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’?
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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