Monterey Jazz: a feast for the senses, balm for the soul

For three glorious nights and two days every year in September, the jazz center of the world isn’t New York City, Paris or New Orleans, but the dusty Monterey Fairgrounds. World class jazz musicians and their fans have been making the annual pilgrimage to Monterey for 53 years. The music commences on Friday night at four venues concurrently—two indoors, two outside—and continues on Saturday and Sunday from noon until after midnight. It’s impossible to hear everything. The quality and abundance of the music, enhanced by intimate interviews and a day devoted to youth bands, make Monterey one of the best jazz festivals anywhere.

But there’s more to Monterey Jazz than simply the sum of its many parts. Over the years, the artists have forged a rare bond with music lovers, many of whom have attended the festival for decades. Performing in Dizzy’s Den with guitar virtuosos Russell Malone and Romero Lubambo, jazz chanteuse Dianne Reeves (pictured) beamed that she felt so comfortable, it seemed as if she was performing in her living room. Needless to say, Reeves captivated the packed house with her inimitable phrasing and intimate personal anecdotes.

The Monterey Jazz Festival spans the jazz spectrum, with veterans like the perpetually youthful octogenarian drummer Roy Haynes and pianists Chick Corea and Ahmad Jamal mingled with talented young rising stars, showcased on Friday. Few in the audience knew quite what to expect from the quixotic Nellie McKey, dressed in a bright yellow thrift store frock and channeling Doris Day (her most recent album, “Normal as Blueberry Pie,” is a tribute to Doris). Alternately disarming and provocative, McKey was entirely mesmerizing, seamlessly mixing her Doris Day repertoire (“The Very Thought of You,” “Crazy Rhythm,” “Wonderful Guy”) with jaw-dropping ditties of her own, like “Mother of Pearl” (“Feminists don’t have a sense of humor…”). Remarkable and unforgettable.
Some jazz appeals to the intellect, but certain styles, like New Orleans jazz, are more visceral and challenge you not to move and tap your feet. Troy Andrews, aka Trombone Shorty, brought the Big Easy to Monterey in all its many musical flavors. Shorty gives his forebears like Professor Longhair their due, but also expresses what’s current in the bubbling gumbo of the Crescent City, stirring infectious funk and rhythm and blues tastefully into the heady mix. Shorty’s enthusiasm and his tight band had the jam-packed Garden Stage rocking—literally from our shaky perch on the aluminum bleachers.

Jazz fans need to fortify themselves for the long afternoons and evenings of music, and Monterey has plenty to offer, from Korean barbecue, fried chicken wings and fried catfish and barbecued ribs to funnel cakes and cinnamon buns made onsite. The sights and smells of the food court are almost irresistible. For the past few years, North Coast Brewery has been the exclusive beer vendor, and their beer is exceptional: Scrimshaw Pilsner, Red Seal Ale and Brother Thelonious Belgian-style ale are a tasty match with the diverse foods at the Monterey Jazz Festival food stalls. Brother Thelonious, for example, was unexpectedly delicious with a chewy cookie infused with dried cranberries. Co-owner Tom Allen and brew master Mark Ruedrich were on hand to discuss their beer.
Certainly the emphasis of Monterey Jazz is on the excellent music, but there’s more to the festival than that. It’s a consistent and reliable celebration of the human spirit, camaraderie and joie de vivre that’s more than welcome in our trying times.

Celebrate 200 years of beer at Oktoberfest by the Bay

This year marks the bicentennial of perhaps the most popular beer festival in the world. Oktoberfest began on Oct. 12, 1810, when Prince Ludwig of Bavaria (later crowned King Ludwig I) shared the celebration of his marriage to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen with his subjects. Some 40,000 people attended the first Oktoberfest, which was highlighted by a horse race, an agricultural show and lots of beer.
Little did Ludwig know that people would still be hoisting festive steins 200 years later. Still held at the original site in Munich, Oktoberfest has mushroomed into a 16-day bacchanalia celebrated in brewery-sponsored beer halls that can hold 5,000 people. Last year, 5.7 million visitors swarmed 14 huge tents, drank 6.5 million liters of beer and consumed 111 oxen. Munich police reported 759 "beer corpses": people who had drunk themselves into oblivion. People come from all over the world to celebrate Bavarian culture, food and, most of all, beer. (You can follow the countdown here.)
If you can’t make it to Munich this year, you can still salute Ludwig's largesse and all things German at Pier 48 from Sept. 23-26 at Oktoberfest by the Bay, now in its 11th year. Unlike other Oktoberfest tributes, which are often just an excuse to drink Bud Light and eat hot dogs, Oktoberfest by the Bay re-creates an authentic German Oktoberfest experience. “The key is in the details,” said Dan McPhee, executive producer of Oktoberfest by the Bay. The sights, sounds, tastes and aromas all pay homage to the Bavarian festival.
In the beer tent, sponsored by Spaten, people will sit at the same tables and benches they’d be sitting on at the Spaten tent in Munich, McPhee said. They’ll also be drinking Spaten’s refreshing Franziskaner Hefeweizen, Spaten Pils and Premium (Munich Helles), and the seasonal Marzen, the only style served during the German celebration. The menu will feature Oktoberfest fare like sausages and sauerkraut, chicken roasted on site and Schweinshaxn (pig’s knuckle).

What better way to work off that Schweinshaxn and Marzen than a lively polka with The Nature Friends Schuhplattler dancing group, propelled by the 24-piece Chico Bavarian Band? “Involvement is encouraged,” McPhee said. If your feet are happy but your sense of rhythm is sad, the Nature Friends will help you work out your steps.
McPhee said that the experience at Oktoberfest by the Bay will be different depending on which day you go. Friday and Saturday nights will be more raucous (and probably more similar to the celebration in Munich), while Sunday will be more of a family day featuring a parade celebrating the 121st anniversary of German Heritage Day in San Francisco by the United German-American Societies of San Francisco and Vicinity Inc. (UGAS-SF).
Even though Oktoberfest by the Bay celebrates German heritage, McPhee said the event draws people from all cultures and from all over the Bay Area looking to have a good time.
Oktoberfest by the Bay outgrew its original digs in Fort Mason and last year settled into the more spacious 200,000-square foot hall at Pier 48, near AT&T Park. Although parking will be available, the organizers encourage people to take public transportation. Last year’s event drew around 45,000 people, which is quite an achievement considering that the organizers were initially unsure if the event would take off. “We didn’t know if people would do something as goofy as the chicken dance,” McPhee said.
It turns out that “goofy” and San Francisco go together remarkably well. So get out your lederhosen and tracht and your dirndel, kick it with some polka, and raise a glass of Spaten to Prince Ludwig, a true beer visionary.

Oktoberfest by the Bay
Thursday, Sept. 23 and Friday, Sept. 24 from 5 p.m.-midnight
Saturday, Sept. 25, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and 6 p.m.-midnight
Sunday, Sept. 26, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
21 and over on Friday and Saturday nights

Pier 48
Tickets are $30, except on Thursday, when tickets are $25
Check the Web site for ticket discounts

Other Bay Area German bars will also host Oktoberfest celebrations.
On Sept. 18, Gourmet Haus Staudt in Redwood City kicks off Oktoberfest with polka, beer and brats in the parking lot behind the bar. Chances are, Oktoberfest Marzen will be featured, but Gourmet Haus never fails to amaze me with their selection of German beer.

Gourmet Haus Staudt Gifts &Cafe
2615 Broadway St
Redwood City, CA 94063
(650) 364-9232

Food trucks and craft beer converge at Eat Real

The Eat Real Festival in Oakland celebrates (primarily) regional, sustainable food, much of it dispensed from the food trucks that have become a ubiquitous highlight of our Bay Area culinary landscape. Now in its third year, Eat Real, held last weekend, continues to get bigger and better. More than 100,000 people were expected to flock to Jack London Square to enjoy small plates of food from nearly 100 vendors. Live music and food demonstrations entertained the throng as people lined up for buns from Chairman Bao, pork on flat bread from Chop Bar, lobster rolls from Sam’s Chowdermobile, paella from Gerard’s and a lot more.
Beer from local breweries was also featured in a “beer shed” with craft beer from the East Bay (Pyramid, Trumer Pils, Pacific Coast, Linden Street, Triple Rock, Drakes, Ale Industries, Black Diamond); the north (Lagunitas, Anderson Valley, Bear Republic, Iron Springs, Marin Brewing, North Coast, Eel River); San Francisco (21st Amendment, Social Kitchen & Brewery, ThirstyBear, Beach Chalet, Speakeasy, Magnolia, Anchor); and Sacramento (Ordonata, Rubicon).
In addition, the beer shed featured guest brewers like Brian Thorsen from Drakes, who was pouring the San Leandro brewery’s excellent 1500 pale ale. Other standouts included Ordonata’s delicious saison, a Belgian-style farmhouse ale, which was perfect for the warm weather.
Despite the abundance of food and beer, enjoying them together can be a challenge at Eat Real, with food and beer seldom located in the same vicinity. The lines (especially for beer) are prohibitively long and seats can be hard to come by. I did manage one tasty pairing, however, matching 21st Amendment’s Back in Black with a delicious dark chocolate brownie. 21A’s black IPA is more toasty and malty than it is IPA bitter, and was a perfect complement to the brownie.
Eat Real Festival founder Anya Fernald has tapped into the rich vein of our local food culture, and the annual late-summer event reminds us just how lucky we are to share in the Bay Area’s bounty of craft beer and fantastic food. You can read Fernald’s food manifesto here.

Super Duper and Scrimshaw celebrate the all-American burger

Burgers don’t need to be too complicated, but over the past few years, the humble hamburger has become a cause celebre. It’s not enough anymore for a burger to be just a meat patty with melted cheese, lettuce and tomato. Celebrity chef Hubert Keller is one of the drivers of this gourmet burger band wagon and his Burger Bars tout “The Ultimate Burger Experience” in St. Louis, Las Vegas and San Francisco. For a mere $60, you can bite into his top of the line chef’s burger, called “The Rossini.” The Kobe beef burger buffa is topped with sautéed foie gras, shaved truffles and Madeira sauce on an onion bun. Skinny fries are included.
Keller is not alone in instigating burger inflation, and restaurants all over the city now feature burgers in the $13 range, topped with bacon, avocado and Point Reyes Blue Cheese. Some of them are very good, like the burger at The Broken Record ($10), with a bacon-infused patty. Nopa also makes a fantastic grass-fed burger ($13), and the burgers at brewpub 21st Amendment are reliable and hearty before a game or event.
But sometimes you just want a simple burger with some crispy fries. Refusing to buckle to burger mania, Rosamunde, next to the Toronado on Haight Street, cooks an excellent burger on Tuesdays for a mere $6. And despite its name, Super Duper Burger in the Castro makes a reasonably priced burger that will satisfy your craving without causing undue harm to either your wallet or your cholesterol count.
Super Duper’s burgers are more reminiscent of In ‘N Out Burger than Burger Bar, but that’s not necessarily a negative. They’re ample and not too greasy, and the fries are skinny and crispy. The servers are efficient and friendly, and would rather call your order by name than by a number. A Niman Ranch burger will set you back $3.75 and a cheeseburger is $4.25 (add $2 each for a double). Fries are $2.25 and milkshakes and ice cream are also available.

Super Duper Burger also has something you’ll never find at In ‘N Out: a couple of well-selected beer taps. Granted, the beer variety isn’t as extensive as Burger Bar’s, but the light, refreshing North Coast Scrimshaw pilsner and the piney Racer 5 IPA from Bear Republic are more than adequate. You can eat inside the cozy restaurant or, on a sunny day, sit at an outdoor table.
Whether you’re in a blue state or red state, conservative or liberal, evangelical or atheist, burgers are as American as the 4th of July, diners and barbecues, and it’s no wonder they are such a great match with American ales and lagers. Unlike mass-market American beers, which only add cold and wet, American craft beers like Scrimshaw and Racer 5 offset the savory umami flavors in the burger.
As Super Duper Burger demonstrates, you don’t need truffles on your burger or extreme beers to appreciate this quintessentially American experience.

Super Duper Burger
2304 Market St
(between 16th St & Noe St)
San Francisco, CA 94114
Neighborhood: Castro
(415) 558-8123

Beer and coffee to face the daily grind at Epicenter Café

Epicenter Café has something for almost every denizen of SOMA. Nomadic nerds can park their laptop with a free wi-fi connection. People who crave some of the best coffee in the city can sip perfectly made espressos, cappuccinos and macchiatos properly served in thick ceramic cups. And for a light meal, Epicenter offers wine and food, like homemade hummus and soups, empanadas and other tasty bites. Epicenter is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Even beer lovers will find joy at this cozy café on Harrison, around the corner from Whole Foods.

The emphasis at Epicenter is clearly on the coffee: “We take our coffee seriously and hope to show you just how great it can be.”, which evaluates gourmet coffee houses in San Francisco, says Epicenter serves the second-best espresso in San Francisco, just behind Blue Bottle. Coffeeratings compares espressos from all over the city, and I can attest that Epicenter pulls a great shot (I chose a macchiato rather than the straight espresso that Coffeeratings evaluates, and it was delicious). Great coffee starts with quality beans, and Epicenter’s coffee is sourced from one of the best providers in the Bay Area, Barefoot Coffee Roasters in Santa Clara. The baristas are friendly, skillful and artistic, and according to Coffeeratings, have no qualms about tossing a shot that doesn’t meet their high standards. Even in a neighborhood like SOMA, which is virtually soaked in coffee, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better espresso than Epicenter’s
Like tasting beer and wine, coffee tasting has come a long way in the past few years, and Coffeeratings does a good job keeping up with the evolving San Francisco coffee scene. Tasting coffee (called “cupping”) has a lot in common with tasting wine and beer, and according to Greg Sherwin at Coffeeratings, coffee has more than 1,500 aromatic and flavor components, compared with about 200 for wine. More than 1,000 flavor elements have been identified in beer; they’re categorized on a beer flavor wheel.

Happy hour (Monday-Friday from 5-8 p.m.) is a good opportunity to sample some of the many flavors Epicenter Café has to offer. Although the sunny café doesn’t have any beers on tap, it has some intriguing brews in bottles. On a recent visit, I sampled the house-made hummus, with pita and slices of cucumber and tomato, matched with two very simpatico beers: Allagash White, a Belgian-style wit, and North Coast Pranqster, a strong Belgian pale ale. Although both of these beers are made in the U.S., they are very tasty and faithful versions of the Belgian styles. The hazy, golden Pranqster is complex and spicy and tastes a little of coriander, with a slightly sweet finish. It’s also fairly potent, at 7.6% abv, so you might save it for the end of the day. Allagash White, cloudy and pale yellow, is also subtly spicy with coriander and has a hint of lemon. Both were well-matched with the fresh hummus and veggies. A perfectly made macchiato was the ideal punctuation on a light late lunch.
There’s no lack of coffee houses in the South of Market, but Epicenter Café is a standout for its superb coffee and its selection of light dishes and good bottled beer.

Epicenter Café
764 Harrison St
(between 4th St & Lapu St)
San Francisco, CA 94107
Neighborhood: SOMA
(415) 543-5436

Festina Peche at Anchor & Hope: summer in the city

San Francisco never experiences warm summers like other parts of the country—or even other parts of the Bay Area. But we still enjoy summer beers. Darker beers, like porters and stouts, might be cozy and warm for long winter nights, but the lazy summer days cry out for effervescent, citrusy Belgian- and German-style wheat beers, and lagers. Hefeweizens like Sierra Nevada’s seasonal Kellerweis are refreshing whether you’re trying to beat the heat in Gilroy or bundled in a sweater on the foggy coastside.
Weissbiers with a hint of fruit seem to be on the upswing during the summer, and 21st Amendment sells a lot of cans of its signature Watermelon Wheat. A number of American brewers are also making Kolsch, a German ale once only made in Köln. It’s pale gold, crisp, faintly fruity, delicate and refreshing, with a little pucker at the finish.
American brewers have also picked up on Berliner Weiss, a German wheat beer style that has fallen out of favor from the days when it was the most popular alcoholic beverage in Berlin. Today, only a couple of German breweries still make this refreshing style, which gets its tartness from lactobacillus yeast. German beer purity laws forbid adding flavorings to beer during the brewing process, so Germans are fond of adding a shot of fruit syrup or woodruff. It’s also common for Germans to sip their Berliner Weiss from a straw. Neither the straw nor the syrup are necessary and only add some unnecessary sweetness to the otherwise grapefruity beer.
Delaware-based Dogfish Head makes a unique version of Berliner Weiss called Festina Peche. Unlike in Germany, Festina Peche is brewed with peaches but it isn’t a sweet, fruity beer. The peach comes across mostly in the aroma, while the flavor is tart and refreshing. It’s also a well-balanced beer that’s very good with lighter summer dishes that might benefit from a little blast of citrusy acidity. When they reviewed Festina Peche last year on Beer Advocate, the Alstrom brothers wrote, “This beer is a call to the entire brewing industry not to jump on every bandwagon that comes through town. Do something different.”
Anchor & Hope on Minna recently featured Festina Peche on draft, and I decided to pair it with the restaurant’s delicious fish tacos: two soft little corn tortillas topped with crispy lightly fried fish and a spicy salsa. Anchor & Hope served the Festina Peche in a wine glass, but I think Dogfish Head’s effervescent Berliner Weiss is a better match with the tacos than a still white wine or even champagne. The tart Festina Peche resonated with the salsa and was like an extra squeeze of lemon on the delicate fish.

Anchor & Hope, which opened in 2008, is the third restaurant by brothers Mitchell and Steven Rosenthal and their partner, Doug Washington, following Town Hall (2003) and Salt House (2006). Anchor & Hope has become a popular destination for downtown office workers during lunch and dinner, and for its excellent happy hour specials, like a chef’s selection of oysters for $1 each, fish tacos and shrimp fritters, as well as beer and wine specials.
Despite the stainless steel that gives the restaurant an urban ambience, the bright room has a lot of warmth, which was enhanced by Tom McDermott playing New Orleans style on the piano that Anchor & Hope brought in for the occasion. McDermott was recently featured on HBO’s post-Katrina series Treme.
Enjoying the fish tacos with the fresh Festina Peche while listening to McDermott play Professor Longhair on the piano was like taking a mini vacation from bustling downtown San Francisco. I for one hope the piano, and music in general, becomes a regular fixture at this downtown oasis.

Anchor & Hope
83 Minna St
(between 2nd St & Shaw Aly)
San Francisco, CA 94105
Neighborhood: SOMA
(415) 501-9100

Plouf plays the gourmand, with moules frites and Chimay White

As most people know by now, beer loves burgers, pizza and barbecue. But several San Francisco restaurants are emphasizing that beer is also quite enamored of seafood. Northern French and, of course, Belgians, are well-versed in the joy of classic seafood/beer pairings like moules frites (mussels with fries) with Belgian ales.
Wine has traditionally been the fermented beverage of choice to complement fish and seafood in fine dining, but with the recent emergence of a full palate of craft beer, more restaurants are offering lagers and ales as an alternative to champagne, sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, German rieslings, chardonnays and pinot grigio with seafood.
For a taste of the classic Belgian dish moules frites, head over to bustling Belden Place, an alley off Bush Street where a handful of bistros like B44, Café Tiramisu, Belden Taverna, Bastille and Plouf wage a friendly but spirited competition for outdoor diners. The blocked-off Belden Street has a touristy, ersatz European feel, with outdoor tables crowned with Chimay umbrellas. Although I’m a big proponent of al fresco dining, downtown San Francisco is usually too chilly after dark for that sort of indulgence, even with heat lamps.
Plouf’s appeal is in re-creating a French bistro atmosphere, with waiters dressed in horizontally striped shirts speaking French or English with a French accent. The menu features Continental-style seafood, like ahi tuna Provencal. But the specialty is clearly the moules frites, offered in a $25 prix fixe menu along with soup or salad and dessert and prepared in six different sauces: roasted garlic and sherry vinegar (Plouf); shallots, white wine and vinegar (marniere); tomato concassee, basil, garlic and bell peppers (provencale); lime juice, garlic, cilantro, chili and coconut milk (coconut broth); shallots, bacon, white wine, cream and parsley (poulette); and shallots, garlic, cream, pastis, chili flakes and fine herbs (pastis).

On a recent visit, I chose the latter option and my mussels arrived in a large iron bowl redolent of the popular anise-scented French liqueur pastis. One of the characteristics of star anise, with which pastis is flavored, is limone, a cyclic termine with a strong scent of oranges. Another element is limonene, a flavor also present in the rind of lemons. Star anise also gives off the floral qualities of linalool, a naturally occurring terpene alcohol chemical found in many flowers and spice plants. The most noticeable flavor characteristic, however, is anethole, an aromatic compound that contributes flavors of anise, fennel and liquorice. Pastis also exhibits the flavor of liquorice root, and as a liqueur, contains sugar.
Those diverse flavors, along with the mussels, garlic, parsley and other herbs, call for a beverage whose flavor components can harmonize with the fragrant complexity of the pastis sauce. Plouf, unfortunately, has a lot more wine options than beer choices, with only three brews on tap. Luckily, one of them, Chimay White (also known as Cinq Cents), a golden Belgian triple, adequately fit the bill, with a flavor profile that enhanced and amplified the Moules Pastis.
Belgian tripels – a relatively young style in the centuries-old Belgian brewing tradition -- are highly carbonated and high in alcohol, which is generally well-hidden (Chimay White is 8% abv). They also have a fair amount of spicy hops, which are also quite subtle. The Beer Judge Certification Guidelines describe Belgian tripels as a “marriage of spicy, fruity and alcohol flavors supported by a soft malt character. Low to moderate phenols are peppery in character. Esters are reminiscent of citrus fruit such as orange or sometimes lemon. A low to moderate spicy hop character is usually found. Alcohols are soft, spicy, often a bit sweet and low in intensity.”
Enjoyed in concert, the mussels and aromatic broth (with sourdough bread for dipping) combined with the spicy, citrusy Chimay to exceed the sum of their individual components. The ale seemed to accent the fruity qualities of the pastis sauce while subtly subduing the liquorice component, and the carbonation is a palate cleanser.
A steaming pot of strongly flavored mussels could become a bit exhausting for the palate and a little redundant, but the Chimay would have none of that. One of the more engaging qualities of a well-built ale like the Chimay is that it evolves in the glass as it warms and expresses subtly different nuances of orange and maybe clove that continue to push the flavors of the dish. The tastes you end up with as you savor the last of the broth are slightly different from those with which you began.

Plouf serves a good bowl of mussels on a reasonably priced prix fixe, and the shoestring frites were fine, albeit a little salty. Plouf does not, however, rise to the level of San Francisco’s best Belgian-style restaurants like La Trappe. If Plouf is serious about creating more adventurous culinary epiphanies with its signature moules frites and exposing its patrons to a true Belgian experience, it needs to raise its beer game.
Chimay White is a great all-purpose Belgian ale with food, but connoisseurs of Belgian and Parisian cuisine expect a greater array of beer choices. How about offering the Westmalle Trappist, said to be the first of Belgian tripel style, Maredsous 10, or even an American version like Allagash Tripel Reserve? Other Belgian styles would also be welcome – dubbels and guezes, for example -- and would bring out even more subtle flavors in the various mussel dishes. Not having such readily available Belgian pale ales as Duvel or Orval on the list is a conspicuous oversight.
Don’t rest on your mussels, Plouf, rise to the occasion so that the assortment of Belgian beer matches up with your estimable array of moules frites. Serving those frites in a paper cone would also be more attractive than just plopping them down on a little plate. Presentation means a lot when you’re going for culinary and cultural ambiance.

40 Belden Pl
(between Bush St & Pine St)
San Francisco, CA 94104
Neighborhood: Financial District
(415) 986-6491

Gone fishin’?
Black Star Beer is holding a contest to take some lucky winners on an adventure in Great Northern Brewery’s home turf of Montana. The adventure will start in Whitefish with rafting down the Flathead River, fly fishing with masters, brewing beer at the Great Northern Brewery and camping in Glacier National Park. Winners will also fly in a private jet, practice with the NBA Sacramento Kings and get the VIP treatment at the Palms Casino & Resort in Las Vegas, with a poolside cabana and suite. Winners will also get an HD video camera to document their trip, as well as six round-trip airfare tickets for a post-vacation vacation.
For details, visit

The real banquet beer: keller bier elevates a Chinese feast

In Chinese culture, banquets are an opportunity to celebrate an important event with the extended family: cousins, aunts, uncles and close friends. These joyous occasions bring people together on a semi-regular basis and are an important part of maintaining the cultural and familial fabric.
Weddings, the first year anniversary of the birth of a child and other significant milestones are typically celebrated in a Chinese restaurant, where guests are grouped 10 to a table. Food is served in a seemingly endless stream of courses family-style on a lazy Susan. Although the menu can vary slightly, it’s fairly predictable: pickled appetizers (such as jellyfish) and cold meats, soup, sometimes quail, roasted chicken or duck (head included), deep-fried shrimp balls or crab claws, abalone with mushrooms and greens in brown sauce, shrimp and squid, occasionally beef, a whole fish, crab or lobster, and noodles or fried rice, often topped off with red bean soup for dessert.

Banquets can be a challenge for a craft beer drinker, however. Beverages are usually limited to tea served in a stainless steel pot (leave the top open if it needs to be refilled), sparkling cider, 7-Up and sometimes Hennessey cognac or wine. Except for the tea, none of these match particularly well with food. The ideal companion for this type of food is beer, but beer is not a traditional part of Chinese cuisine. The best the bar will have to offer will be American adjunct lagers or green bottles of Heineken or Tsingtao—China’s answer to Corona.
For once, I was determined to do better.
Fortunately, Chinese restaurants are generally nonchalant about people bringing in a bottle or two, especially for a large banquet of hundreds of people; they’re in it for the big tip at the end of the party. Since it’s not counting on making a lot of money on alcoholic beverages during the banquet, chances are the restaurant will not be offended if you bring in some beer.

Overall, the flavor profile at a Chinese banquet is salty and savory (also known as umami), which is the fifth taste after sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Sweet and fizzy macro lagers can counter the salt, but they don’t do much to elevate the food. I decided to see if I could come up with one beer that would perform well with all of the different courses. I settled upon a bottle of Hacker-Pschorr Anno 1417, a keller bier, which is an unfiltered lager.
The Anno was sufficiently light and refreshing to cleanse the palate without competing with any of the savory flavors. Yet the keller bier, which is dry rather than sweet like an American adjunct lager, had enough substance to bring out underappreciated qualities of each of the courses while taming some of the less-desirable greasy or salty aspects of umami flavors like MSG. From soup all the way through seafood, chicken, lobster and fried rice, the keller bier not only held its own but made the overall experience even more pleasant and convivial. I only wish I’d brought another bottle.
I’m not holding out much hope for mainstream Chinese restaurants to expand their beer offerings, but with the emergence of the next generation of Asian restaurateurs we may some day see a selection of brews from Europe and even Asia (such as Hitachino White) that better complement the savory qualities that typify Chinese banquet food.

Beer and the World Cup: a winning match

Soccer and beer have enjoyed a long and mutually beneficial history. America’s cultural forebears, the British, are widely credited with developing pub culture, as well as inventing modern soccer (although globalization has not been kind to either of these national institutions in their native land).
Breweries were a driving force behind the organization of the first professional football leagues in England, and many clubs were initially formed and funded with money from breweries. Newcastle, for instance, is as well-known for its football team, Newcastle United -- a once-proud club now sadly fallen into disrepair -- as it is for its remarkable beer. In 2006, bottles of the brewery’s signature Newkie Brown celebrated Newcastle soccer great Alan Shearer. Many football clubs continue to advertise breweries on their shirts in England and elsewhere. Singha, for instance, plans to sponsor two English football clubs next year.
Despite the international flavor of the top teams (Arsenal, for example, often fields nary a Brit in its lineup), the English remain fascinated by the World Cup. According to a spokesman for the British Beer & Pub Association in the Sunday Times, “We estimate that on the days England play matches an extra ten million pints will be sold, with this number set to increase the further they progress in the competition.”

Other cultures have their own versions of pub culture, including this 2010 Cup finalists. Amsterdam alone has about 1,200 bars, which works out to around one for every 612 inhabitants. Spain, of course, is famous for its many tapas bars and other drinking establishments. They will all no doubt do a brisk business Sunday as the current version of the Clockwork Orange Dutch face off against La Furia Roja in South Africa.
We Americans have been mostly bystanders in the World Cup, but even though our national team hasn’t had the quality to reach the final, many of us—immigrants and natives alike--still love watching great soccer. And although it’s not the same as being in South Africa, Barcelona or Amsterdam, we can breathe in a little of the quadrennial madness in some Bay Area pubs. One World Cup destination is the Kezar Pub in San Francisco and another is Gourmet Haus Staudt in Redwood City.
Kezar Pub
During the World Cup, Kezar Pub tends to become a magnet for a variety of supporters, and as the Cup winds down to its finale, fans of the surviving sides take over the place. On Tuesday (July 8), as Uruguay lined up against The Netherlands, Kezar Pub was awash in orange: orange shirt clad supporters, orange balloons, orange bunting and an orange pickup parked outside. For Americans, it was an opportunity to brush up (literally) against the agony and anxiety of a halftime knotted at a goal apiece, followed by the joyous chorus of song (taunting chants and songs are a big part of soccer), which almost drowned out the drone of the vuvuzelas.

Kezar Pub is a good place to watch a soccer game, with plenty of big-screen TVs in the back dining area and bigger TVs in the more crowded bar area closer to the door. The beer selection is nothing to write to Amsterdam (or Munich) about, however, and consists primarily of macro lagers on tap, along with Anchor Steam and a few imports thrown in for variety’s sake. Incongruously, Kezar also has a tap dedicated to Moonlight Brewing’s delicious black lager, Death and Taxes, a beer well worth seeking out.

The menu is more or less from the fried and true pub grub handbook: burgers, nachos, buffalo wings, and for a little British flavor, bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie and fish and chips. Luckily the game was on a Tuesday, which in the Haight means Rosamunde burger day. I resisted the temptation for grease and as the last agonizing seconds ticked off the clock, made my way to the lower Haight and had one of Rosamunde’s justifiably popular cheeseburgers washed down at the Toronado with Russian River’s Damnation Belgian-style ale. It was a wonderful way to wind down after the heart-stopping match.

The patrons are what gives Kezar Pub, basically a decent sports bar, its international flavor, and during the World Cup it's a reasonable facsimile of an Amsterdam tavern (minus the ambient aromas).

Gourmet Haus
Gourmet Haus Staudt is in a different league from Kezar Pub when it comes to beer, but it isn’t a sports bar per se. Given its pedigree, however, Gourmet Haus showed all of Germany’s World Cup games as Germany sailed through qualifying, all the way up to the epic showdown with Spain. Instead of TVs everywhere like at Kezar Pub, Gourmet Haus had a large projection TV screen set up in the darkened dining area, which was ultimately packed mostly with white and black clad Germany supporters. The patrons tended to be a bit older than those at Kezar Pub, but no less passionate. As with Uruguay v Holland, tension was at a fever pitch after a nail-biting scoreless first half.
Gourmet Haus primarily features German lagers and wheat beers, along with a couple of guest taps, and they are all excellent. Food selection is limited to sausages with sauerkraut and big pretzels (plus specials like Jagerschnitzel on Saturdays), but they are very tasty and well matched with the beer.

For my pregame beer, I went with a refreshing yet dry Weltenburger Kloster Helles, followed by a complex Aventinus, before celebrating the Spanish victory (1-0) with an Allgauer Teutsch Pils in the sun-drenched patio, commiserating with disappointed Germans and Americans of German descent.
Both Kezar Pub and Gourmet Haus have fantastic football atmospheres, with avid supporters living and dying with every unpredictable swing of events. Deciding where to watch the final is as difficult as picking a winner between Holland and Spain.
Germany will play Uruguay in the consolation match on Saturday, and Gourmet Haus should be a good venue, especially with their lunch special. I’d also suggest watching the final in Redwood City, even though Germany won’t be playing on Sunday. But Kezar Pub will undoubtedly be rocking orange, maybe with some Spanish to spice it up. Either way, it’s the closest we Americans can get to feeling what it’s like to have a World Cup contender.

Kezar Pub
770 Stanyan St
(between Beulah St & Waller St)
San Francisco, CA 94117
Neighborhood: Cole Valley
(415) 386-9292

Gourmet Haus Staudt Gifts & Café
2615 Broadway St
Redwood City, CA 94063
(650) 364-9232

Beer elevates bistro food at Bisou

If there’s one thing that’s consistent about the Castro, it’s that the neighborhood is in constant flux. Every time you turn around, it seems, one restaurant is closing and another one is popping up to take its place.
One recent example is Bisou French Bistro on Market Street, which replaced Panam in April. Panam’s previous owner, Mickael Azoulay, stayed on as a partner at Bisou, so the new restaurant was able to retain the old liquor license.
Bisou is a little kiss of a restaurant that serves bistro-style fare for lunch like Croque monsieur, Croque madame and some other sandwiches; personal pizzas; a fancy burger; some salads; mussels; and onion soup. Dinners, including a $26 prix fixe, are more elaborate.
Beverage emphasis at Bisou is on mixed drinks and on dozens of wines from Europe, California and South America. But simple bistro fare is also a good match with European-style beer, especially Belgian wits and German pilsners and wheat beers, which are well-balanced and specifically designed to complement food. (Hoppy American beers like pale ales and IPAs might easily overwhelm the flavors rather than complement them.)
The beer selection at Bisou appears to be a work in progress. There are no taps, so selection is in bottles only. Certainly fresh local beer is best served and consumed as soon as possible from a tap. But imported beers, especially from Belgium and Germany, are fine from bottles if they’re properly cared for – and in the case of yeasty Belgian ales in particular, sometimes better.

Although the selection of beers at Bisou isn’t extensive, it’s adequate for a nice bistro lunch. Options include a Blanche de Bruxelles witbier and a Saison Dupont farmhouse ale, both from Belgium, and a Paulener pilsner from Germany. White beers like Belgian wits and German wheat beers, as well as saisons and pilsners, are amazingly food friendly. They accentuate the flavors of the food and bring out some of the more subtle nuances without overwhelming the food with bitter hops. A Belgian wit like Blanche de Bruxelles, subtly spiced with orange peel and coriander, can coax unexpected flavors even from a simple burger: the fruitiness of the apple-smoked bacon, the earthiness of the Morbier cheese, the juiciness of the good quality meat, the silky smooth Choron sauce. The skinny, crispy fries that accompanied the nicely cooked burger were also delightful with the Belgian wit, as the beer cuts the salt and brings out the sweetness of the potatoes.

The beer list also includes a Hopf Helle Weisse German hefeweizen, a Reutberger Export dunkel lager and a Scaldis Belgian ale – good choices all. Also on the list were a Dixie Jazz beer and a Wells Banana Bread Beer from England. The banana beer sounded intriguing, and although it smelled like banana, the dominant flavor was that of an average hoppy ale, with a hint of banana. I’d suggest sticking with the European imports.
Pairing food and beer doesn’t have to be hard work or overly complicated. Great wheat beers from Belgium and Germany bring out the best of a burger, burrito, pizza or sandwich. Bisou shows that even simple food can be elevated when combined with the right beer.

Bisou French Bistro
2367 Market St
(between 16th St & Noe St)
San Francisco, CA 94114
(415) 556-6200

Alembic's dazzling distillation of food and drinks

The Alembic is more than just a bar or restaurant, it’s a mad scientist laboratory for food and drinks, with the customers along for the ride as willing accomplices.
Conventional wisdom generally dictates a lowest-common-denominator approach to pub drinks and food: a menu loaded with fried, spicy and salty food that appeals to a lot of people and keeps them drinking familiar beverages without too much thought. The Alembic throws conventional wisdom out the window. Rather than pull customers along the predictable path, Alembic challenges them with a palate pleasing palette of flavors that customers may mix to fit their mood.
The Alembic, the Upper Haight sibling of Magnolia, is a little hard to pin down to a category. It’s known mostly for inspired interpretations of mixed drinks made with top-notch ingredients. The traditional “Canon” portion of the drinks menu features time-honored cocktails like a Sazarac (with 6-year rye whiskey and Peychaud’s bitters) and an Old Fashioned, stripped of the garbage with which the noble old warhorse is often weighed down. Even more popular are Alembic’s “New School” cocktail creations, such as The Vow of Silence and Promissory Note. It goes without saying that Alembic’s spirits are first rate, and the board above the bar abounds with remarkable whiskeys, gins, rums and tequilas.

But cocktails and spirits are hardly the whole story. The beers on tap and in bottles are also well chosen for their distinctive flavors, like Magnolia’s Kolsch and Proving Ground IPA; Damnation, a strong Belgian-style pale ale from Russian River Brewing; Bear Republic’s Red Rocket Ale; Marin’s Point Reyes Porter; Firestone Walker’s Solace, an American Pale Wheat Ale; the most recent installation of the Fritz Maytag/Ken Grossman 30th Anniversary series, this one a bock; and Moonlight Brewing’s intriguing Left for Dead. Whiskey drinkers are familiar with sour mash, but it’s less common in beer. Brian Hunt at Moonlight says he achieved the distinct lactic acid flavor he was after with Left for Dead by souring the entire mash with lactic acid bacteria that occur naturally on the malt. “The lactic bugs do also add a set of their own fermentation flavors, notably along the prune/raisin notes, which you find differently but present in beers soured at the end of the normal fermentation,” he said.Bottles are also carefully chosen for their capacity to harmonize with food and are thoughtfully organized under their dominant flavor profiles: Bright and Crisp, All Hopped Up, Toasty and Malty, Stiff and Sweet, Deep and Mean.
Clearly, the implied suggestion at Alembic is for the customer to be his or her own food mixologist, creating flavor sensations by matching food and drink. Snacks and starters are chosen to titillate the palate rather than numb it with grease, salt or heat. So instead of poppers, salted beer nuts, fries and onion rings, you’ll find pickled quail eggs, honey cumin glazed nuts, jerk spiced duck hearts and Shishito peppers with house-cured salt. Entrees and desserts are also constructed to show off a breadth of flavors rather than a single dominant taste.
On a recent visit, for instance, I ordered a Croque Madame, a delightful breakfast sandwich welcome at any time of the day. Russian River’s Damnation struck all the right notes, harmonizing with the individual components -- Serrano ham, gruyere, béchamel and toast, topped with a lightly cooked organic egg and pea tendrils -- with just enough yeastiness, carbonation and sweetness to balance the complex sandwich. Each bite was a little epiphany.
Even more enticing combinations beckon throughout the menu, which includes dinner entrees like Wagyu beef tongue sliders, crispy pork belly and scallops, pressed duck confit, bone marrow and black cod. Prix fix dinners are also on offer ($35), along with suggested beverage pairings. Desserts present yet another opportunity for magic, matching Eagle rare chocolate pudding, caramelized brioche, warm chocolate chip cookies and tarragon poached strawberries with beers like Le Chouffe and Hook Norton Double Stout, or a lovingly crafted cocktail, whiskey, tequila or liqueur
Alembic refers to a distillation device, and in the case of the restaurant, this is metaphorically accurate. Alembic is an engine that distills an unexpected outcome from ordinary ingredients. Alembic is a bold concept and one that would fail without discriminating customers who are adventurous and secure enough to break free of the predictable in the pursuit of something extraordinary (under the careful guidance of knowledgeable servers, if necessary). Alembic is to be applauded for the breadth and depth of its beverages and the creativity of its kitchen, but mostly for its faith in its customers, who are willing participants in Alembic’s ambitious culinary alchemy. We hope that Alembic is a foretaste of a future where our dazzling local food bounty reaches unusual heights combined with the full palate of fermented beverages now at our disposal.

The Alembic
1725 Haight St
(between Cole St & Shrader St)
San Francisco, CA 94117
Neighborhood: Haight-Ashbury
(415) 666-0822

Prospecting for Alaska beer from a cruise ship

During the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1890s, the stampeders who flooded the boomtown of Skagway, Alaska, could send a telegram anywhere in the world for $5. The problem was that the wires did not extend beyond the “telegraph” office wall; the telegraph didn’t reach Skagway until 1901. It was one of many cons foisted by notorious criminal kingpin Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith upon unsuspecting treasure seekers.

Skagway and the 49th state have become a bit more civilized since a Mountie referred to the town as “little more than a hell on earth.” Nowadays, cruise line tourists rather than prospectors comprise the vast majority of visitors to coastal towns like Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan. Swindles such as three-card Monty and the shell game are no more. Instead, we have incessant automated BINGO and smoky casinos aboard the giant floating hotels. The shills who a century ago lured prospectors to financial ruin have morphed into “discount” jewelry merchants – some of which pay endorsement fees to the cruise ships -- pushing “closeouts” and unprecedented “bargains.” It’s called “progress.”

But if you manage to wend your way around the hucksters, visiting Alaska on a cruise ship can be quite enjoyable. The scenery is breathtaking even in transit, and the service and food aboard ships like the Norwegian Pearl are exemplary. The selection of wines available, while not exhaustive, was well-thought-out, too. Good riojas, a Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and a fine Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett (great with a roast duck/duck confit combo) made excellent meals even more enjoyable.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the beer onboard, which seems to be stuck in a time warp not so very far advanced from when Soapy Smith plied his nefarious trade. Onboard options included Bud, Coors, Miller and Euro lagers like Heineken and Stella on draft AND in bottles. The only Alaska beer on offer was bottled Alaskan Amber. Bass Pale Ale was available on draft and Guinness in cans. (Distributors are partly to blame, but the cruise lines are ultimately responsible and should demand better brews.)
That meant we had to forage for good beer whenever we went ashore, and happily the Alaska boomtowns, built upon a foundation of saloons rather than office buildings or churches, did not disappoint.

Avoiding the clutter and tracking down good beer in the Alaska cruise ship ports is a little like panning for gold: there’s a lot more crap than gold in the pan. The farther you get away from the tourists and the places set up to serve them, the better luck you’ll have. Walk right past the first bar, the gaudy Red Dog Saloon and its sawdust floors, limited beer selection and misanthropic, out of tune pianist playing for way too many tourists.
The Rendezvous, also on South Franklin Street, is worth a stop for a very nice Midnight Sun stout on tap, but the bar seems to lack charisma and character beyond a couple of pool tables. Farther down the street is the Triangle Club and Bar, which highlights beer from The Alaskan Brewing Company, the most widely distributed beer in the state and the 11th largest craft brewer in the U.S. Triangle pours a four-beer sampler of Alaskan beers – kolsch, amber, white and IPA – which are nice but not overwhelming (Alaskan Brewing doesn’t widely distribute its more exotic offerings). If you keep walking, the Viking Lounge Pulltaps & Billiards on Front Street has DJs and dancing. (By the time you read this, Alaskan Brewing will have opened a new Alaskan Brewing Deport in downtown Juneau.)
But the best beer bar in Juneau, hands down, is The Alaskan Hotel and Bar, a dingy tavern that doubles as a cheap hostelry in a historic building. Opened in 1913, the Alaskan Hotel and Bar proclaims it’s “the oldest operating hotel in Juneau.”

The selection of beers on tap, along with how it is served, is usually a good indication of the passion of the publican and the quality of the establishment. AHB doesn’t just settle for what’s easy and local. Bringing in great Belgian-style beers like Fin du Monde in bottles and Blanche de Chambly and Maudite on tap from Unibroue, as well as draft Chimay and Old Rasputin Imperial Stout from North Coast in California, is a good sign that AHB takes its beer seriously and respects the discriminating palates of craft beer drinkers. AHB also serves some distinctive beers from Midnight Sun Brewing Company, which doesn’t have the distribution that Alaskan Brewing has, but makes consistently challenging beers. We enjoyed a pitcher of Midnight Sun’s delicious Kodiak Brown, opaque and toasty, with restrained hops and a little bite. (Midnight Sun’s other beers are also worth seeking out as they gain larger distribution in the “lower 48.” Try the Arctic Rhino Baltic Porter and the Mayhem Belgian Double IPA.)
Before long, a young bluesman named Sammy started playing some Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, creating what might be the ideal Alaska pub vibe: a little funky, a little divey, with amazing beers as the perfect social lubricant.

In Skagway as with Juneau, finding beer means wading through the throng of cruise ship passengers and getting away from jewelry stops and tourist bars. To build up our thirst and to get a sense of the place, we walked past the downtown area to Skagway’s feature attraction: the town’s version of Boot Hill.
Simple white crosses mark the final resting places of Gold Rush era residents. The cemetery is dominated by a monument to Frank Reid, who was embraced as a local hero after an epic shootout with Soapy Smith that ultimately claimed the lives of both men. On his deathbed, Reid is reputed to have declared that he gave his life for the honor of Skagway – a dubious claim in a town that had very little honor to speak of. Soapy, meanwhile, was laid to rest just outside the limits of the cemetery -- a posthumous outcast of the new, more genteel Alaska. (If you go, don’t miss the beautiful waterfall right above the cemetery.)
Skip the tourist bars in Skagway and head straight for the Skagway Brewing Company. From the minute you enter, it’s obvious that the brewmaster in this rather inconspicuous brewpub/gift shop knows a lot about brewing beer and isn’t afraid to pique the beer palates of customers with brews like Skagway Spruce Tip Ale. Skagway Brewing also makes a very respectable, hoppy Chilkoot Trail IPA, which was a great segue between the cemetery and the White Horse Railway ride over the historic stampeders pass that led to the gold country.
Along with the White Pass Railway ride, Skagway Brewing belongs on any serious beer drinker’s Skagway itinerary (together with Lemon Rose bakery downtown, which makes some of the best cookies in the state).

Ketchikan presented a different challenge: a limited amount of time on shore and no brew pubs in sight. So instead of trying to push the beer bar higher, we took in a bit of history in the Sourdough Bar, right off the docks. Despite its location perilously close the cruise ships, the Sourdough is the real deal, and apparently too divey to attract many cruise ship tourists. Even though the Sourdough doesn’t have any taps, it has plenty of local character and some good beer in bottles, like the very tasty Alaskan Oatmeal Stout – a perfect beer for a dreary day. The Sourdough’s walls are covered with dozens of ominous black and white photos of stricken ships and boats that had run aground, caught fire or suffered some other nautical misadventure. Better yet, the Sourdough is a hangout for locals, the sort of guys who look at the sky and say, “It might get a little sloppy out there tonight.”
Like prospecting for gold, finding the “real” Alaska, or at least real Alaskans, and good beer takes patience and persistence, but it’s worth the effort. Cruise ships like the Norwegian Pearl could be more helpful, however. Their menus and the wines reflect a commitment to fine dining but the beer on offer sadly implies that the operators are not fully convinced that craft beer belongs in the mix. The Pearl, for example, hosted a “European Beer Tasting,” with mixed results. You can’t expect a whole lot from a neophyte beer server pouring bottles of Newcastle Brown, Franziskaner Weissbier, Bass Pale Ale, Boddington’s and Guinness. And it’s a shame.

Cruise ships have an opportunity not only to meet the dining needs of their passengers but to educate them, too, and perhaps introduce them to tastes that they might otherwise not encounter. They’re doing it with food and wine, but if you want good craft beer, you’ll have to do some prospecting of your own -- off the ship.

The Alaskan Hotel and Bar
167 S Franklin St
Juneau, AK 99801
(907) 586-1000

Skagway Brewing Company
7th St and Broadway
Skagway, AK 99840

Sourdough Cocktail Bar
301 Front St
Ketchikan, AK 99901
(907) 225-2217

Copyright 2010

Raw seafood and beer star at Bar Crudo

Beer lovers love happy hours, and some of the beer bars in San Francisco offer some great bargains. Toronado, of course, has $1 off draft beers from opening until 6 p.m. At Lucky 13 in San Francisco, you can drink fresh Pliny the Elder, Dogfish Head 90, Deschutes Black Butte Porter, Anchor Liberty and many more for $3 a pint from opening until 8:30 p.m. Most other beer bars offer some variation of a happy hour from around 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. or so. (Don’t forget to tip $1 per beer.)
But one of the best happy hours in the city isn’t even at a beer bar; it’s at Bar Crudo on Divisadero. Bar Crudo’s selection of some four-dozen bottled beers, along with a handful of well-chosen taps, would put many so-called beer bars to shame. But what sets Bar Crudo apart is its happy hour food. Usually, happy hour in a bar means a few munchies, Buffalo wings, or something deep-fried and virtually unrecognizable. At Bar Crudo, a lot of the food never goes near a flame, let alone a deep fryer. Bar Crudo, as its name implies, specializes in raw dishes, mostly seafood -- six types of fresh oysters; five types of clams; and small plates of raw arctic char, butterfish, Tomba tuna, Hokkaido scallops, spicy yellowfin tuna and Hawaiian ono -- as well as steak crudo and several other “cold” preparations. You can also order cooked seafood, as well as delicious seafood chowder, brimming with large chunks of fish, and fish tacos ($5 at happy hour).

While other restaurants conceal frozen fish under deep frying batter or buttery sauces, at Bar Crudo there’s no place to hide. Preparation is subtle and minimal, allowing the fish to be the star of the show.
The lineup of five draft beers matches well with the food: Moonlight Brewing Reality Czech ($3 a pint during a happy hour recently), Allagash White Belgian-style wit beer (which adds some spritzy, subtly lemony zest to the oysters and raw seafood), Firestone Walker Solace, Russian River IPA and the 30th anniversary stout from Sierra Nevada and Anchor Brewing. (When you see Russian River and Moonlight on tap, it’s a good sign; those brewers, who distribute their kegs themselves from Santa Rosa, love showcasing their beer with great food, and they’re very selective.)
The extensive list of nearly 50 bottles is also carefully crafted to complement the fresh seafood, from Hitachino Nest White Ale and Bavik Pils to Ommegang Ale, Gouden Carolus and Duchesse de Bourgogne Flanders red ale (for those with a sour tooth). Wines are well-matched as well, with some sparklers like German Gilabert Cava Brut and whites and reds from France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Chile, Argentina and Napa.
Bar Crudo moved to what is now known as NOPA (north of the Panhandle) last year from its original location above the Stockton Street tunnel. The highlight of the new restaurant is clearly the fish itself, along with the people who deftly prepare it. There aren’t any TVs, but that’s OK when you can watch gifted chefs work their magic live and in real time.
Bar Crudo is taking California cuisine to a new level, showing the culinary world what can be accomplished with simple, fresh ingredients matched with great beer like Allagash White and Moonlight Reality Czech poured fresh from a tap. The overall experience is sublime, and when you can have half a dozen fresh oysters, a delicious cup of fish chowder or fish tacos and two excellent pilsners for less than $20, it’s almost irresistible.
Bar Crudo
655 Divisadero St
(between Hayes St & Grove St)
San Francisco, CA 94117
Neighborhood: Western Addition/NOPA
(415) 409-0679

5 to 11pm
5 to 10pm

Happy Hour
Tuesday to Sunday
5pm to 6:30pm
Select $1 Oysters
Chowder $5
Fish tacos $5
Beer and wine specials