For a hip, happening and sudsy time, head to the very beer-centric The Abbot’s Cellar in San Francisco’s Mission District.
I admit I tend to be more of a wine gal. But experiencing a tasting menu of this caliber with a different beer paired with each course was one of the most fun and palate-tickling experiences I’ve had recently.
The Abbot’s Cellar was opened seven months ago by the same team behind Monk’s Kettle in San Francisco, which was established six years ago.
Both are temples to the art of craft beer. But The Abbot’s Cellar is even more ambitious. It even has a two-story stone cellar to hold a range of beers and wines at their optimum temperatures. There’s also a dramatic back-lit wall of every imaginable glassware for beer and wine. And just for fun, a few cookbooks are propped up on the bar for patrons to peruse.
About 100 beers are available by the bottle and another 20 on tap, with each characterized by intensity, style, flavors and alcohol percentage. The beer list conveniently slides out of a nook built into the side of each wooden dining table for an added dose of cool.
Chef Adam Dulye is an old pro at pairing food with beer, as he’s done it for the past 15 years not only in California, but Colorado and Oregon. His dishes are well composed, and not aggressive in flavor, all the better to let the beers speak for themselves.
When I was invited in to dine as a guest recently, I knew I had picked the right place to bring my husband, aka Meat Boy, when the amuse arrived. It was a tiny dish of house-made beef jerky with small glasses of Death & Taxes Black Lager. Made by Moonlight Brewing Company of Fulton, CA, its coffee-like notes paired well with the slightly sweet, beefy jerky.
My husband opted to order off the a la carte menu. I decided on the nightly tasting menu, which is a real bargain at $55 for four courses ($75 with paired beers). That’s because we’re not talking dainty tasting menu portions here. No, this is really more like a four-course meal with full-sized dishes.
My first course was boudin noir. The blood sausage was deep, dark and moist with an almost fluffy texture. For those who are a little squeamish about the thought of blood in their food, this version of the classic French charcuterie specialty will win you over because it’s rich without having a too-in-your-face metallic-iron taste. Pickled mustard seeds seem to be all the rage now. I can see why, as they plump up almost like caviar and carry such a piquant burst of flavor. It was perfect with the sausage, as was the Monk’s Christkindl Weissenohe from Germany, a beer with a little sweetness and creaminess that was poured from a small gravity-fed cask on the bar.
The next course was gulf prawns, Penn Cove mussels and manila clams in a delicate fennel satsuma broth that reminded me of those wonderful clear, soothing Asian-style broths. It was paired with a St. Bernardus Wit from Belgium, a light-bodied wheat beer with coriander and orange peel undertones, as well as a more acidic character. My husband’s first course ($13) was a variation of this dish, but with sausage standing in for the prawn.
For my main course, a huge slab of pork osso bucco arrived over a mound of creamy golden polenta with bacon-flecked braised kale, glazed parsnips and sweet caramelized pears. A Trappist Rochefort 8 from Belgium, a strong ale at 9.2 percent alcohol with a lot of carbonation, was full-bodied enough to stand up to this meaty dish. The caramel notes of the beer brought out even more of the natural sweetness of the supremely tender pork.
My husband’s monkfish ($28) was moist and flaky. Oyster mushrooms, braised butter beans, and a bright orange puree of cumin-scented carrots rounded out this elegant dish.
Dessert was an intriguing semifreddo made with smoked parnsip. Candied figs and candied pecans were strewn over the top of the frozen mousse. An oatmeal tuille added more nutty notes but will turn soggy if you don’t eat it first. Chicory Stout by Delaware’s Dogfish Head was the perfect finale. Made with Mexican coffee, roasted chicory, licorice root and St. John’s Wort, it reminded me of strong black coffee with its wake-me-up, dark roastedness.
Other brew pubs or gastropubs may serve food with beers, but the two here are truly symbiotic. Enjoy a paired tasting menu at The Abbot’s Cellar to discover just how magical that relationship can be.
Other Mission District Haunts: Wo Hing General Store
And: Bar Agricole
And: Flour & Water