How do you all feel about shellfish? In particular, how do feel about oysters?
Before our visit to Sea Level, we felt pretty good about oysters. After our visit to Sea Level, we are full on oyster fans. Not only did we enjoy a fabulous oyster and wine pairing, we learned a lot about oysters beyond the half shell.
If you want to talk oysters with someone, Sea Level founder Paul Manley is your guy. Paul shared his vision for the restaurant was to create a “bar centric, half-shell business”, and he spent years working with North Carolina watermen to make it a sustainable one. He’s even a member of the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association.
Sea Level partners with fourth and fifth generation watermen to serve a farm-to-table oyster served exclusively in the restaurant. Named after where it is grown and harvested, the house oyster, called the “Sea Level” arrives in Charlotte by way of Nelson Bay near Sea Level, North Carolina.
This is not insignificant. The only other restaurants known to have this type of proprietary relationship to an oyster farm in the United States are in California – Hog Island Oyster Bar – and the Northeast – Island Creek Oyster Bar in Massachusetts and Matunick Oyster Bar in Rhode Island.
Photo credit: @feastandwest
Along with the Sea Level, you will find a variety of oysters grown as far north as New Brunswick, Canada and down along the east coast. A couple of west coast oysters also dot the menu. The oysters we slurped and the wines we sipped during our visit were the:
- Blue Yonder from Duxbury, Massachusetts paired with Louis Roedere Brut Premier champagne
- Sea Level from Sea Level, North Carolina with Cap Cette Picpoul de Pinet
- Snow Hill from Chesapeake Bay, Virginia with Maso Canali Pinot Grigio
- BeauSoleil from New Brunswick, Canada with Miner Viognier
Here in America, we have no shortage of oyster beers (Flying Dog’s Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout is on the menu at Sea Level). In old world regions like France, Spain, and Portugal, traditional “oyster wines” such as Muscadets and Vinho Verdes are made to go with oysters. To pair your oysters and wine, keep in mind that light, delicate, low alcohol wines go best with oysters.
Photo credit: @mflynnpete
Photo credit: @feastandwest
Our tasting did not end with the BeauSoleil. Last but not least, we were presented with the High Roller oyster shooter: a west coast oyster served in a shot of Hendrick’s Gin, brut champagne, and melon juice topped with a cucumber and North Carolina caviar chaser.
Who out there has experienced an oyster shooter? Most, if not all, of us were new to the oyster shooter, but like the foodies we are, handled what Paul called “a level III oyster shooter” like pros.[Aside: We have no idea how many levels of oyster shooters exist. For the sake of this post, we would like to suggest the “level III” is the pinnacle. The High Roller was amazing.]
Although our visit centered around oysters and wine, the farm-to-fork seafood philosophy is a theme throughout the menu. All fish served at Sea Level are line caught or farm raised in North Carolina. The restaurant is also working on securing distribution to add the tasty but invasive Lionfish to its menu, so look for Lionfish tacos soon.
High Roller Oyster Shooter. Photo credit: @feastandwest
Are you familiar with the warning to eat oysters only in months spelled with the letter “r”? Well, that’s a myth. Here are a few other tidbits we learned during our visit to Sea Level.
- A single oyster cleans and filters 50 gallons of water a day.
- The liquid in the oyster is called “liquor.”
- Only one species of oyster, known as the Viginica, is grown along the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico. The taste of the oysters is directly influenced by the different waters in which they are grown. (Three species of oyster are grown on the west coast.)
- Water temperature influences growth. A North Carolina oyster can be harvested every 12-18 months, but an oyster grown off the coast of Canada is harvested every three to five years.
- To grow an oyster, you need an estuary. The shellfish requires brackish water – a mixture of fresh water and salt water – to live.
- We asked Paul why he liked to work with bloggers. His answer: “We all have a voice we can use to push the food scene in Charlotte forward.” Much agreed.
Huge thanks to Paul for sharing his passion. Thanks also to Andrew for pouring delicious wines and to Lucy for her warm hospitality. We loved our visit to Sea Level.
Photo credit: @brichwrites
You can find Sea Level in Hearst Tower, 129 East 5th Street, Charlotte, NC 28202.
Monday – Friday: 11:30 a.m. – midnight
Saturday: 4 p.m. – midnight
Closed on Sundays
Phone: (704) 412-2616
Any errors and omissions about oysters in this post are our own. What can we say? We were taking notes while drinking wine.