Restaurant Review: The Refuge

Source: Nolan Martin

The Reuben is the star of The Refuge's menu.

Meredith Geaghan-Breiner

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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.

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9 Responses to “Restaurant Review: The Refuge”

  1. Virsies on February 11th, 2013 8:00 pm

    Yum! I’ll definitely check this place out next time I’m hungry. Looks like good food and a nice environment.

  2. nhug on February 12th, 2013 3:48 pm

    Sounds delicious! I can’t wait to try out their famous Reuben for myself. Also, the atmosphere sounds like the restaurant has a great vibe. I’ll definitely be sure to head there before leaving for college!

  3. zpacalin on February 12th, 2013 4:11 pm

    great descriptive review! really gives me a good idea of the atmosphere!

  4. Tyler Finn on February 12th, 2013 8:43 pm

    Great review of a great restaurant! I love The Refuge so much and reading a review that captures my experiences there is wonderful.

  5. egrose on February 13th, 2013 9:52 pm

    I’ve never even heard of The Refuge, but now I can’t wait to try it! I love finding out about great new local restaurants, and the atmosphere and food there both sound amazing. Great review!

  6. Evan on February 13th, 2013 11:39 pm

    As a fellow San Carlos dweller, this review makes me very excited because I can’t wait to try it out and eventually visit this place!

  7. Nolan Martin on February 15th, 2013 12:57 pm

    One of my favorite spots in the Bay Area and some of the best pastrami in the world…check it out if you haven’t already!

  8. David Schmitt on February 18th, 2013 4:26 pm

    If only you could tell me about their mac and cheese…

  9. Ryan on March 19th, 2013 7:27 pm

    This sounds like an ideal restaurant. The European feel is definitely appealing! I’ll be checking this puppy out soon.

Restaurant Review: The Refuge