Monday, February 23, 2009

Celebration at the Wine Pub

photo courtesy of The Refuge

Just a quick post on last Saturday night’s excellent adventure at The Refuge in San Carlos. Friends and relatives helped me celebrate another birthday, this time successfully cushioning the cruel passage of time.

The Refuge is an extraordinary place, and to appreciate it fully you must take it all in for the sum is larger than the parts. Its Belgian ale list is second to none in the Bay Area, yet the wine list is straight out of a 6th arrondisement bistro, filled with Chinons, Alsatians, and cru Beajolais.

Although the raison d’etre of the place is its slow-cooked, hand-cut pastrami that is worthy of Katz’s Deli, the reuben is just as daunting. But the brilliance of the menu is juxtaposing these Jewish deli treats with house-made French charcuterie made of duck and pork! Oy vey! Sacrilegious but brilliant.

And then the place is dressed up like a funky SOMA club: reddish walls, concrete floor, booths, cafeteria tables and chairs, and blaring indie noise rock music.

So to put it all together, you must love eating Jewish deli meats and French pork and duck charcuterie along with French regional cheeses; and washing them down first with exotic Belgian ales as aperitif and then a red Chinon; while not minding at all the ear-splitting noise rock music. Crazy, but everything works.

Tip: go there with a group so you can order the Grand Plate and 750ml bottles of ales and wines.

The Cantillon Iris was most interesting. Matt, the patron, told me it's a lambic, made like wine, fermented with native yeasts in open top fermenters and aged for 2 years in used wine barrels; the hops are not blended but harvested from a single year so it's a vintage lambic. Bone dry with a sour finish; the taste is similar to Champagne with zero dosage and to vin jaune.

photo courtesy of The Refuge
Duchesse de Bourgogne is served in a Burgundy glass. Fruity, black cherry flavors with a mouthwatering sour finish.

photo courtesy of The Refuge
And classic bistro wines. The Chinon from Joguet is a perfect match with the pastrami.

Aside from the ales and wines that we ordered, I brought a magnum of 1996 Champagne Brut Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, Lenoble which was vibrant and citrusy with a delicious toast on the finish. Victor L. brought a stunning Moscato d'Asti, darker than typical with intense cider flavors that are deliciously sweet, creamy, and delicate. Anh surprised us with a bottle of NSG Damodes Haegelin-Jayer: drinking very well already, like many 1988 these days! Delicately spiced and minerally cherry flavors with a light robe. And Krishna shared another 1988 Burgundy, also NSG from Maison Marchand; this was darker and more fleshy, the flavors are simple but well balanced.

Corkage is a very reasonable $10/bottle with a 2-bottle limit. But I apologize and thank Matt for allowing us to abuse his corkage policy on my birthday. But I'll be back and make it up to him.

The Refuge
963 Laurel Street
San Carlos, CA 94070
Tuesday - Thursday: 11:30am-2:30pm & 5:30pm-9:00pm
Friday: 11:30am-2:30pm & 5:30pm-10:00pm
Saturday: 12:00pm-10:00pm
Reservations accepted for parties of 8 or more.

Joguet Chinons are available at

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