Friday, May 21, 2010

Where Angels Fear to Tread

This week I was in the Silicon Valley for work. Not my favorite place in the world, but I was determined to make the best of it. The rental car place had upgraded me from a Hyundai to a Cadillac, so Monday evening I decided a drive to Santa Cruz was in order. recommended that I hit Red Restaurant, and I was really glad I did.  The place had a great laid-back atmosphere with lots of couches spread out around a cozy room, and a wonderful tap list of about 30 beers  The goblet of Lost Abbey Angel's Share in the picture only set me back $5.50.   Friendly service and serviceable food rounded it all out.  If you're headed there, don't be confused by the ground floor -- a burrito place and a smoky bar called the Red Room -- find the stairway outside that leads upstairs to the Red Restaurant.

That Angel's Share was a thing of beauty:  dense toffee flavors with a boozy brandy edge, balanced with unobtrusive hops.  Despite what a big beer it was, it wasn't at all cloying.  I would have drunk one after the other if I didn't have to steer a land yacht 40 miles through the rain on winding mountain roads to get back to my motel.  Back at the motel, a Unibroue Maudite -- a Belgian-style beer that I usually love, and which garners an A- on Beer Advocate -- seemed syrupy and one-dimensional compared to the memory of the Angel's Share.

Tuesday evening I took Caltrain up to the City to hang out with our friend Andy and check out a couple of North Beach places that I hadn't been to.  La Trappe is a Belgian-themed beer-snob favorite that I was embarrassed to have missed during our family vacation in March.  With my sights set on La Trappe, Beer Advocate came up with another North Beach gem to try: Kennedy's Irish Pub and Curry House.

Kennedy's has a respectable 30-some-odd beer taps, but I was also interested in the Indian-food angle of the place.  I figured the menu would consist of British-inflected curries, but when we got there I was surprised to see that in addition to the standard fare, they also served South Indian dosas and utthappam.  This was a bit of overkill for me -- I had already had a huge pesarattu dosa with upma for lunch that day at Dosa Place in Santa Clara -- but there is so little in the way of good South Indian food in Portland that I was happy to repeat myself.  The Kennedy's dosas were not exactly kosher: in fact we ordered a spicy chicken dosa and a lamb utthappam.  Those are odd variations on a basically vegetarian cuisine, but they were tasty enough and a welcome departure from usual bar food.  If you go there, one dosa is enough for two people.

The schizophrenia at Kennedy's doesn't end with the Irish-Indian juxtaposition.  There's also sort of a sports-bar vibe to the place, with TVs in every corner, and pool, foosball, and air hockey.  Andy was excited when we ambled up to the door -- "This is one of the last bars in San Francisco that has air hockey," he said.  If that wasn't enough, on our way out we discovered that one room in the place is now a wine bar with rotating exhibits of modern art, and local meet-the-winemaker events.  With something for almost everyone, Kennedy's is definitely a place to check out.

Full of spicy food, Andy and I made our way over to La Trappe.  There was a kind of resonance with my Red Restaurant experience:  the cellar dining area of La Trappe has a similarly dark and relaxed ambience, and even has a little candlelit cove of couches and coffee tables if you are just there for a beer or two as we were.  What really resonated with me was that they also had Angel's Share on tap, though at a more diabolical big-city price of $8, for a less generous pour than the one I had the night before in Santa Cruz.  I was really happy to get another shot at such a wonderful beer that isn't available in Portland.  Andy ordered a Kwak that was served in one of the more ridiculous pieces of glassware ever seen -- a round-bottomed beaker that rests in a cheesy wooden stand.  Good beer, and a really fine atmosphere that left me wishing I had more time and money to spend there.

The beer tourism was a welcome relief from the woes of business travel.  I highly recommend La Trappe and Red if you find yourself in SF or Santa Cruz respectively, and Kennedy's is a fun, funky place that I expect to return to again.  And take as many shares of Angel's Share as you can get -- it's a stunner.


  1. I won one of those kwak glasses with the stand at fred fest. I looked into it and it has some pretty interesting history. It was made specifically for the driver's of horse drawn carriages, who were prohibited from leaving their horses unattended. The owner of the place that originally produced kwak thought the drivers should be able to enjoy a beer like the people they were driving, but since they couldn't come in for a glass, he devised a special glass that could be hung in the carriage without the fear of it tipping over. The wooded part would have actually been mounted on the carriage, and someone would run out with the unique glass that could be hung in it, so the driver could have a beer. The beer has been served in those ever since.

  2. Or so the story goes, this article seems to claim otherwise:

  3. Jeff: I guess I don't have a problem with gimmicks, though I have to point out that no one arrived at La Trappe in a horse-drawn carriage.

    That's cool that you won one, I would definitely flaunt a glass like that from time to time if I had one.

  4. I'm in love with an Angel. The Lost Abbey Angel's Share is one of my favorite beers.
    Unfortunately, I can't buy it in Arizona. So feel lucky and honored that you were fortunate to be pimpin in that Caddy and were able to have such an amazing beer.