Craft beer meets creative dining at SF Beer Week

Whew. For even the most avid beer drinker, San Francisco Beer Week can be a humbling, palate-exhausting experience, best consumed in small doses.
In just its second year, San Francisco Beer Week featured more than 200 events, with taps flowing from San Jose to Santa Rosa and from Stockton to Santa Cruz. Virtually all of the brewpubs, gastropubs and breweries in the Bay Area (and many from beyond) were involved in serving unusual beer, pairing food with beer or hosting a guest brewer. You could have beer with breakfast, lunch, brunch, tea, dinner, cocktails, pastry and ice cream, including ice cream made with beer. Venues ranged from casual –Zeitgeist, Toronado, Drakes Brewery parking lot  – to more upscale territory like La Trappe, Bar Crudo, Nombe and Starbelly.
Restaurants and bars would be wise to pay heed to the amount of disposable income spent locally on craft beer. Good beer can elevate a neighborhood restaurant considerably. On the other hand, restaurants that don’t serve craft beer might find themselves ignoring a lucrative source of revenue.

SF Beer Week celebrates not only beer, but beer makers, too. Affable brewers were easy to find and eager to talk about their beer, other people’s beer and anything to do with beer. Meeting brewers like Steve Altimari from Valley Brewing, Steve Wagner from Stone, Denise Jones of Moylans and Brian Hunt from Moonlight can help us understand the art of their beer the way biographical information can put a writer’s work in perspective.
Russian River Brewing got a jump on Beer Week by cleverly timing the release of its seasonal, limited-release Pliny the Younger with the opening of the event. More than a few beer lovers spent the entire week chasing the Younger. Beer Week officially began the evening of Feb. 5 with a gala opening sponsored by the San Francisco Brewers Guild at the Yerba Buena Center for the Performing Arts. Among the many beers on hand were a collaboration Imperial Common Lager, brewed at Speakeasy and several special ales that Magnolia and 21st Amendment collaborated on for Strong Beer Month. North Coast Brewing brought bottles of Old Rasputin 11 and 12, and Gordon Biersch poured a delicious dampfbier, which is a type of common lager (better than the collaboration beer, in my opinion), and a barrel-aged dunkel.

Hops were the order of the day on Feb. 6 at the Bistro, with almost five dozen double IPAs from as far away as Delaware (Dogfish Head) and Maine (Shipyard). Surprising standouts included Mavericks DIPA from Breakwater Brewing in Oceanside, Calif., and Tricerahops from Ninkasi Brewing in Eugene, Ore. But realistically, how much can a palate actually taste after a couple hours of double IPAs? According to the judges, the best DIPA was the excellent Welcome Back Wipeout from Pizza Port in Carlsbad, Calif.
Amid the dozens of dinners and beer events were week-long tributes to the late beer writer Bill Brand, who died just about a year ago. Several of the beers brewed in his honor were featured at the rejuvenated Drakes Brewery in San Leandro. Beer Week finally wound down at the Toronado at the 17th annual Barleywine Festival, with top honors going to Big Woody from Glacier Brewhouse.
Beer weeks are becoming popular across the country and nowhere more so than the Bay Area, one of the pillars of American craft brewing. Hats off to the San Francisco Brewer’s Guild and President Rich Higgins, and Magnolia owner Dave McLean and beer writer Jay Brooks, along with sponsors Gordon Biersch, Speakeasy, Magnolia, 21st Amendment, Beach Chalet, Celebrator and many others who went beyond the call of duty to make SF Beer Week a smooth-running success. Although it’s only a couple of years old, San Francisco Beer Week shows every sign of becoming an institution.

Rosamunde Sausage stretches out in The Mission

Sausages and beer are tasty individually and even better when paired together. A full-flavored beer that refreshes and rejuvenates the palate is a perfect foil for the salty, savory, fatty flavors of sausage, and the combination is often greater than the sum of the individual flavors. This comes as no surprise to Rosamunde Sausage Grill, which for years has sated the appetites of hungry Toronado beer drinkers on Haight Street. Ordering a wild boar or beer sausage at Rosamunde and bringing it next door to enjoy with a Pliny the Elder or Allagash White is a time-honored ritual.
Rosamunde recently opened a second location in the bustling heart of the Mission, across the street from institutions like La Taqueria and Dianda’s Italian American Pastry. Whereas the tiny Haight Street location is primarily take-out and bare-bones utilitarian, the new space (previously a Jack in the Box) is big, bright and warm and beckons customers to kick back and linger while savoring a tasty sausage and an excellent beer from one of the 22 taps (including two for wine). A glass case attractively displays the sausages and other food. Several picnic tables lend a convivial beer hall atmosphere to the new location, but even for people who don’t drink beer it’s a nice place to go for a bite. Like the nearby Pi Bar on Valencia, Rosamunde on Mission adheres to the philosophy that you really can serve great beer in a family-friendly environment.
The difference between Rosamunde’s two locations speaks volumes about the evolution of craft beer drinking in San Francisco. Until a year or two ago, most people who drank craft beer in the city didn’t care about the surroundings. As long as the taps were clean and the beer was fresh, atmosphere didn’t much matter. Hence, drinking microbrew meant acquiescing to the limited amenities of places like the Toronado, Zeitgeist and Lucky 13 on Market.
The newer neighborhood establishments like Rosamunde and Pi Bar have loftier goals. Not content with attracting only hard-core craft beer drinkers, this new generation of pubs strives to be one with the neighborhood: a place to have a nosh with the kids while you’re out walking the dog, or with a date before or after a show. They also make a point of serving food that matches well with craft beer.
Thanks to its more spacious new digs, the new Rosamunde has a full-size kitchen and in addition to sausages, Rosamunde offers sides like crispy French fries, baked beans and German potato salad. There are also sausage plates, soups and salads, cheese and meat boards, and even a breakfast menu featuring Four Barrel coffee. (No hamburger Tuesdays, however.) Service is friendly and efficient. You place your food and drinks order at the bar and they’ll call you when your food is ready.
Rosamunde has an unfinished look to it, as if someone moved from a studio apartment into a 3,000 square foot house and wasn’t quite sure what to do with all the extra space. It’s something of an open canvas at the moment that will evolve to fit the clientele and the neighborhood. There’s even space for live music or a DJ.
The good news is that even though the surroundings are very different from Haight Street, the sausages are as delicious as ever. Choices include beer sausage, knockwurst, Nuernberger bratwurst, weisswurst, Hungarian, Italian, chicken cherry, chicken habanero, andouille, currywurst, vegan, wild boar, duck and fig, marguez and in homage to the neighborhood, an all beef sausage wrapped in bacon called Mission St. They’re perfectly grilled and served on a French roll with your choice of two toppings: sauerkraut, grilled onions, sweet or hot peppers or chili.
Although the taps aren’t as extensive as Toronado’s (whose are?), there’s still plenty to choose from in styles that should satisfy even the pickiest beer drinkers. The Ommegang Hennepin (a Belgian-style Saison from Cooperstown, N.Y.) was well-matched with a wild boar sausage with sweet peppers and grilled onions, for example. Also on tap was a delicious DuganA double IPA from Avery in Boulder, Colo.
Neighborhood restaurants that serve great beer with good food seem to be on the rise. We might have started out drinking craft beer in divey man caves, but once in a while it’s nice to come up for some sunshine in a bright and friendly new restaurant.

Rosamunde Sausage Grill
2832 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

Monday-Friday 7am-11pm
Saturday and Sunday 8am-11pm

Sustainable food and distinctive drinks at Nopa

NoPa the district is a term invented by Realtors to refer to the area north of the Panhandle in San Francisco. Before the Realtors renamed it, NoPa was simply known as the Western Addition, an area associated with a bit of a crime problem for the past few decades.
But NoPa really didn’t become a destination until 560 Divisadero (near Hayes), previously the site of a 1920s-era bank, was transformed in April 2006 into a fine dining restaurant. Named after the neighborhood, Nopa restaurant features imaginative, delicious, sustainable comfort food meticulously sourced from local providers. Instead of hordes of cash, the former bank vault now holds Nopa restaurant’s well-chosen wines. Nopa really has become “a San Francisco gathering place.”
The restaurant was a success as soon as it opened. “It's barely 3 months old, but is catching on quickly,” Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer wrote in June 2006. “Like Zuni, it's a place that not only defines the neighborhood, but also becomes a salon for its customers.”
Happily the qualities that made Nopa so popular nearly four years ago remain undiminished. The food is simple, earthy and thoroughly satisfying; the emphasis is on fresh ingredients. Chef and co-owner Laurence Jossel, formerly of Chow, describes his food as “urban rustic.” Nopa’s small, seasonal menu veers toward the Mediterranean, with a local Northern California twist.
The beverages emphasis is clearly on signature cocktails, like Death at Dusk or a Manhattan with a choice of artisinal bitters, and wine, with several nice sherries and European and California wines available by the glass. There were only a couple of beers on tap, but they’re local and well-chosen: Moonlight Brewing’s Lunatic Lager from Santa Rosa, and from just down the street, Magnolia Brewing’s Dark Star Mild. The 10 bottles include Pliny the Elder from Russian River Brewing, Dupont Saison and St. Peter’s Sorgham Ale.
Moonlight’s Web site describes Lunatic Lager as “a crisp, European-style lager,” but any similarity between this beer and American lagers is in name only. It pours golden and clear, with a foamy white head and endless tiny bubbles and it looks almost as good as it tastes. “The Lunatic (which was then called Moonlight Pale Lager) was the first lager I made,” said Moonlight Brewing owner Brian Hunt. “I describe it (ignorantly but creatively) as something like was brewed here 100 years ago. I wanted enough snap to match the malt richness, and enough malt richness to hold your attention during the sip, and keep your interest piqued...repeatedly.” Lunatic Lager was delicious paired with Nopa’s Monterey sardines appetizer with grilled bread, hummus and an olive tapenade.
As much as I love beer, there are some foods that just match better with wine, like Nopa’s baked pasta with braised goat, lamb, pinquito beans and escarole. The rich flavors of the tomato-based sauce mingled perfectly with the slow cooked meat, penne pasta and hearty beans. The glass of Dolcetto “Dei Grassi” Alba that our server suggested accented the subtle sweetness of the sauce. Be sure to ask for some of the delicious Acme bread to soak it up.
Nopa’s grass fed hamburger with pickled onions and French fries has become legendary among Bay Area diners, and for good reason. It’s perfectly seasoned, and delicious topped with Gruyere cheese. It seemed as if just about every other order was a burger. The balsamic braised lamb shank with polenta and mustard greens was another hit: perfect comfort food for a winter night.
Although we generally avoid dessert, we couldn’t resist sharing the orange custard ice cream parfait with candied kumquats, a perfect conclusion to a wonderful dinner.
Considering the quality of the food and the unobtrusive attentiveness of the staff, prices are remarkably reasonable at Nopa. About the only downside is that the two-story, high-ceilinged restaurant can get pretty noisy at peak dining times. But that’s just a testimony to Nopa’s continuing popularity and a minor quibble in an overall excellent restaurant.

560 Divisadero Street
San Francisco, CA 94117-2213
(415) 864-8643

Open Monday-Sunday
6 p.m.-1 a.m.
(bar opens at 5 p.m.)