The Perfect Order at Oakland’s Snail Bar (Drink Pairings Included)
As soon as chef-owner Andres Giraldo Florez opened doors in the summer of ‘21 to Snail Bar, his natural wine bar and bottle shop on Shattuck Avenue in Temescal, the team quickly garnered praise both locally and nationally, with the lines to match. Here, you’ll find small plates prepared with finesse, deliciously quaffable natural wines, and an unmatched vibe that makes patrons want to take their time, sip slowly, and linger a little bit longer than normal.
“The name comes from really wanting a place where people can slow down, eat, and share good times,” says Florez, who has spent a majority of his culinary career in fine dining restaurants like Mugaritz and Saison. Here, he wanted to create something a little less precious and more accessible, while still maintaining the same high standards of cooking, wine, and service. “We go to the market twice a week and purchase the same ingredients as any of the Michelin-starred restaurants — we pay attention to what’s in season,” says Florez. “We make things in a way where people can resonate with it but we can still be adventurous and unexpected with our cooking.”
Chances are that if you’ve tried to visit, you might have had to deal with the long lines and wait for a table. But fret not: Snail Bar is now on Resy. Below is a deep dive into some of the menu mainstays — a perfect order, if you will, whether you’re visiting for the first time or for the 11th time. Right this way.
“We figured, given the name, we should probably have snails on the menu,” says Florez. He sources escargot from Burgundy that he pipes with a compound butter made with garlic confit, shallots, and cashew miso from Shared Cultures. It all then goes into an oven until bubbling. “The cashew miso reminds me of the mixture of butter and Parmesan cheese, so there’s this nice crust akin to parm, and there’s a little funkiness,” explains Florez. Each snail is topped with a thin slice of kumquat (currently it’s mandarinquat since it’s in season) to brighten and lift the dish, and the dish is served with a sesame and pumpkin seed levain from Acme.
Recommended pairing: “Maybe Domaine de Bichery Champagne — it’s made from pinot noir. It has high minerality but also has this fresh strawberry tartness that will cut through all the fat.”
Snail Bar often features an array of fresh shellfish with unique preparations available à la carte. But when each sea creature is in season and available simultaneously, best to go with the petit plateau, which features a smaller portion of each selection on an iced platter. You’ll typically find mussels that are chilled and marinated with smokey, whipped, embered crème fraîche; briny, plump kusshi oysters served with a honey vinegar gelée, pink peppercorn and lime vinaigrette; and a scallop crudo with an ajo blanco puree along with passion fruit and citrus marigold. Sometimes there’ll be geoduck, sometimes you’ll find mahogany clams — but you’ll always find deliciousness.
Recommended Pairing: “I’d probably go chardonnay — something like Alex and Olivier De Moor. It’s a white Burgundy — it’s a little high in minerality, a little salty, a little rich, and it has good acid. It touches all bases of how we’d want to complement the shellfish.”
The crudité typically features several seasonal vegetables that are spritzed with a mixture of shiro dashi with lemon juice to add a savory note. The vegetables are cut into bite-size portions and served with a dip made of koji soy sauce, Kewpie, rice wine vinegar, and ogo seaweed — a type of purple seaweed with plenty of oceanic salinity. Currently, the vegetables are pea tendrils, fava leaves, kohlrabi, carrots, and boiled fingerling potatoes (the latter is not raw, but brings a lot to the plate, notes Florez). Come summertime, there might be tomatoes, baby squash, zucchini blossoms, cucumbers and radish flowers. “California is known for its seasonal bounty when it comes to vegetables, and the best way to display this was to serve them in the most honest form with a dip that makes it feel like you’re eating French fries and mayo,” says Florez.
Recommended Pairing: “Something fun like a Pet-Nat would be cool. Something like Jordi Llorens — Ancestral de la Cristina. The grape is Macabeo from Catalunya in Spain. It’s a really fun wine — it’s minerally like a Chablis but its got this citrusy quality and its also very salty because of the vineyard’s proximity to the sea — it’s complex and bright enough for the vegetables but can also counteract the richness from the dip.”
Ham and Cheese Sandwich
“A ham and cheese sandwich is my favorite dish in the world. I figured if I’m going to open a restaurant that’s true to who I am, I need to have it on the menu, and I need to make the best version I could possibly make,” says Florez.
And that he did. Florez blends two alpine cheeses: Comté for nuttiness and Gruyère for its meltability. He prefers King’s Hawaiian for the bread: “It’s very rich, has a touch of sweetness, and it holds really well,” explains Florez. He spreads dijonaisse — a mix between Dijon and Kewpie — on both sides, then adds sliced French bistro ham. “It’s definitely on the fattier side of ham — it has good fat content and connective tissue.” He sears the entire thing on a panini press then bakes until the cheese is runny on the sides. It’s served with a few pickled peppers on the side that are to cut through all the richness in between bites.
Recommended pairing: “I would say a Savagnin from Bénédicte and Stéphane Tissot. They’re winemakers from the Jura. This wine is stylistically a very rich and oxidative wine. But it still has the crisp apple minerality. Caramelized brown butter with oxidative wine is kinda like a match made in heaven.”
For dessert, Snail Bar makes a custard with sake kasu (a byproduct of the sake making process) sourced from a local sake maker. “We do it because I met Yoshi from Den Sake, and I really enjoyed his sake,” says Florez. “He showed me the amount of sake lees that he has around, and I thought of using it for a dessert — it was common sense to make custard out of the kasu.” The custard has a mellow melony flavor to it, and is topped with a citrus oil and whatever fruit is in season. Right now it’s kiwis coming from Hayward, but before, they were doing Satsuma mandarin from Brokaw farms.
Recommended pairing: “The Den Sake, of course. Right now we have batch No. 16. It’s very floral and kind of hints of melon.”
Omar Mamoon is a San Francisco-based writer & cookie dough professional. Find him at @ommmar.