Meet Marcelo Amaya, bar manager at Osetra Fishhouse. Born in Columbia and raised in Venezuela, Amaya moved to the States in 2002 to study aviation in New York. For better or worse, though, his career in the stratosphere wasn't all he had hoped for.
"After school, I landed a job as a pilot for a regional airline in Florida," he says. "That only lasted a year, however, because the airline went under."
Fortunately for Amaya, he tended bar in Manhattan between his classes and his time in the sky, thereby providing a parachute of sorts to float to a different line of work.
"In 2010, after visiting lots of friends in San Diego and falling in love with the city, I decided it was time for a new start here," he says.
Since then, Amaya's been offering flights of a different kind at one the Gaslamp's most revered seafood spots.
"I started out as a bartender at Osetra, and about a year later was promoted to bar manager," he says.
Amaya's responsibilities now include designing the restaurant's cocktail menu, creating drink recipes and booking live entertainment for the restaurant. "I also coordinate wine additions with our sommelier," he says.
With more than 3,000 bottles in their inventory, and 20-plus varietals from both Old and New World regions, Osetra has among the best selections of wine in San Diego. And, as if that weren't enough, the venue stepped things up another notch last year when their in-house sommelier began hosting monthly trainings for the staff.
Aside from offering fresh seafood, Osetra also boasts the only wine tower in California. It's climate- controlled to 54 degrees and maintained by winged wine angels, ethereal assistants who fetch bottles from along the tower's edges.
"Customers enjoy watching our angels retrieve the bottles, which are then presented at the table for our sommelier to decant and serve," Amaya says. "The angels bring an element of a Vegas show to the restaurant."
As for Amaya's own altitudinous endeavors, he hasn't abandoned those. "I still fly private planes in S.D. when I am not bartending," he says.
PacificSD: What's your favorite mixed drink at Osetra?
MARCELO AMAYA: The Pin?ata. It's a mix of tequila, house-infused serrano agave, blood orange juice and a float of mezcal. I wanted to create a drink representative of Southern California and its mixed cultures. The Pin?ata perfectly combines spicy, sweet and a little sour.
Is seafood best paired with white wine?
There are no rules for pairing spirits with seafood dishes. Most of Osetra's cocktails are aperitifs, which are meant to open up your appetite and complement most dishes.
Which glass and bottle would you recommend everyone try?
For a glass, I like to recommend the Trimbach pinot blanc. I love this wine, because it pairs well with food, especially seafood. The minerality and firm acidity complement all of our raw-bar selections and most of our entre?es, notably our locally caught swordfish. The bottle I recommend right now is the Faust cabernet sauvignon. It's bright and has ripe, dark-fruit flavors with a tannic structure that carries the fruit through the lingering finish. It reminds our guests that they're in California drinking a sexy California cabernet.
What are your favorite entre?e-plus-wine pairings at Osetra?
I love to recommend our Flowers pinot noir with our Chilean seabass with pomegranate reduction. This pinot has elegant red-fruit and forest floor flavors, balanced with a coastal minerality that pair perfectly. Another great pairing is our Kistler Chardonnay Les Noistiers with our mahi mahi. The richness in the accompanying side dishes, lobster mashed potatoes and green beans with a brown butter based citrus emulsion, pair perfectly with the toasted hazelnut flavors in the wine.
What drink do your patrons order most?
Our top seller is the St. Petersburg. It's a delicious mix of vodka, basil, St. Germain, lemon, simple syrup and champagne.
What are some other drinks trending at Osetra?
Fruit, herb and spice infusions are big. And classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned and the Sazerac are coming back with a twist.
Visit Amaya and his angels during Osetra's late-night happy hour, featuring live music after 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
904 Fifth Ave., Gaslamp