Shell Out

What to eat before you tackle the bourbon list

The views at Hard Water, Charles Phan's youngest restaurant on The Embarcadero, are entrancing. We're not just talking about the Bay, but also the shelves of bourbon stacked high above the U-shaped bar.

Erik Adkins, bar director for the Slanted Door family of restaurants, has spent a decade compiling an enviable whiskey collection, especially deep on vintage Van Winkles and Four Roses. Order an ounce ($9) of the spicy, surprisingly savory nine-year-old Willett that Phan and Adkins traveled to Kentucky to select, and it'll come in a tulip-shaped tasting glass with an eyedropper of water alongside.

New Orleans flavors, both classic and modern, dominate the menu. While we aren't as enamored with the seafood gumbo ($20) or rice-flour-dusted fried chicken ($20) as we had hoped, chef de cuisine Melissa Perfit's baked oysters ($22 for 6) merit multiple exclamation marks.

Whether you're tipping the Bienville to your lips to scour the shell of the cream and buttered breadcrumbs, or savoring the chiles and shallots in the Saint Charles, one half-dozen may lead to two.

Along with a Dixie ($10), an Old Fashioned enlivened with Curaçao and crème de menthe.