The story: Belga, which took over the corner space of Cafe Des Amis on Union Street, opened in early summer and is the latest splashy spot in the growing restaurant empire of Adriano Paganini, who gave birth to hot spots such as Beretta, Lolinda, Delarosa (not too far on Chestnut Street), and Starbelly. The kitchen for this brassy Belgium-inspired brasserie is headed by Chef Freedom Rains and the bar program is under the supervision of Ryan Murphy.
Why I went: I helped my niece Margot celebrate her birthday last month, and Belga was on her list of places to try. Plus, I’m always interested in learning more about Belgium/German food.
The vibe: The large room with cherry-leather seating has a festive and casual atmosphere. The bar was bustling the whole time we were there, and the dining room filled up with a lot of couples or people who seemed to come just for some drinks and small bites. The place sometimes seems like it’s packed for a party because almost every inch of free space is taken up by a chair.
The booze: As you can imagine, Murphy has pulled together an impressive list of beer, many coming from Belgium but quite a few locally and across America. To help you decide the type of beer you like, the menu is divided into sections such as “light,” “hoppy,” “malty,” “funky,” and “fruity.” There’s also specialty cocktails (all for $11), and that’s where I zeroed in on the “Loophole,” which is made with an IPA and Aperol, gin, egg white foam, and lemon. It was like drinking a beer but with a bit more tang and flavor, and less of the hoppiness. Margot ordered the “Herbert West,” a vodka cocktail with grapefruit, lime, elderflower and Cynar.
The menu: It definitely lives up to the brasserie fare with items such as frites, mussels, and salad Lyonnaise. There’s also a burger, charcuterie selection, and a sausage menu. My niece is on a mussel obsession lately so we ordered the steamed mussels with beer, shallots and green garlic ($15) and it was a huge bowl of mussels with just a tinge of beer flavor in the broth. We ordered the small platter of charcuterie ($23/large is $39), which included items like country pate, liverwurst, porc roulee, smoked ham, salami cotto, Jardiniere, mustard and fruit compote. Of course, much of the large plates were heavy on meat (although there’s one vegetable plate option), and we didn’t shy from them as Margot ordered the sausage board ($35), a selection of four house-made sausages. I ordered the grilled shoulder pork with trumpet mushrooms and cipollini ($26).
My favorite dish: It was definitely my grilled shoulder pork, which was thick but nicely cooked with just the right tenderness and juice to make you salivate. You know a meat dish is going to be good when it comes with a big knife stucked into it. It’s done.
The last bite: Like I said earlier, Belga is a brassy brasserie because of its large space and meat-focused menu. The non-meat items were good but not necessarily special (our side of Brussels sprouts seemed a bit tired and the anchovy was mushy). Still, the large selection of beer with food to pair makes Belga a fun spot for a casual meal.
The rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Belga, 2000 Union St. (at Buchanan), San Francisco. PH: 415.872.7350. Open weekday lunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; weekend brunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner 5 to 10 p.m. (till 11 p.m. on Friday/Saturday). Reservations, major credit cards accepted. (SF healthy fee added to tab.) belgasf.com
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