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Stick to the Suds 

Eldos Grill & Brewery

Wednesday, Aug 28 2002
The art of matching food to beer hasn't quite attained the snob appeal of pairing the perfect wine to that juicy slab of porterhouse, but we're getting there. Now that microbrews are as much a part of the modern-day restaurantgoing experience as purple basil and cobalt-colored cocktails, it's inevitable that the pros and cons of pairing grilled Sonoma duckling with a nice, malty doppelbock should inspire discussion. Since the microbrew revolution was fomented in our own back yard at about the same time that artisan cheeses, hand-plucked spring greens, and small-batch breadstuffs were turning the Bay Area into Provence West -- introducing a generation of Bud-swillers to the diverse pleasures of Boont Amber, Red Tail, and Anchor Steam -- it's only natural that these two culinary vanguards should meet and mingle as deliciously as possible. Why shouldn't roast chicken be just as tasty with Mt. Tam Pale Ale as with an unassuming Châteauneuf-du-Pape?

Theoretical ramblings aside, however, even the most complex beer is at its best when its gastronomic companions are on the rustic side: thick burgers, molten enchiladas, smoky platters of barbecue, or big slabs of pepperoni pizza. The best brewpubs -- restaurants that microbrew their own beer on the premises -- are for the most part hip to the concept. The Marin Brewing Co. has a cheeseburger well worth the ferry ride to Larkspur. Dempsey's of Petaluma is famous for its plump pork chop. The Powerhouse Brewing Co. in Sebastopol serves up a bowl of chili as tasty as its brown ale. And even the cognoscenti enjoy the lusty little tapas proffered at SOMA's ThirstyBear.

Eldos Grill & Brewery, on the other hand, suffers from an identity crisis. Located on a block of the Inner Sunset brimming with simple, neighborhood-friendly businesses, it shouts its Fourth & Folsom vibe from its peach sponge-painted vestibule. The interior décor is haphazardly eclectic: the gleaming, Gaudi-esque curves and towering ceilings of a downtown hot spot against a boots-and-cacti Southwestern theme accented here and there with carousel horses and the odd avant-garde photograph. Rough beams, exposed pipes, and distant glimpses of brewing machinery provide that apropos microbrewery look. Eldos' proximity to UCSF adds an additional college-hangout ambience to the existing Spaghetti Factory/Citizen Cake hodgepodge. The menu, meanwhile, can't decide if it should concentrate on Tex-Mex, Nuevo Latino, or plain old pub grub.

All this eclecticism spreads the kitchen mighty thin. Unlike more successful venues, Eldos isn't committed to any specific idea or unifying theme, and several menu items are both overly ambitious and unexciting as a result. The ceviche martini is a case in point. It looks terrific -- mussels, calamari, and crab piled up in a cocktail glass with bits of onion, tomato, and cilantro -- but the rubbery seafood tastes like nothing in particular and the tomato sauce it sits in is thin and soupy. A similar problem defeats the fritto misto: prawns, calamari, zucchini, and red onion robbed of their individuality by a salty, doughy buttermilk batter, served with cocktail sauce that seems fresh from the jar.

Two entrees in particular aim high and miss. The chicken mole (served over penne pasta) comes nowhere near the fabled gustatory extravaganza of Mexico's national dish in either depth or complexity. The concoction lacks the taste of roasted peppers and bitter chocolate and carefully balanced, slowly simmered ingredients, instead presenting merely chicken with pasta in a watery, tepid marinara sauce. Strips of spinach and a few pistachios add to the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach. The Pollo Isla Bonita sounds tasty and exotic and Caribbean but is actually a pallid attempt at soul food, light on the soul. A jerk-seasoned yet bland chicken breast appears on a platter with boiled collard greens unencumbered by any flavor, black-eyed peas prepared in the same unfortunate fashion as the greens, and plantains fried within an inch of their lives. Each side is cooked separately, without pan drippings -- and without that culinary interaction that makes soul food so soulful.

What Eldos ought to do is admit it's a brewpub and get on with it. The four house beers, after all, are distinctive and admirable. The Alejandro Vienna is a medium-bodied lager with an unusual piquant crispness and a rich, creamy head. The Sunset Pale Ale tastes light, fruity, and refreshing, with a spicy afterbite, making it an ideal summertime drink. The Bohemian Pilsner is more autumnal in character -- hoppy, flowery, and golden-hued -- but the Kaos Munich Dark Lager would be a treat year-round, with its deep, full flavor and velvety body. It's especially good with the Eldos Fries, one of the down-to-earth specialties the restaurant does well. Crisp, hot, and packed with actual potato flavor, they come to the table swimming in garlic, chili oil, and blue cheese and are impossible to resist. Less impressive but satisfying nonetheless is the dish called Brew-chetta, slices of grilled bread rendered soggy by marinated tomatoes but redeemed by a mess of melted mozzarella and garlicky pesto.

A few entrees stand out. Although it arrived at the table medium-well instead of medium-rare, the half-pound Three Napkin Burger has lots of potential -- a fine, charbroiled flavor; scads of pungent blue cheese; thick strips of chewy, smoky bacon; and an excellent soft bun ideal for absorbing a myriad of flavors. Just make sure to order it as rare as possible. Another suds-friendly option is the Burrito Mojado, an enormous example of the genre with big shards of tender, beer-braised pork, fat chunks of avocado, melted cheese, sour cream, and a zingy tomato salsa, the whole luscious mess crammed into a thin, feathery flour tortilla.

Sadly, the desserts don't live up to the best of the pub grub. Strawberry shortcake offers pretty good strawberries, glopped up beyond recognition by a thick sauce flavored with red dye No. 2, a soggy little biscuit collapsing beneath. Something advertised as a triple chocolate cake is more like a big Ho Ho with most of the chocolate flavor sucked out of it. Bourbon Street Bread Pudding resembles nothing I've ever encountered in New Orleans. Instead of a dense confluence of cream, eggs, sugar, and Jim Beam, the pudding is a pile of French bread stuck together with scrambled eggs and doused with a sweet bourbon extract; on top of everything, it's difficult to saw through. The best option is the mocha profiteroles, though the puffs need the same hacksaw as the bread pudding. They're stuffed with very good coffee ice cream and set on a bed of crunchy macadamia brittle, and that's good enough for me.

Service is as noncommittal as the décor and the menu -- we couldn't have pried an opinion or a suggestion out of our server if our lives had depended on it. Fortunately, in addition to the brews Eldos presents a full bar with a satisfactory selection of after-dinner drinks. A snifter of Booker's exemplary single-barrel bourbon makes a fine alternative to dessert. Stick with that, the beer, and the sort of food that goes with them both and you'll be just fine.

About The Author

Matthew Stafford

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