 Prosecco from Italy; Pazo de Galegos, a 2013 Albarino from Spain; Gobelsburger, a 2014 Gruner Veltliner from Austria; and Von Winning, a 2013 Riesling from Germany. (Note that in the study, the oysters come sans sauce to keep the basic pairing flavors intact, although you can pour all the sauce you want onto half-dozen or full-dozen orders.)
The pairing was a marvel. To try it, Ramirez recommends taking a sip of wine first, followed by a slurp of oyster, then another sip of the same wine. The wines change from one sip to the next; the oysters evolve from one pairing to the next.
“Oysters and wine can bring out the minerality of each other,” he says, but they also seem to pull out other notes that aren’t as noticeable at first. The Albarino, for instance, has a briny finish that turned into a soft fruitiness when coupled with the salty oyster, as though “the salt canceled each other out.”
Ramirez’ favorite wine is the Gobelsburger, a taste of which reminds him of hanging out at Pedernales Falls and smelling the rocks that jut up from the water. “Wet river stone, that’s what I pick up in the wine,” he says. The savory element of this Austrian wine complements the umami essence of the oyster, which in turn gives a second sip of the wine an almost meaty quality.
You can enjoy Garbo’s Oyster & Wine Study anywhere in the restaurant, although the wine and oyster bar is certainly an appropriate place to sit. Like the main restaurant space, the bar’s warm nautical-themed decor beckons you seaside, until you almost feel as though you’re dining in New England near the sparkling waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Pair that with oysters and a glass of white wine and you’ll easily forget you’re in a strip mall in the suburbs of North Austin.
Garbo’s, 14735 Bratton Lane. 512-350-9814, garboslobsteratx.com.