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Bar Tartine - update

Two nights ago I visited the Mission hoping to find a new third worldish cuisine. Instead, I ended up at Bar Tartine, 561 Mission, betw 16th and 17th, for more of a splurge but well worth it. The last post I noticed about this place was a year ago, just after it opened, so I'm offering this update.

Without a reservation my only option was the bar seating. Sitting at the bar at first reminded me of the Universal Cafe, with similar layout of salad prep station and all the cooking in full view off to the right. Otherwise, though, the decor is very different. Bar Tartine's countertop was an impressively wide, 4-inch thick, immaculate marble slab. Clearly, the desired effect here is an upscale, but relaxed, bistro atmosphere--none of Universal's endearing industrial grunge style.

Like last year's reviewer I enjoyed the celery root soup. It captured the celery root flavor well and played it out nicely, thickened with chestnut puree and cream, and lightly dotted with a clear aioli. Simultaneously delicate and satisfying, filling. The accompanying bread, presumably from Tartine bakery, was a moist, gluteny treat.

Of about four entrees on the menu, I chose the vegetarian option, gnocchi with hen-of-the-woods (maitake) mushrooms and kale. Nice complementing of flavor and texture: earthy, gently fibrous maitake, slightly bitter (and vitamin-packed) kale cooked to a surprisingly al dente tender texture, and ethereally light gnocchi. Somebody knows how to handle difficult veggies here.

That's it! I watched the salad guy meticulously sculpt leafy constructions, but have no idea how they taste. I had a pleasant glass of red wine but can't say anything intelligent about wines yet since I'm still a beginner on that subject. I inquired casually about the history and learned that the current chef, Jason, who does full hands-on cooking duty, is the third chef since the opening. The hostess claimed that his specialty is the matching of subtle flavors. I'd say this chef has a gift in that respect--a good reason to try this place when you're not in a raging jalapeno or vindaloo frame of appetite.

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  1. Thanks much for the update, especially for the veggie focus.

    Here's another recent report -

    1. We have really been looking forward to trying Bar Tartine, especially my husband, for some reason. We ended up having brunch there today after seeing the line at Weird Fish. (We didn't have our heart set on Weird Fish, but we were in the neighborhood and famished.) I had French toast (7.50) with carmelized fruit (2.50). Husband had Leb Lebi ($10), a Tunisian chickpea stew with harissa, poached egg, capers, and other things I can't remember. Both dishes were egregiously overpriced. I received 1 slice of French toast for that $10 and almost wanted to laugh. Was this a joke? It was way too sweet, just not balanced at all. Leb Lebi was a really stingy portion too. Husband said he'd had basically the same thing at Universal Cafe, where it was much better and twice the size.

      I know, I know. "The food is terrible, and the portions are so small!" It's not lost on me.

      I've had what I call snooty brunch at most of the places in the Mission now (Universal Cafe, Slow Club, Maverick, Foreign Cinema come to mind), and this was by far the worst. I would happily return to all of those other places (well, maybe not Slow Club, but that was much better than Bar Tartine).

      1 Reply
      1. re: Atomica

        I had a very different experience at Bar Tartine this past weekend when we strolled in for brunch. I got the Ham and poached eggs, and my dining companion got the pork belly sandwich with egg salad and fries. My plate came absolutely covered with generous, salty, and luscious slices of La Quercia ham. This ham is Jamon Serrano like, American, artisanal, and amazing. The portion was extremely generous for the price, which was pretty close to $10, I think. The eggs were cooked perfectly to my specs ( i like my eggs a litle firm), and the hearty slice of grilled bread underneath tasted of smoky fat in the best way possible. My companion's sandwich consisted of several large chunks of unctuously braised pork belly atop a tasty egg salad (according to her, I didn't taste it), and Cesar-like herbed fries with deep fried sage leaves. I believe her dish also came with a salad. The pork belly was divine, I got to have more than one chunk, and again, very generous portions for the price, i thought. To wash it down, I got a pot of fresh mint tisane, done like Chez Panisse. Perfect. Loved the scale and decor of the room, too. Our food took forever to show up, though. Note, we got there for a very late brunch (1.30ish), so the room was almost empty.

      2. I'm headed tonight for the first time and looking forward. For future reference, the address is 561 Valencia (between 16th and 17th). Not Mission.

        4 Replies
          1. re: Melanie Wong

            As usual, we were derailed en route, but we'll make it for sure next Saturday. I'll post.

            1. re: ncardozo

              Result: fantastic. The lamb stew was the standout, but also good were the onglet and the gnocchi. One of the deserts (milk & honey) was outstanding, one (chocolate cherry crepe tart) was good, and one (strawberry napoleon) was too sweet. We sat at the family table and had shockingly speedy service. We will definitely be back.

              1. re: ncardozo

                Super! Hard to believe I haven't tried it yet.

        1. I have recommended this palce many times. They serve brunch now FYI.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Lori SF

            I reported on brunch in this very thread. Extremely unsatisfactory brunch.

            1. re: Atomica

              Atomica what was unsatisfactory about it?

          2. I have been wanting to try Bar Tartine for ages. I finally went a couple weekends ago and it was very early, so we were one of the only tables with diners at that point. Then, another couple walked in and the hostess sat them at the table right next to us... so close that I could eat off their plates. The rest of the entire restaurant was empty. I will never understand why hostesses do this... we walked out and ended up eating elsewhere.

            1. I absolute love Bar Tartine... few veggie choices but the ones I've always had were amazing. The dessert is almost the best I have come across... had a pistachio nougat, chocolate gelato with some caramel sauce. Sounds decadent but was actually quite light. I haven't had nougat anywhere in the city. Anyone else??

              1. I ate here yesterday evening, and I have to say that, for the price, I was underwhelmed. It wasn't bad or anything, but it was hardly *great*, and I have no desire to go back. The bread served before the meal was the highlight.
                The crudo was distinctly meh.
                The sweetbreads were tasty.
                The marrow was good.
                The quail was also distinctly meh.
                And what kind of place calls itself a "bar" but has no spirits?

                1. Two meals in two weeks.

                  1) Solo early Friday night dinner at the bar before taking a red-eye from SFO (may become a new ritual for me)
                  Moroccan braised lamb tongue with eggplant puree, chickpea fritter
                  Foie gras stuffed quail with grapes and farro with Little Gem lettuce
                  "Milk and Honey" - honey mousse, almond cake, pluot sorbet, fresh pluot

                  The lamb tongue was fantastic... super-flavorful, incredibly tender... the foie gras liquified inside the quail (it was a sliced roulade, rather than a boned quail quarter or half) and sauced it from the inside out, with the juices from the quail and the fat from the foie coating the farro. The only misstep was the inclusion of wilted Little Gem lettuce, which was too watery in texture and flavor. Would have been better with something more assertively flavored and textured, like baby arugula, or purslane. Dessert was good (I especially enjoyed the honey mousse) but I think I would have preferred a different stone fruit... pluots tend to be too mildly flavored for me... an earlier report described peach sorbet and slices of fresh peach that sounded fantastic.

                  2) Brunch

                  Open-faced pork belly sandwich - a few generous chunks of perfectly crispy/fatty/tender pork belly and slices of heirloom tomatoes on a large slab of Tartine's bread, and a pile of delicious herbed shoestring fries on the side. The fries were somewhere between hash browns and french fries in texture - they were mostly tender, with some crispy bits. I'm a little unclear on how they're cooked - maybe blanched in oil, and finished in the pan? I usually like fries fried hard, and was concerned when this limp-looking pile came out, but damn if I didn't finish every single shred (while fighting off my friends, who were picking at them as well).

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: daveena

                    I'm a visiting LA hound, here for my birthday and we went to Bar Tartine last night - It was exceptional.

                    I started with an apertif at the bar: Cocchi Americano which the bar tender described as a cross between Lillet and Campari (strange marriage) - it was outstanding. Refreshing but pleasantly herby, I'd never had anything quite like it before.

                    My girlfriend (who is a veggie/fishetarian) started with the portugese cilantro bread soup. The soup came with a perfectly poached egg on top. The broth was really fragrant, but suprisingly not overpowering. It didn't hurt that the bread in the soup was the best bread I've ever had.

                    I started with an appetizer that mixed squid, pork belly, potatoes and egg salad. When I asked the waiter for his advice, he told me that this was his favorite thing on the menu. I'm not usually a fan of egg salad, but I am always a fan of pork belly so I tried it. This dish has made it into the pantheon of best things I have ever tasted. The eggs in the egg salad appeared to have been medium boiled so that the whites were fluffy without being heavy. The squid was salty and caremized and the pork belly melted in my mouth. There was just enough acidity in the egg salad to cut the richness around it. I mean it - I've eaten some great things - but this is close to the best I've ever had.

                    For dinner, my girlfriend ordered the gnocchi with kale and truffle oil. I don't think either of us had ever had toasted gnocchi this way - it was suprisingly light. The result was tasty and strangely healthy feeling.

                    I had duck with chestnuts, foie gras emulsion and an apple frisee salad (hey it was my birthday). I'm not usually a big fan of chestnuts, but this dish worked really well. The duck was nicely pink and the chestnuts provided the sweet underpinning that goes well with duck. Most suprising was the foie gras emulsion - it was almost as if you had found a way to bottle the essence of foie gras without the feeling of fat sliding down your throat.

                    We had the bittersweet chocolate tart for desert and I'll just say that it was also great - the highlight was the milk chocolate sorbet - which managed to be rich while also strangely light (this seems to be the theme - rich and light).

                    In sum, we had a great experience. The staff was extremely friendly and helpful. The bread was ridiculous and the food was some of the best I've had in a while. It was a great birthday.

                      1. re: daveena

                        We've also had a couple of wonderful meals at Bar Tartine recently.
                        I'm with you on the appetizer (and they were kind enough to make it for me without the squid).

                      2. re: badschiraldi

                        Bar Tartine was the best meal that my boyfriend and I had among a trip of fantastic meals at great restaurants (Chez Panisse, Quince, Zuni, etc.). I find myself going on the SF board just to read reviews of Bar Tartine in a hope to get a vicariously thrill through other people's pleasure. I can't wait to get out there again!!

                        1. re: badschiraldi

                          I just had dinner at Bar Tartine for the first time last night, not knowing much about it. I wasn't expecting a whole lot since I associated the name with the bakery more than a restaurant. I thought we were going for simple bistro food. I was very pleasantly surprised.

                          We had the squid/pork belly/egg salad app and I must concur, it is truly an OUTSTANDING dish. It's worth making a trip there. I think I will return soon to have it again - no idea how long it will stay on the menu. Really, everything we had was good, but that thing stood out. We were thinking it would be a good value to get 2 orders of it and have it as a main... that would be huge, but 1.5 might work.

                          1. re: badschiraldi

                            I enjoyed the squid, pork belly, egg salad, and potato appetizer--how can you go wrong with those ingredients--but it didn't seem like more than the sum of its parts. Not a dish I'd make a special trip for.

                            Bone marrow with grilled toast was great (again, how can you go wrong), though the accompanying rocket salad wasn't as good a match as Fergus Henderson's parsley and caper salad I've had at Incanto and TWO.

                            Gnocchi with hen-of-the-woods and kale was good for a vegetarian dish. Would have been better with some pork fat.

                            Best dish was the grilled onglet tagliata on celery root puree with bordelaise sauce. That dish is worth a special trip.

                            So was the coconut "parfait" (really a mousse) topped with sesame brittle. Fabulous.

                        2. link

                          Bar Tartine
                          561 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

                          1. I'm bumping this up in order to call attention to the Dungeness crab and sea urchin, pumpkin custard, chorizo, jalapeno and vanilla oil appetizer on the current menu. The ingredient list is long and maybe a little precious, but this was easily one of the most spectacularly interesting and delicious things I've eaten in a long time, and I'm not even much of a Dungeness fan. Silky custard, sweet and briny sea creatures, spicy peppers, and a whole that exceeded by leaps and bounds the sum of its weirdly disparate parts. Yum.

                            (The yellowtail crudo, marrow bones, beef heart with quail egg, and squid/pork belly with egg salad were all pretty tasty too, though--surprisingly, for me--I appreciated them in precisely inverse proportion to the amount of meat that arrived on the plate. Meaning: 1) uni and pumpkin custard, 2) hamachi, 3) marrow bones, 4) pork and squid, and 5) beef heart. Also enjoyed--though not as much as the citrus semolina cake at Bar Bambino--the meyer lemon pudding cake and a perfect affogato. Banana parfait was a bit too unrelievedly sweet for me, but then, I'm not much of a dessert person. And I was also approaching capacity by this point!)