Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Dish on Dining: Monk’s Kettle

Warm Glow of an Upscale Neighborhood Tavern
3141 16th St., San Francisco
Mission District
PH: 415.865.9523
Open weekdays, noon to 2 a.m.; weekends, 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m.
No reservations. Major credit cards accepted.

Like moths to a flame, the people seem to be packing into beer destination Monk’s Kettle since this Mission District tavern opened last December. I remember first noticing this tiny spot at the corner of 16th Street and Albion, and seeing the warm glow of ambient lighting framing the picture-perfect scene of young patrons enjoying a good time. Now that’s what a pub should be.

So I visited Monk’s Kettle last week with my friend David, who is on his own mission of squeezing in as much entertainment before May (when his first baby arrives and his social life ends, ha!). We grabbed a couple of stools at the bar since most of the tables were already filled with people who looked relaxed and in no rush to leave this cozy spot.

Monk’s Kettle is the latest to tap into the recent wave of upscale wine and beer taverns, and they’re not fooling around when it comes to the beer. The beer menu is more than six pages long listing upwards of 100 beer by the bottle and about two dozen on draft. For some reason I thought they specialized in Belgian beer, but Monk’s Kettle has representative beer from all over the world.

David was the first to pull the trigger by ordering a German beer that was like a light ale. I couldn’t decide, so our friendly server gave me a tasting of three of the amber beers on draft. I ended up with the first Belgium amber beer I tasted, which had a nice rounded flavor with just a bit of barley oats.

Along with the friendly bartending staff, Monk’s Kettle also has a full array of beer glasses. They make a point of serving the beer in the glass that was designed especially for it. For my beer, it came in this cool holder that I’ve never experienced before. The glass has a rounded bottom, which means it can’t stand on its own. Thus the holder. Since I don’t drink beer that often, it was a nice novelty item for me.

But really, I wanted to test the food at Monk’s Kettle, which at least from its menu promised to be more than your regular fried pub food. The menu by Chef Kevin Kroger prides itself on its fresh and sustainable ingredients, from the Niman Ranch meats to the Quetzel Farms organic tomatoes in the burger. The menu also nicely recommends a beer as a pairing with each dish listed.

We started with the mixed green salad with pears (although it tasted and looked an awful lot like green apples)($9) and the giant pretzel ($6.50), which I had heard so much about. The salad, which came with Humboldt Fog goat cheese in a sweet maple vinaigrette, was tasty and fresh, but nothing to write home about. The giant pretzel, while big, didn’t seem as big as I imagined. When you put “giant” in your menu, it really has a lot to live up to. I would have just called it jumbo.

While the bread of the pretzel was fresh, warm and soft, there was this odd sheen on the exterior that made the pretzel slippery to hold. It was almost like it was sprayed with butter in a can. There were two dipping sauces: stone-ground mustard and a cheddar ale sauce. The cheddar ale was pale and subtle in taste, while the stone-ground mustard was dark and had a nice twang to it.

The menu also contains quite a bit of sandwiches such as Sesame Seared Ahi or Niman Ranch Pulled Pork. And I heard that the burger is supposedly good for lunch. But David is on a cholesterol watch (even more so than me) so he went with the house-made veggie burger ($9.50) and I decided to tackle the slow-braised beef short ribs ($17)—one of three large entrée selections.

David’s veggie burger came out looking really sad and pathetic. It lacked any color or vibrancy and really is a reminder to me how difficult it is for vegetarians to find a good burger. David confirmed this by saying that the veggie burger was just not very good.

My short ribs were an impressive plate of meat served over gorgonzola polenta, and it was fork tender, easily falling off the bone. But while I liked the texture, the short ribs lacked in flavor. It tasted very home-cook, in the way that you have very little fancy ingredients in your pantry so you use the basics to create a nice-but-nothing-fancy type of dish. That was how I felt about the short ribs.

I really wanted to like Monk’s Kettle because the people there are really friendly and it has a real fun vibe, but I can’t recommend it for the food. The menu is ambitious for a tavern, but it fails to deliver anything extraordinary. And in the hot Mission District, you want to be wowed.

Monk’s Kettle is a fun place to have a pint of beer (especially in those cool-looking holders), but check out the other places in the neighborhood for a real dinner.

Single guy rating: 2.75 stars (It really is 100 bottles of beer on the wall)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Monk's Kettle in San Francisco


Anonymous said...

Cool, I've wondered about this place Chef Ben! But $6.5 for a pretzel - that's stadium prices! And from your description, it didn't sound that you thought it was delicious. I'm also leery of maple vinaigrette, the combination doesn't sound good to me. But 6 pages of beers sounds like a good time!

Anonymous said...

Nice recap, Ben. I have to say I really wanted to like the place more than I did. Definitely liked the beer selection, the vibe of the place, the mustard that accompanied the pretzel and the salad (believe it or not, the maple dressing was really good). But the veggie burger was pretty lame. Like Ben said, I'm watching my diet so it's torture to look at that picture of the short ribs. Damn cholesterol! -- David

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with you. I've tried about 75% of the menu and it is well balanced and very flavorful. They now have a steak frites on the menu which I think is the best I've had in years. Also, it's a pretzel which is a pretzel which is a pretzel. To disect it like that is just silly. It is what it is...

Single Guy Ben said...

Chef Joseph, you're entitled to your opinion since eating out is very subjective. But I have to say that I think it's fine to disect a pretzel at a place like Monk's Kettle where a pretzel is offered up as an appetizer next to other fancier things, and when they charge so much. If this was a movie theatre, yeah, I wouldn't get into it. But at a place where the pretzel is talked about, I think it's worth my two cents. (And really, I realize that's all my opinion is worth. ;-)