963 Laurel Street
San Carlos, CA 94070
Chef Matt Levin
Chef de Cuisine Michael Greuel
Lunch and Dinner Tuesday through Saturday
Last tried: August 2009
Tried: March 2008
The concept of Refuge is intriguing, albeit possibly a bit schizophrenic. The place is described as a "wine pub," and that is exactly what it is-- a pub with a television over the bar, a row of bar stools, and banquettes lining one side of the rectangular dining room, serving burgers and sandwiches, along with a fantastic wine list, most of them procured from Kermit Lynch.
The kitchen serves a mean seared foie gras appetizer accompanied by a fried brioche round, warmed cherries, candied pecans, and a tangle of frisee greens. (The greens were a bit stringy and the brioche a little hard, but the sweet pecans, cherries and foie were magnificent in both flavor and texture.) The charcuterie selection is generously portioned (it could easily feed four adults), served with thick slices of grilled bread in addition to crackers, apricot compote, cornichons, and grainy mustard. Among the charcuterie selections, I was least crazy about the "pastrami rillette," which was simultaneously bland and somewhat gamey with an alarmingly pink-orange hue. The pork rillette, on the other hand, was rich, fatty, and satisfying (though it could have used a bit more salt). The prize on the plate was the chicken liver "mousse," which was seasoned perfectly with the exactly right grainy yet smooth texture and the ideal not-too-livery but reminiscent of foie gras taste. I could have had that for dessert.
What I was most looking forward to trying at the Refuge was the thick-cut pastrami sandwich on rye, self-proclaimed to be in the style of the famous Katz's Deli in New York, a necessary pilgrimage for me when I visit Manhattan, no matter how inconvenient, specifically for that one-of-a-kind, nothing-else-like-it-in-the-world addictive taste. I was quite happy to see that the comparison was not entirely without merit. The Refuge's pastrami is indeed thick, fatty, and soft. Had I never tasted the original, I would think it was the best pastrami I had ever tried. If I were to nitpick, the seasoning is a little too sweet, and the texture of the meat is a bit too gummy, similar to pressed meats. The saving grace is that incredible wine list. I must say I have never before had the pleasure of imbibing a 2005 red burgundy with my pastrami sandwich.
Did I mention the fries and beer on tap looked really tempting too?