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It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Belgium
By Angela Wagner

April 2, 2006, was yet another gray and rainy day in San Francisco. Since the weather was so similar to that found in Belgium, it seemed fitting to attend the Toronado's annual Belgian Beer dinner. “Dinner” is only a slight misnomer; the event starts at 11:30 a.m., but folks don't generally stagger out, er, I mean, leave the pub until dinnertime.

Once again, Mendocino County's Peg Davis provided her chef's touch to create an extraordinary menu, paired exquisitely with a vast array of Belgian beers. Being more vegetarian-minded, I loved Peg's warm vichyssoise with pumpkinseed oil and toasted seeds. The soup was delightfully paired with three beers: De Regenboog ’t Smisje BB Bourgondier; Boon Oude Geuze Mariage Parfait; and Fantôme Brise-BonBons. The BB Bourgondier was my favorite of the afternoon. Not an easy beer to find, it has a rich caramel flavor with hints of spice and maybe a touch of citrus. It was perfect with the soup. Both were very warming on that cold day.

As usual, my favorite part of the meal was the cheese plate. This year's selection included Wynendale, a soft Port-Salut–like cheese from West Flanders; Père Joseph, a semisoft, stinky and delicious Belgian cheese influenced by German, Dutch and French tastes; and finally, Le Grand Chouffe, a semisoft, nutty-flavored cheese from the Quebec province of Canada. The three cow’s milk cheeses were paired with St. Feuillien Cuvée de Noël, Val-Dieu Winter, and Het Anker Gouden Carolus Noël 2003. All winter ales, these slightly richer beers made for a nice desserty complement to the cheeses.

Other standout beers included a Chimay Grande Réserve 2000 and a De Dolle Extra Stout on draught. After six years on leas, the aged Chimay was a treat. The De Dolle was yeasty with chocolate and coffee notes, providing a perfect finish to the meal. As a special treat, Toronado owner David "Big Daddy" Keene brought out a magnum of St. Feuillien Triple in celebration of the second anniversary of Natalie and Vinnie Cilurzo’s opening of the Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, Calif.

A Belgian merci, dank u and danke schön to Big Daddy for keeping up the annual tradition. Also, heartfelt best wishes to the Cilurzos on the occasion of their brewpub's anniversary.

Angela Wagner is a San Francisco–based writer/photographer.


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