The dining room. Photo by Aubrie Pick, courtesy Belga.
The bar. Photo by Aubrie Pick, courtesy Belga.
Mussels and beer. Photo by Aubrie Pick, courtesy Belga.
Beverages. Photo by Aubrie Pick, courtesy Belga.
Open tonight (May 12th) is ~BELGA~, the Cow Hollow Belgian-inspired brasserie from restaurateur Adriano Paganini (Lolinda, Beretta, Starbelly, Delarosa, Super Duper Burgers, Uno Dos Tacos). The space was previously Cafe des Amis, and while its gorgeous bone structure remains, the space got refreshed with the purpose of making it feel more casual and lively.
But first, let’s go over the new (and lengthy) Belgian brasserie-inspired menu. You’ll find some classic Belgian dishes, with French and German influences, and of course a California sensibility (chef Freedom Rains’s background includes Flour + Water, Boulevard, RN74, and Incanto). Dishes include oysters, snacks, housemade charcuterie (like liverwurst and country pâté), and starters like a salade Lyonnaise (instead of lardons, Rains is using ham hock) and genever-cured arctic char with fennel, radish, crème fraîche, and seeded levain. You’ll also find three variations of mussels (naturally), prepared with Allagash White; take a look at the dry-roasted style for something different.
There’s a wood-fired grill, which will be firing up housemade sausages, like currywurst, boudin blanc, and boudin noir. There are also a few steaks (the 7-oz. bar steak is a play on au poivre) and a grilled pork chop too. Some classics include a carbonnade (a Flemish beer stew, which Rains is making with boneless short rib and braising with bacon lardons and an abbey dark ale) and roasted half-chicken with preserved lemon, young artichoke, and dandelion. The side dishes are also really appealing—but check your cholesterol before taking on the endive and ham gratin. Rains did a lot of research on dishes (shout-out to Omnivore Books) and is excited about bringing some classics back, with his own updates. Most of the dishes are designed to be easy to share.
Since it’s a brasserie, beer is a big part of the menu. Not only is there an extensive (and nicely organized) list, but many dishes are made with beer and meant to be enjoyed with beer. There are 10 taps and 50 bottles available, with both Belgian beers and many Belgian-style craft beers made in the U.S., and ciders too. Look for some reserve bottles to be poured.
There’s a full bar; look for a particular focus on genever and gin, brandies from France, and even some beer-based cocktails by Nora Furst. The bar will have a craft focus—even the tonic is made in-house. There is also a list of four Kopstoot pairings (which means “head butt,” and is a beer and a shot). The wine list features lighter-bodied varieties from France, Germany, and the United States, and a large selection of sparkling (led by bar manager Ryan Murphy, a certified cicerone, previously at Pi Bar, Abbot’s Cellar and Monk’s Kettle, and the Boxing Room).
As for the design (by Hannah Collins of Hannah Collins Designs), you’ll notice the dining room feels a bit airier (they lowered some of the seat dividers), and the side of the room facing Buchanan Street has more light. (The kitchen was also opened up a little, to bring some of the noises of the kitchen into the room.)
The bar has a different look, with blue terra-cotta tiles behind the bottles and green penny tiles by the raw bar and coffee station. The bar stools were custom designed, with riveting around the soft gray leather (meanwhile, the leather banquettes in the dining room are a punchy cherry red). Local artist Melissa Wagner created some custom collage artwork to add some playfulness. The outdoor seating will continue to be popular as ever, and the private dining room also remains.
The restaurant will be open for dinner Sun-Thu 5pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 5pm-11pm, with lunch and brunch coming soon. The bar is open nightly 5pm-12am. Reservations available. 2000 Union St. at Buchanan, 415-872-7350.