Restaurant Review: The Refuge
February 8, 2013
The Refuge, a beer pub in downtown San Carlos
The first thing you notice about The Refuge is the buzzing atmosphere. On a Saturday night, the place was very much alive without being too crowded. Young singles engaged in animated conversation filled the bar, while bigger groups sat around tables, chatting and laughing. Open windows and outdoor seating create a European vibe, perhaps owing to owner Matt Levin’s experience abroad at Michelin-starred kitchens in Paris. The brightness of the pub, from its neon sign out front to its lighting inside, make it appear all the more inviting, while heat lamps keep everyone toasty outside for complete dining comfort.
Service was quick and friendly; our drinks and appetizers arrived in no time. Happily we dug into a few highlights of The Refuge’s eclectic menu: sauteed broccoli amandine, with sherry vinaigrette and almonds; glazed carrots, heated with generous amounts of butter and coriander; tomato soup, the perfect consistency in a charmingly rustic bowl; and some remarkable garlic fries, which the table polished off greedily. The dishes were complemented by our house-made cherry colas, which tasted faintly like cough syrup and yet somehow had us hooked by the second sip.
The main event, of course, was yet to arrive. We ordered The Refuge’s famous Reubens, sandwiches that are so much more than sandwiches. Pastrami, sauerkraut, melted swiss, and Russian dressing, all bundled between slices of toasted rye, packed an explosion of flavor that left us in awe.
The star of the show was the meat. The Refuge has made its name on its ultra-tender pastrami, a masterpiece created in-house with exceptional labor and time. The restaurant uses the cut of beef just below the brisket (corned beef), called the ‘heart of the navel,’ then trims off all excess sinew and fat for a 50% yield. The meat is steamed for hours and rubbed in a delicious mixture of spices to reach a perfectly tender and flavorful place that makes the Reuben a $16 pathway to full culinary satisfaction. For those who want to try the restaurant’s trademark but aren’t big on sandwiches, a pastrami chopped salad offers a healthier menu option.
Overall, The Refuge was well worth the visit. The lively mood of the pub and the moist, juicy, smoky goodness of its famous pastrami makes it one of the best places in the Peninsula. College-bound seniors, try this place before you leave the Bay Area: it will be an unforgettable dining experience.