I've only been to Belgium once. I went to Brussels and Bruges for a few days many years ago after working my way through Scandinavia. While the memories of being there have mostly faded to a blur of landscapes, the clearest remnant is of an afternoon spent sitting in an airy, sunny plaza with a tulip glass (or two) of Duvel.
Sitting at the bar at the Trappist, a Belgian-beer-focused pub in downtown Oakland, those fond recollections resurface and etch themselves deeper with each sip of the St. Feuillien Triple ($8.75). Silky, dry, and light without feeling watery, the citrus and fennel flavors from the beer conceal the high octane (8.5% abv), but also make it remarkably food-friendly.
Opened in 2007 by partners Aaron Porter and Chuck Stilphen, Trappist's 28 taps change daily, with most kegs coming from small, specialty producers in Europe and the U.S. "We have only a few beers that are more consistently on the menu," Porter says. "We make choices and represent breweries based on what we like and what we believe is the highest quality product."
The primary focus here is showcasing a wide variety of beers, including what shape of glass it comes in, and to the proper serving temperature (not always ice cold). While this makes Trappist beer-geek heaven, the knowledgeable staff works hard to keep anyone who might be less familiar with the monasteries and varieties equally comfortable and happy. But be careful, the wisdom acquired here from the quickly changing list is infectious, and you'll find yourself coming back frequently and tasting something new each time.
The dishes are designed as complements to the beer, but Chef Mike O'Brien's compact menu would be a shame to skip. The Beer Poached Bratwurst ($12), served with a potato hash and whole grain mustard, is so plump that it looks like caviar and has just enough fat to make it tender without pooling into a slick on the plate.
"Occasionally Chef Mike will work with us to feature a food/beer pairing if it's something special, as for an event," explained Porter. "For example, Chef Mike collaborated on a 'Pastramen' dish [using his house-made pastrami] for an event we had during SF Beer Week that focused on unusual Japanese beers."
Trappist: Like a flight to Belgium, with a layover in Japan.
Trappist, 460 8th (at Broadway), 510-238-8900