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The Monk’s Kettle
Cold Craft Beer at New Mission Hot Spot
by Michelle Sieling on Jun 20, 2008
Opened in December 2007, The Monk’s Kettle replaces a string of mediocre restaurant ventures at the (some would say cursed) corner of 16th and Albion. Despite a few missteps by staff and kitchen, its mid- to high-end "craft beer and wine tavern" concept is flourishing; with only eight tables and limited seating at the bar, the restaurant fills up quickly, with quite a wait at the door.
Monk’s Kettle is the brainchild of co-founders Christian Albertson and Nat Cutler. Albertson, whose background includes four years at Boulder, Colorado’s Mountain Sun Brewery, noticed the lack of beer culture in the wine-saturated Bay Area. After meeting co-founder and former Seattle financier Cutler through their wives, they set out together to remedy that situation.
The kitchen is overseen by Chef Kevin Kroger, formerly a Sous Chef at Left Bank Brasserie in Larkspur and B Restaurant in Oakland. Kevin constantly adjusts the menu according to the seasons and the tastes of his customers, pulling all ingredients from suppliers within a 100-mile range.
Over 100 bottled and more than 20 draft beers from all parts of the world fill five pages of the menu. While classics like Bitburger Pilsner on draft do not disappoint, harder-to-find drafts like Hacker-Pschorr Weiss and Houblon Chouffe balance out a list heavy with West Coast microbrews. For a serious beer-drinker, the list may rival even the Toronado, but it’s not quite as easy on the wallet.
Bottles range from standards like Anchor Steam and Radeberger Pilsner to Schneider Edelweisse and Poperings Hommel Bier. Interested in the amount of alcohol you are imbibing? The alcohol by volume (ABV) is listed along with the size of each serving.
The wine list is small, but very respectable, with selections by esteemed, near-cult status producers like Domaine Weinbach in Alsace and White Rock in Napa. I enjoyed a glass of 2004 Nichelini Zinfandel ($10) on one trip.
On our first visit, the staff was kind and courteous, but the service still needed a bit of polish. Neither the waiter who seated us -- nor our waitress -- seemed to know the soup of the day. Moreover, the kitchen was out of many items, and it was only 9:15pm. The terrine of duck confit with caramelized onion and bacon hash and a cranberry demi-glace ($11), was 86ed, as was the cheddar-scallion potato cake meant to accompany the Niman Ranch cider-brined pork chop with caramelized brussel sprouts, bacon and stone-ground mustard cream sauce ($18). Instead, my slightly salty chop came with a couple of fingerling potatoes.
My dining companion chose Chef Kroger’s favorite, BBQ Niman Ranch pulled pork, braised with house made BBQ sauce and served on a La Brea bun with jicama slaw ($11), which works, but like most West Coast pulled pork, is a little on the sweet side.
An ample serving of a baby spinach salad with manchego, dried cranberries, fried pumpkin seeds and savory tahini dressing ($8) was a little wilted, but the kitchen rallied, and the spinach seemed fresher on our second outing.
On another visit, we tried a bruschetta with cannellini bean puree, sautéed wild mushrooms and white cheddar with mixed greens ($9). The mushrooms were flavorful, but I could have done with less-bitter greens. The soft texture and taste of the bean puree and mushrooms could not stand up to the harshness of the greens.
The star that night was a plate of short ribs with polenta ($17). The meat was falling off the bone, and the polenta with gorgonzola had the homey consistency of grits. We were slightly disappointed with the Pot Pie of the Day ($15). The flaky crust was perfect, but we felt it didn’t make up for the lack of andouille sausage underneath.
When it was time for dessert on the first visit, I would have liked the seasonal peach cobbler ($6), but we were not informed until after we'd finished our entrées that it would take 20 minutes. On the next visit, I ordered early and was awarded with a warm, crisp apple version. We also enjoyed a bread pudding ($6) with intense, melted chocolate and gooey peanut butter.
The massive wooden bar, salvaged from a home in Blackhawk, takes up at least a quarter of the room, and stark white walls are offset by a dark ceiling and decorated only with a few B&W framed photos. In the back corner, chalkboards displaying the beer menu are set high set above shutters—left slightly open so you can peek into the kitchen. Ceiling light fixtures are doubled up and turned on their sides to illuminate the spaces between tables. It gets crammed, so expect to hear all about the lives of those seated next to you (and their jobs at Web 2.0 start-ups).
If you don’t want to deal with the crowd, Monk’s Kettle kindly offers to-go service so you can enjoy your meal at home without having to listen to how wonderful the people next to you think they are. Notably, the kitchen is open until 1am nightly, serving Niman Ranch burgers, giant pretzels and the like from the bar menu.
Reservations Essential? Not available
by Michelle Sieling on Jun 20, 2008