I recently opined that there might be a subterranean shortcut to Belgium somewhere in San Francisco due to the recent outcropping of north European specialty bars and restaurants, and I think we may have found it - and you certainly need to go underground to find it. While La Trappe's upstairs dining room could still be mistaken for the model North Beach Italian restaurant that it replaced on the corner of Greenwich and Mason, what with the simple line of small, flower-adorned tables against the tall windows overlooking a turn on the cable car route, it's when you venture downstairs that you think you may have struck upon an anomaly in the space-time continuum and were spit out in a ratskeller style tavern just north of Reims.
And ohhhhhh, what a tavern it is. 150-plus bottled Belgian-style beers plus just about a dozen brilliant tap choices, and with a menu perfectly suited to pair with the beverage choices a la bière et gastronomie belge, the cellar space has a small bar where you can belly up and chat with the bartender about your choices in the beer book (which isn't even entirely necessary, as the book has detailed descriptions of every single offering), a dozen or so tables, and a dark, cozy, low-to-the-ground (as you'd likely need to be by the end of the night) lounge that in any other locale would likely be called a "chill room", but here, with the low stained-glass monastic lighting, stained glass windows, candlelit tables, and furnished nicely in dark, dark wood, the proper name would more likely be "the refectory."
And in due tribute, we kept it mostly monastic in our (admittedly limited) tasting choices for the night. Off the tap list I had the joy of trying the Konongshoeven Quad (and yes, as of September, 2005, once again officially a Trappist product), a thickly syrupy cara-molasses monster that still paired far too well with my frites with spicy aioli, and Des enjoyed a bottle of the Rochefort 6 (they were out of the 8 and didn't offer the 10, sadly), which was surprisingly rich and full-bodied for being at the low end of that brewery's range, a nicely spicy, well-balanced mahogany treat that only made me yearn for the 10 (which I still haven't found, thank you very much) all that much more.
The real winner of the evening's cavalcade of the malted stars was the (on tap!) Gulden Draak, a dry black behemoth with a nearly impenetrable root beer float head on it, deliciously reminiscent (but stonger, intenser, deeper, and just "more-er") of some Belgian stouts that we've been comparing lately. A gift to the patient drinker, as it took about 5 minutes to pour, it matched as well with the charcuterie and cheese plate as I imagine it would have with dessert. And the food, not an afterthought, was quite good as well: I decided to save the chicken waterzooi for our next visit as I was drawn to the Marin Sun Farms burger (okay, I was really just drawn to the frites, but still) served on a brioche, while Des enjoyed the coconut curried moules et frites (again with the frites!) served in a branded Wittekerke mussel pot.
As dark as it is down there, and as dorky as I generally feel taking photos of food and menu pages (doesn't stop me from writing about it, though, does it?), I do always manage to get a shot or two of the little sprout (here seen "all done" after reading the beer book, which does give you the chance to see just how nicely it's put together - see the flipped and zoomed version below). Page 14 (!) doesn't really do the menu justice as it's all about the bottles they stock from European countries outside of Belgium, but I do think I'll have to give the Babycham a go next time I'm in the 'hood looking for a warm summer's lunchtime bevvy. (Oh, and that one that Mia's covering on the bottom? That's Belzebuth, the 13% abv strong pale from France. She's hiding it in fear we'd mistakenly order it.)
Unlike another recent Belgian cuisine outing we took, La Trappe completely deserves a re-visit, if not just to try the stewed apples, but also for the other 13 pages of that book to go through. Next time, maybe I'll glance through the door at the end of the hallway past the restrooms to see if my hunch is correct, and that the Manneken Pis is only a few steps further along.