Openings

Belga Brings a Taste of Belgium and Germany to Cow Hollow

By Virginia Miller  |  May 26, 2015
Credit: Virginia Miller

Belga opened last week on a bustling Union Street block in the former Cafe des Amis. The space is still elegantly roomy yet refined but now with a warmer tone and buzzy vibe that continues to grow as the night progresses. Beer lovers, this is your new, destination-worthy temple to beer — without any stuffiness or pretension. Belgian-style beers are grouped by major factors (sour, fruity, hoppy, malty, light and so on), with plenty of hard ciders, wine, French and Belgian spirits and quality cocktails besides, plus 10 beers on tap. Hearty-yet-refined Belgian, French and German food — with a California lightness — from executive chef Freedom Rains (formerly sous chef and chef de cuisine at Boulevard, Incanto, RN74, Flour + Water) makes Belga the whole package. Take a look below at initial food and drink highlights during opening week.

2000 Union St.; 415-872-7350

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  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    While the beer program is a major focus here, Belga's cocktails are also not to be missed. Heavy on Belgian/Dutch spirits like genever and French spirits like Armangac, refreshing beer cocktails are another standout on a menu created by Nora Furst (Lolinda, El Techo de Lolinda). Off-menu delights include an Armagnac Manhattan (pictured) made with Tariquet Armagnac, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth and a touch of Maraschino liqueur and Angostura bitters. The French brandy adds beautiful layers to a Manhattan.

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    Appropriate, given its Belgian emphasis, Belga has a mussels section on the menu ($15-19) with three different offerings: dry roasted mussels with clarified butter, pan-roasted mussels in whitbier, shallots and green garlic (pictured) or creamy cod, mussels and clams in cream and white wine broth. Whatever you do, don't forget to order frites ($9), ideally crispy and potato-"meaty", elevated when dipped in house garlic aioli (made fresh with egg), house ketchup and curry ketchup, the latter done in proper German style.

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    A welcome contrast to meat and vegetable dishes, you'll find a silky arctic char ($15) cured in genever, a Belgian and Dutch spirit laced with juniper, the precursor to gin. Fennel, radishes and crème fraiche are paired with the fish, draped over seeded levain toasts loaded with caraway seeds.

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    Bar manager Ryan Murphy (formerly Monk's Kettle, Abbots Cellar, Pi Bar, Beach Chalet, Boxing Room) is a certified cicerone (the equivalent of a beer sommelier) — and that expertise shows in his thoughtful, extensive beer selection that leans towards Belgians and craft American beers brewed with a Belgian ethos (think saisons, sours and so on). His love and knowledge of the subject shines when choosing a bottle to pair with your dishes.

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    No doubt about it, Chef Rains' house sausages are an immediate standout. Plump and full of flavor, it's tough calling out a favorite, though each style is quite different. Boudin noir ($13) is lighter than other black puddings (blood sausage), but with no less of that holiday spice comfort. His version is a stunner. Typically mild boudin blanc ($12) is done right here with subtle herbs, partnered with onion soubise and charred endive.

    The currywurst ($13) doesn't exactly recall the streetside sausage slices doused in German curry one finds everywhere in Berlin. Instead, it's a fresher, juicy sausage partnered with a bright tomato chutney. There is also andouille sausage ($12) with grilled tomato and white bean ragout — and if you can't decide, partner up with friends to try all four and tackle the sausage board ($35), served with house mustard and stoemp (Belgian mashed potatoes and melted leeks).

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    Furst's beer cocktails shine. Try Beer Cocktail # 2, combining aged Denizen rum with HenHouse's superb saison beer (from Petaluma), allspice liqueur, ginger and kumquats, with a smattering of fresh shaved nutmeg on top. Think Tiki meets beer bar, allowing the subtle funkiness of the rum to ground this refreshing, tart drink.

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    Roasted marrow bones ($13) are as gratifying and fatty as they should be, balanced by onion marmalade, spread over grilled toast strips brightened up by a fresh dusting of horseradish.

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    Murphy and team can offer exceptional beers as pairings with food or on their own. It might be a crisp, sour Oud Beersel Geuze from Belgium ($30) — a happy partner with any of the three styles of mussels —or a rarity from Oklahoma's ever-fantastic Prairie Ales: their Funky Gold Amarillo beer ($30).

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    In keeping with the Belgian influence — and as you're likely to be full after all the beer, frites, pork chops and sausages — Belgian chocolate bites ($2) make a fine finish. But you'd be remiss to skip the Belgian beer float flight ($10), one of the restaurant's initial highlights. None other than Humphry Slocombe ice cream is mixed with different beers (Allagash Black with coffee ice cream, sour Rodenbach Grand Cru with vanilla ice cream and Saint Archer Wit beer with strawberry ice cream), with delightful results.

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    The large space is lit by plenty of windows, stacked logs of wood and soft red banquettes in a space that recalls a classic Belgian brasserie with modern day balance and elegance.