It’s no secret that 2foodtrippers love bread. This admission may run counter to a lot of current anti-gluten trends, but we cannot get enough of the crusty joy that comes from great bread. And we have eaten a lot of it – from sourdough batards in Lyon to olive fougasses in Montreal to baguettes in Paris to focaccia in Rome. We even love the long, seeded Italian loaves native to our home city of Philadelphia.
Since it’s also not a secret that they bake great bread in San Francisco, we made it our mission to enjoy bread in the beginning, middle and end of our time in the city by the bay. We munched on a Boudin sourdough boule (purchased at the San Francisco Airport) before driving to the Sierras, we crunched on a French batard while tasting wine in Napa and we risked missing our flight home to buy an olive boule from Acme Bread in Berkeley. Our love of bread also led us to our first meal in San Francisco at Bar Tartine.
In truth, we didn’t know what to expect from this restaurant rooted in the nearby bakery Tartine. Due to the bakery connection, we had an inkling that bread would be a featured attraction. And yes, the dense, rustic, multi-grain bread loaves, made famous by the bakery’s owners/bakers Chad Robertson and Elizabeth Prueitt, were present in both the bread service and in certain menu items. But Bar Tartine surprised us with its menu of daring, original yet comforting small plates by chefs Nick Balla and Courtney Burns. For us, these plates provided a glimpse into San Francisco’s exciting dining scene.
Food at Bar Tartine
The menu is far from meat heavy and why should it be. Northern California’s produce is the envy of the world, and the kitchen of Bar Tartine knows it. Bright green herbaceous and citrusy flavors stamped every course of our meal from the pickled green tomatoes bathed in a juice of pickled bearrs limes to the ramp-based aioli served with smoked potatoes.
By the way, those smoked potatoes were the standout of our meal and may be one of the best dishes we will eat all year. Layers of porcini and black garlic added a taste dimension that transformed the pleasantly smokey potatoes into flavor bombs rich with earthy, mushroomy umami.
Speaking of Umami, the influence of Japan is evident at the restaurant from the plateware to the simple presentation of the food but there are also influences from Eastern Europe as well. All these flavors are wonderfully melded with the best fruits and vegetables of California.
We shared several plates and wish we had room for more. Since we had imbibed plenty of wine earlier in the day while in Nevada City, we opted for beer to drink with the meal. We loved the Honey Saison from San Francisco’s Almanac brewery. The beer was both sweet and spicy, and the 4.8% ABV was just right for the meal.
Remembering the fantastic vitello tonnato that we had enjoyed a few months earlier at Philadelphia’s Fork, we had to try the tomatoes with tonnato sauce and grated tuna. The plating reminded us of our kaiseki meal in Kyoto, but the flavors were all California.
We could have happily kept the meal vegetarian, or at least pescetarian, but we were compelled to try the raw beef on toast with anchovy.
The farmer’s cheese dumplings with spinach and mushrooms were an interesting combination of Eastern Europe and California.
Dessert at Bar Tartine
Our dessert of cherry soup with macerated cherries, nectarine leaf panna cotta and fennel fronds is a fine example of the Eastern European influence. The deep cherry flavored soup married with the slight fruitiness from the noyaux cream and the liquorice fennel fronds. Combined with bits of black pepper and small bites of seaweed, the somewhat savory dessert is all international and all San Francisco.
Bar Tartine’s energetic room on Valencia Street in the Mission neighborhood gave us our introduction to the fine eating spaces to be found all over the Bay Area. The spacious ceilings and inconspicuous, welcoming frontage fit seamlessly into the gentrifying streetscape.
After our five-hour drive from the Sierras, Bar Tartine was a nice welcome back greeting and worthy hello from California’s dining epicenter.
Bar Tartine was located at 561 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94103, USA. It is now permanently closed.
Check out our other San Francisco meals: