January 10-16, 2007

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First Bite

Marin Brewing Company

By Alastair Bland

It was Jan. 6, so I suppose the football game on the overhead TV was a big one. I don't really know; I had come out to the Marin Brewing Co. with my friend mainly to taste the famous beer. Our host seated us at a booth adjacent to the noisy, jam-packed bar.

Sister company to Noonan's Bar and Grill as well as to Moylan's Brewery and Restaurant in Novato, the Marin Brewing Co. was founded in 1989 and has since won scores of awards at state, national and world beer competitions. As a close follower of microbrews, I felt like I was coming home. But the crowds of rowdies at the bar hollering over their drinks at the athletes onscreen soon proved more than we could take. We scooted ourselves out the back door onto the south-facing patio, and here we found sunshine and peace.

Several draft beers were available, including the Sour Bourbon Barrel Stout ($5 a pint). I tried a sample but didn't quite feel like drinking sour beer. Instead, I opted for the Old Dipsea Barleywine ($5 a pint), a rich brandy-like ale that came just a bit too cold, especially on this frosty, blue-skied winter's day. My companion ordered an organic apple juice ($2.25), half full of ice, and it, too, was cold.

In need of something hot, we each started with a cup of soup ($3.95). We ordered one cup of the MBC's award-winning pork beer sausage and beef chili and one of their daily special, a Mayan black bean tortilla soup topped with tomato sauce and feta cheese. The latter was certainly the most deluxe dish in an otherwise beer-soaked culinary environment that features honest cheese fries, pizzas, sandwiches and giant burgers.

Unfortunately, the kitchen had run out. With that, our waiter offered me a sampler cup of another soup, boiled chicken-vegetable, or something of about that complexity level. I passed and sent for a large spinach salad ($9.95, with avocado for an additional $2.50). The salad was excellent, with succulent morsels like hunks of goat cheese dressed in a sweet-sour vinaigrette that lingered to the end.

After 30 minutes in the sun, my barleywine was sufficiently warm to drink. The flavors of malt, syrup and grain had awakened, and the 9 percent punch of alcohol helped take the cold bite out of the dry, wintry air. I drained the brew and then ordered a White Knuckle Double I.P.A. ($4.50 a pint).

We slowed our pace, my comrade savoring but eventually abandoning a small caesar salad ($5.95), topped with whole anchovies, croutons and thick dressing. I ordered a real winner with the veggie club sandwich ($9.95). This monster came sliced into four triangles, revealing a beautiful cross section of thickly layered avocado, tomatoes, sprouts and whole wheat bread.

The sun fell lower in the sky, and we paid the bill. It was frickin' freezing now, and we had an hour to wait for the ferry back to San Francisco. We sat shivering on a steel bench at the terminal, and soon found ourselves longing for a warm place of boisterous company, rich food, heavy beer and a football game on TV. Some hot bean soup would have been nice, too.

Marin Brewing Company, 1809 Larkspur Landing Circle, Larkspur. Open for lunch and dinner daily; late menu on weekends. 415.461.4677.

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Quick-and-dirty dashes through North Bay restaurants. These aren't your standard "bring five friends and order everything on the menu" dining reviews.