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Bar Tartine, Nick Balla era [San Francisco]

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New chef as of March, bringing a Hungarian / Eastern European twist to the completely revised menu.

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Bar Tartine
561 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

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  1. I stopped in to check the place out to make sure I want to keep an upcoming reservation for a serious pigout. Tried the pork shoulder with blood sausage and sauerkraut. Delicious. The shoulder had an unexpected firm and chewy texture, reminded me of the pork neck served at some Thai places. Looking forward to returning.

    1. Finally made it in for a full meal. The difference between the current menu and past menus can't be overstated. It's like a different restaurant. Well, except for the bread.

      Basket of the best levain bread in the world with butter.

      Grilled rye bread with quark, shaved radishes, and house-made bottarga: this was an interesting combination of earthy and fishy, really needed an assertively tart white wine.

      Cold kohlrabi soup with ramps, sour cream, and dill: delicious and very unusual. Apparently cold soups are a big deal in Hungarian cuisine.

      Salad of smoked trout, crisp fried trout skin, Little Gems lettuce, shaved kohlrabi(?), fresh grated horseradish, crème fraiche: very nice, particularly with a little bit of each element in one bite.

      Braised brisket with red wine broth and grilled whole wheat bread with marrow: this was great, some of the best broth I've ever had. Beef was sliced thin like in phở.

      Chicken paprikas, king trumpet mushrooms, barley spätzle: less paprika and sour cream than the version my half-Hungarian dining companion makes, but scrumptious, we cleaned the plate and gnawed the bones bare. The chewy texture of the spätzle was perfect.

      Side of roasted baby carrots, zucchini, and shaved kohlrabi: really good, surprisingly free hand with chile flakes.

      Purslane salad with anchovy dressing: intense, but a great palate cleanser.

      I assumed that Elisabeth Prueitt would be doing the desserts, but the server said the restaurant has its own pastry chef who does her own thing. She's one to watch, I should have written down her name.

      Goat cheesecake (tart?) with buckwheat crust: wow. Kind of like graham cracker crust but earthier and chewier.

      Sour cream pudding(?): I think this had two different dairy elements plus whipped cream and some sort of crunch that somehow didn't get soggy. Again wow.

      Dobos torte: very good, if the least interesting of the three. Blum's used to make this, though I think they called it something else. The sour cream(?) ice cream that came with it was great.

      We saw the burger at the next table, beautiful Tartine-made bun, it looked so good we might make it back there in the next few days to find out. I'm also looking forward to trying the chopped liver and the grilled tripe.

      Bottom line, this is some of the most creative and interesting rustic food I've had.

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      Bar Tartine
      561 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

      13 Replies
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        Wow, this sounds great! I haven't had good Hungarian food (actually, probably any Hungarian food) since moving here. This sounds Cal/Hungarian which could be even better.

        They're updating the menus online. I'm wondering if they have variations on some of my other Hungarian favorites from other restaurants, given that they have a chicken paprikas. Would you remember if they have:

        - A cold sour cherry soup?

        - A strudel dessert? I much prefer crisply Hungarian-style strudel to the moister versions found in much of Germany, which seems to be what most Bay Area strudel is modeled on.

        - Any Hungarian wines?

        I want to check this out soon in any case. Thanks again for the great report!

        Michael

        1. re: mdg

          No cherry soup. I can't remember if they had any other desserts. No Hungarian wines, but the wine guy said he was working on that.

          1. re: mdg

            Nick did a cold sour cherry soup when sour cherries were in season (it is fleeting) and it was spectacular. I cannot get enough of his pickles or bread-based dishes. Try the fried flatbread next time.

            1. re: shawliza

              For fans of (sour) cherry soup, it's very easy to make and comes out quite a dramatic color. Both the NY Times and LA Times have run recipes recently.

              1. re: Windy

                And there were still sour cherries at Berkeley Bowl today.

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                Berkeley Bowl
                2020 Oregon St, Berkeley, CA 94703

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  I made it without sour cherries and just used less sugar. The NY Times recipe uses reduced red wine, so it's plenty sweet, and yogurt for the tartness.

                  1. re: Windy

                    The canonical recipe (from George Lang's "The Cuisine of Hungary", the English language bible of Hungarian cooking) for Meggykeszöce uses no wine, no yogurt.

                    Fresh sour cherries are cooked in 1.5 qts water with 3/4 cup sugar. 2 Tbs flour are mixed with 1 cup sour cream and a tsp confectioner's sugar. A couple of ladles of the soup are added to this mixture and stirred thoroughly, then added back into the soup, and simmered for 5 minutes. The soup is cooled in the pot, covered so it won't form a skin. Adjust salt with a pinch. Serve cold. 6-8 servings.

                    I think Balla uses this basic technique and brings this spectacular dish into the 21st century with some very creative additional flavors/spicing.

                    1. re: Thomas Nash

                      Yes, the yogurt was a lowfat substitution. One of the Timeses used cloves.

                      1. re: Thomas Nash

                        Ha! Yes--the Hungarians I went to dinner with at Bar Tartine didn't like it because of the flavors and spicing you mention. They both said that it tasted savory and salty, which was weird and off-putting to their palates. I liked it, but thought our portions were crazy huge--me and a not-Hungarian split a bowl and didn't finish half.

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                        Bar Tartine
                        561 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

            2. re: Robert Lauriston

              I went back to try the burger. No longer on the menu, at least it wasn't yesterday.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Oh yes, this place is a winner! Perhaps, the most interesting new place in a long time.

                Summary: this could be a moderately upscale modern take on Hungarian cuisine in a nice neighborhood of Budapest. Not a super fancy expense account place like Gundels, but sort of like a Delfina in Old Buda. Excellent.

                Details:

                Went with my cousin and spouses. My cousin and I come from Hungarian families and know the home cooking of that tradition. She is an excellent cook and does a fine job on all the classics. As a child I remember the Hungarian places on 2nd and 3rd Avenue in Yorkville (NYC). We both anticipated dumbed down fusioned food. But no -- this is real Hungarian at its absolute best, modernized and updated as has happened to French cuisine in France. Frankly better than anything I remember.

                Ordered 4 appetizers:

                Langos -- a potato based fry bread covered with ramp powder, sour cream and dill. I had never heard of this dish and thought it absolutely excellent. My cousin knew it and also thought it excellent but quite different from what she had made. An excellent appetizer, but remember there is also that excellent Tartine bread and you can really overdose on bread at this place.

                Chilled Kohlrabi soup -- as noted earlier, chilled soup is a wonderful Hungarian thing (waiting for the sour cherries to come to marker!) and we all thought this was an outstanding dish.

                Chopped chicken liver with egg salad, herbs, etc -- nicely presented. Excellent.

                Blood sausage, sauerkraut, dried cherry, smoked chili, hen of the woods -- WOW! Probably the best dish i have had in a year. Everyone rated this outstanding. Smokey flavored sausage with a soupy sauerkraut +++. Superb.

                3 Mains:

                Halasyle -- a classic Hungarian fish soup, modernized with pan fried rock cod in a smoky, very spicy broth. My mother/grandmother would not have approved of the spiciness (Sichuan class) which they considered too country… Not for the faint of heart, my cousins and I ordered this dish and we both agreed this was also Outstanding.

                Chicken Paprikash -- a very modernized version where the chicken had been roasted (had a crispy skin) and then covered with a paprikash sauce with wild mushrooms. A similar modern take on a classic dish as the Coq au Vin at L'Ardoise. Both of these dishes are traditionally stewed chicken (which I personally dislike). The modernized versions are wonderful. Excellent dish.

                Gulyas -- Done that night with beef cheek (certainly not traditional), this robust smoky stew was also an excellent up dated take. Served with marrow spread on Tartine bread. Excellent

                Dessert:

                Dobos Torte -- My cousin was unhappy with this because it used the traditional name and deviated too far from the classic multi layer chocolate cake with a hard caramel topping (which she does very well). The word "dob" means drum in Hungarian and this may refer to the hard top -- but the name also could have come from some famous baker named George or Joe or Istvan Dobos or something like that*. Yes, this was not traditional, no hard top, the caramel and apricots around the side, but it was extremely good, covered with chocolate chips and hazelnuts that gave a nice crunch. Certainly among the best desserts at a restaurant of this class in San Francisco. But it does remind one of how far behind we are in pastries compared to what goes on in Budapest and (ahem!) Vienna.

                All in all, what a pleasure and wonderful surprise to see the levels this cuisine can attain!

                With all the bread and over-ordering, took parts of 3 dishes home --- yet the total bill with tip (1-2 glasses wine/beer per person) $117 per couple. Quite reasonable.

                *Note added in edit: Looked this up in George Lang, The Cuisine of Hungary. Turns out it was invented by József C. Dobos in 1887 at his food specialty shop in Budapest.

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                Delfina Restaurant
                3621 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                Bar Tartine
                561 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

                L'Ardoise
                151 Noe Street, San Francisco, CA 94114

                1. re: Thomas Nash

                  Traditional coq au vin is braised rooster, and the dish would make more sense with a tough but flavorful old bird.

                  1. re: Thomas Nash

                    Went back again tonight.

                    The sour cherries are in and sour cherry soup is on the menu. This may be the best dish I have had in years! DO NOT MISS IT. It is a classic Hungarian cold soup, always a favorite, but this chef does it with complexity and sophistication and raises it to a new level.

                    Also had pickles, excellent if a bit pricey for the quantity. The blood sausage and sauerkraut, as good as the first time -- absolutely incredible. A zucchini dish with a very spicy sausage and a cardoon puree, also phenomenal. And a fine rendition of little dumplings (~1/4 inch) which I think the Germans and middle Europeans call knockerel (sp?)

                    I grew up with Hungarian food and, frankly, always found it a bit boring. Nick Balla is making it spectacular. This should be a Michelin 3 star, Zagat 27, ... Best new restaurant in 5 years.

                    Don't think I am overstating...

                2. I should set this up with the fact that I'm Hungarian and thus my taste is skewed to the traditional foods I ate growing up that were delicious. I should also add that I went several weeks ago and perhaps Balla hadn't fully gotten into the swing of things. I hope that is the case.

                  I genuinely wanted this place to be amazing, but I went and it was not.

                  The good:
                  The bread was tasty. The brisket was also fairly good. But mostly because both of these tasted like fat/melted butter.

                  The bad:
                  The paprikas was brown. I know that might not mean a lot to some people, but to Hungarians that's not a good sign. It should be a beautiful red, and even a so-so Hungarian mother could pull that off. They must've been using old paprika or burning the hell out of it. Maybe going through old supplies? Whatever it was, it was not yummy.

                  The spatzle was gooey and didn't hold its shape well. It was also not that good.

                  There were no Hungarian desserts on the menu yet or Hungarian wines (if someone from the restaurant is reading, please don't sell Egri Bikaver, I'm tired of explaining to people that not all Hungarian wines taste like old shoes). But, with sour cherries coming into season shortly I hope they make cold sour cherry soup. If they do I will make one final attempt to rekindle my childhood memories and pray that I showed up on an off night. I owe my people that much.

                  I guess try it for yourself, but from my experience I'd say you're better off saving the money, finding a Hungarian friend who likes to cook and buying a bottle of palinka.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: tomtom

                    Sounds like they've been making progress. The paprikas we had was reddish-pink and the spätzle were al dente.

                    Apparently they're going to make their own paprika.

                    The wine list is pretty carefully selected. I expect if they add Hungarian wines they'll be of similar quality. I asked the wine guy if he was in touch with Blue Danube, which distributes some great Hungarian wines here, and he said yes.

                  2. I was in a couple of weeks ago for the one dinner I had in the city during a recent visit. I sat at the bar, received expert, attentive and well informed help about both the menu and the wines from a fantastic female bartender. She guided me through the cucumber pickles which were garlicy, sharp with just enough bite and zing to capture my attention and reset me for the food which would come. This brings me to what I loved most about what I had - very precise, distinctly flavored and bold food. I came for something different (knowing little about Eastern European and less about Hungarian dishes) and it seemed like a good bet that's what would come.

                    Next I had the sour cherry soup, which I found to be a dual-personality borscht, with enough cherry in there to make me curious enough to keep eating, with a rooty (beet, I guess) base to keep it moving along, and the bits of creme fraiche and oil/pickled bits on top to give some variety. What got me about this dish was the texture - amazingly smooth and thick - a really lovely and unique dish.

                    Last, I had the blood sausage, which was fabulous and deep, with great spice and flavors going on with a richness and bottom end from the sausage which held everything together. It was intense, and I wondered if it was right as a main for just one person but I loved it and had no problem at all putting it away. The dish stayed great and interesting throughout.

                    Again - really expert and friendly service, and a wonderful menu with food that simply knows what it is and seems to say exactly what the kitchen is trying to say. I can't imagine this direction going for long in LA, where most folks likely wouldn't get this at all. This place is a treasure - where the menu is now and where it is likely headed is exciting. Enjoy it - I'm looking forward to a trip back to explore more. Thanks, SF CHs for saying your good things to get me there!

                    1. Finally made it here tonight! The cold sour cherry soup, chicken paprikas, and beef gulyas were as good as described. The gulyas was a brisket and had a lot of caraway. The paprikas seemed like a smoked paprika and came with some terrific greens. I missed not having any spätzle with it as it makes such a good combination with the paprikas sauce; it was just the greens and the mushrooms. The duck pate and padron with goat cheese appetizers were also tasty.

                      Desserts were OK but not that impressive; there's way too much savory and not enough sweet for my taste among these choices. The lack of strudel was a big disappointment given the Hungarian tilt of the menu. There are still no Hungarian wines on the wine list, but we had a nice Santa Ynez Syrah that went well with the food.

                      The deal-breaker here though is the ear-splitting volume of the room. At this volume level, no matter how well you cook and how much I like the food, I won't be coming back.

                      Michael

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: mdg

                        the chilled sour cherry soup was the best dish we tried.

                        1. re: mdg

                          mdg, is Dobos torte still on the menu?: Chocolate and hazelnut get covered in caramel.

                          SF Weekly J. Kauffman had a good review of the place w/ pic the dessert:
                          http://www.sfweekly.com/2011-07-20/re...

                          1. re: hhc

                            Yes, the dobos torte was on the menu, pretty much the one non-savory dessert. It was good but I'm not a hazelnut fan; my wife, who is, enjoyed it very much.

                            We sat in the front of the room to the right of the door, against the brick wall. Everything is hard, angular surfaces so it's no surprise it gets deafening when it's packed, as it was Saturday night. I've never been before so I have no idea if there was a remodel.

                            Michael

                          2. re: mdg

                            Was there a remodel? It's never been loud when I've been, so maybe where you're seated makes a difference.

                            1. re: sugartoof

                              Yes, there was a major remodel. They knocked out a wall to expand into the business next door (maybe the luggage place that closed?) and added a new section of tables.

                          3. They really scratched the burger??

                            What a shame. The bun was a little overbearing but it was an excellent burger.

                            1. Closed for a few days to install a bread oven etc., open for dinner on Saturday.

                              http://insidescoopsf.sfgate.com/blog/...

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Good timing for me; I drove in from Napa last night to try the cuisine and was disappointed to learn that Nick was in Hungary so I would imagine a few more changes on the re-open with what he learned while I was there.

                                We ordered the cherry soup, bottarga, duck hearts, fried dough (naturally), smoked trout salad, and blood sausage. Our mistake was not checking how really bread-heavy some of our appetizers were considering we were sitting there munching on the amazing bread beforehand. The bottarga was the least impressive dish only because it was so bread-heavy. The hearts were stunning but, again, I only needed a bit of bread to sop up the amazing sauce. Loved the fried potato dough and the smoked trout salad was stunning.

                                We only have a few bites of the blood sausage as it was so rich and we wanted to save room for dessert, heavenly pockets of peach pierogi. There are now Hungarian wines on the menu which I tried for the appetizers, but was much happier with the Triple Karmelite with the blood sausage.

                                Worth the drive in from wine country and can't wait to go back.

                                1. re: CarrieWas218

                                  I think this bread issue is a real problem, which I hinted at in an earlier post. The chef has a conundrum. He has access to the best bread in the city, the country, the world?, from Tartine's and so people pig out on that before anything happens. Then some of his dishes call for a bread on the side. So you do get breaded out, if you are not careful.

                                  1. re: Thomas Nash

                                    That's their intention--they wanted the new chef and new menu to feature their bread, so there was a clearer link between bakery and restaurant. I loved it before as its own restaurant, I guess now I'm finally over my grudge about them firing the old chef and I'll give it a try, and just not eat carbs for a day in advance!

                                    Edited to add, if these reports hold up, I guess I'll forgive all grudges. I think the old chef is better off at his new restaurant, Commonwealth, where he is putting out a boundary-pushing modern tasting menu that is fantastic, and Bar Tartine can be the bread-featuring relative of Tartine Bakery that the owners wanted.

                              2. Cross linking a good new report from escargot3 on Bar Tartine to this intensive thread on the subject:

                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/809142

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                                Bar Tartine
                                561 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                1. I finally understand the reoccurring criticisms of the revamped Bar Tartine posted outside CH.

                                  Hand made Paprikas, and pickeled everything aside, I found execution and service of the new menu a complete trainwreck.

                                  The food is not Hungarian. Eastern European? Barely. Taking Hungarian spices, and elements of a Goulash, and serving it as a Pho is ridiculous. Waiters suggesting tables share the dish, and then providing flat plates rather than bowls shows just how poorly thought out the execution of it is. The marrow tasted merely of globbed on butter, so thick it was hard to stomach, especially after all the other rich dishes. On a small menu (3 or 4 entrees total), each dish should build up to a main course, and flavors should compliment each other. Instead, each was an assault to the senses, overpowering some of the more interesting, delicate ingredients on the plate or just wearing out the palate. Balsamic is the flavor that comes to mind, only I don't think anything we ordered used any. Sugar and vinegar, maybe? Turning Brussels Sprouts into a Vietnamese flavored dish worked better, and was good, but it's essentially taking a random item and saucing it to death for a flavor profile....but not one that fit next to anything else on the menu You can make a shoe taste like BBQ with the right sauce.The Langos isn't a particularly outstanding version, nor is the beet salad.

                                  So what you're left with are Hungarian spices misused, on misleading dishes. I don't get the sense that the Chef is deconstructing dishes he's mastered, instead he's doing some ill conceived fusion concept that is still unrealized and possibly beyond his abilities.

                                  Service is also on the decline, with a more casual vibe (as in "oh look, the bartender is twirling her hair, and adjusting her nose piercing, and now she's cutting bread with the same hand") and we had 3 different waiters popping in and out, until we were accidentally ignored for a half hour before our plates got picked up, and another 20 before asking us if we wanted dessert. It's at that point that the noise level, and lack of air ventilation in the renovated space became very noticeable too.

                                  Finally, the bread is still great even if it doesn't actually compliment the new menu structured around the baking project plans. Oh, and I really miss the burger. This was a real letdown.

                                  21 Replies
                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                    We went last night for the first time. I can't comment on the Hungarian aspect, although my great grandfather came from that part of the world. The spicy, warm food hit the spot on a rainy day.

                                    I loved the Brussels sprouts; it was overdressed, but I can't get enough vinegar-based slaws with a little kick (serrano chilies?). The Brussels sprouts were like tiny red romaine lettuces. Really beautiful.

                                    We also enjoyed the kapusnica, duck soup in a spicy red broth with cabbage, apples, cherries (?), and sour cream. (Mashed potatoes probably unnecessary.) Buckwheat noodles were like spaetzle.

                                    The pickles ($4 per mini jar/serving) were confusing. They should just offer a plate of assorted pickles for $10-12. Green tomatoes were only okay, and the pickled sausage appetizer was fine.

                                    I'd never had Langos before, but I had a fantastic potato pancake at Schroeder's last week. One Langos for a table of 6 might be better. For me, it just wasn't worth the calories.

                                    I had forgotten how good Tartine bread can be, warm from the oven. Maybe I'll go stand in line again at the bakery some time. I appreciated the water carafes on the table and no one trying to upsell us. Wines by the bottle are reasonable.

                                    Dinner for 2 with one glass of Kekfronkos and a soda came to $70 before tip including that dreaded 4% Healthy SF surcharge.

                                    Service was warm and attentive but not hovering. Everyone we interacted with was friendly and happy. So maybe your service was an off night.

                                    We decided to go to Commonwealth for dessert, and sat at the bar watching the guy with the liquid nitrogen make applejack slushies and frozen chicory mousse. The peanut butter ganache is still the winner though.

                                    1. re: Windy

                                      It's a buckwheat soba noodle made into a spaetzle, but much larger than spaetzle should be. I think that really defines the place. Taking Asian ingredients to make the Eastern European dishes, and taking the Eastern European ingredients to make Asian dishes.

                                      Marketed accurately, I'm probably not the audience for that trick anyway. Sounds like you ordered better then we did.

                                      Service was friendly, just chaotic, and nobody likes to go ignored. We left a big piece of meat in the goulash, so they were probably avoiding us thinking we were getting ready to complain. We just wanted the bill. Dessert at Commonwealth sounds amazing.

                                      1. re: sugartoof

                                        I was on the lookout for hair-twirling bartenders--can't abide by bad restaurant hygiene. But our waiter didn't even touch his beard once. And yes, the buckwheat noodles portion could be half the size.

                                        The dollop of frozen chicory mousse is weird (as you'd expect). Best very cold, as the flavor changed as it melted. It's served with caramelized bananas and a bit of honeycomb candy.

                                        The applejack slushie also has Cavaldos and pomegranate seeds in it. Thinking that will be my holiday party drink this year, minus the liquid nitro.

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                                        Commonwealth
                                        2224 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                        1. re: sugartoof

                                          Balla's buckwheat noodles aren't soba, they have egg in them. They're much closer to pizzoccheri.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            Which makes even less sense. I see them as unevenly balled up soba noodle nubbins, which at least works conceptually with a Pho Faux Goulash.

                                          2. re: sugartoof

                                            Hey Sugartoof
                                            Actually the buckwheat dish is not a noodle. Buckwheat is used a lot in European food -- for example: "kasha" or blini. Spaetzle is in the dumpling family -- and there are as many different ways of preparing it as there are for most regional dishes. Where I grew up, it's "rough hewn" (and not carefully rolled or cut).

                                            1. re: escargot3

                                              Soba means buckwheat.

                                              It's possible you guys are right, and this is one of the dishes which has no intentional Asian reference, but then the Asian influences on other dishes seem even more random. I'm trying to make sense out of Bar Tartine's new concept.

                                              Interestingly enough, when I asked about the prep, our waiter had never heard of Kasha.

                                              1. re: sugartoof

                                                "The staple things on the menu are paprikas, gulyas, the fish stew called halaszle, and kapusnica. All that stuff is based on traditional dishes, but we're interpreting it our way. We layer Japanese ingredients like kombu and katsuobushi in for their flavor and use California ingredients. In a traditional gulyas, you might have diced potatoes and carrots. Here we're using breakfast radishes and baby purple turnips -- whatever we find at the time. A lot of other dishes aren't very Hungarian -- they're just stuff we want to make. We play around a lot, doing a lot of pickling, preserving, and fermenting, seeing how the flavor combinations evolve. ... We're bored with white flour and want to push whole grains, seeds, and nuts into our breads -- and the whole menu in general. We want to have more flavor and texture. We're just cooking them in a way that tastes good. Not the bland, chewy health food they're associated with."

                                                http://blogs.sfweekly.com/foodie/2011...

                                                1. re: sugartoof

                                                  No, Soba is a noodle, which is made in a particular style. Zaru Soba is primarily made from buckwheat, but regular old Soba is primarily regular wheat. It's a Japanese word for the result of a preparation, not an ingredient.

                                                  1. re: SteveG

                                                    "Soba (そば or 蕎麦?) is the Japanese name for buckwheat. It is synonymous with a type of thin noodle made from buckwheat flour, and in Japan can refer to any thin noodle (in contrast to thick wheat noodles, known as udon)."
                                                    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soba

                                                    In any case, my theory was they were attempting some fusion with that dish.

                                                    1. re: SteveG

                                                      Zaru Soba is chilled soba noodles traditionally served on a zaru which is a slotted bamboo tray type thing. It's one of many perparations of soba noodles.

                                                      sugartoof is correct that Soba does literally mean buckwheat, but is sometimes generically used for thin noodles as well as specific types of noodles which aren't buckwheat based such as Chuka Soba (Chinese Noodles aka ramen) or Okinawan Soba (available at Ramen Tenma in the South Bay)

                                                    2. re: sugartoof

                                                      Our server at brunch this past Sunday was certain sturgeon was a shellfish.

                                                    3. re: escargot3

                                                      They look like spätzle / nokedli to me.

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        current online menu says "Grated buckwheat egg dumplings" which is more consistent with spätzle / nokedli than the prior "noodles" description

                                                        http://www.bartartine.com/dinner.pdf

                                                        1. re: drewskiSF

                                                          They are spaetzle, but dumplings seems more misleading than noodles. (Except in that dreaded Czech bread dumplings kind of way. But I was disappointed those weren't dumplings either.)

                                                          http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_-1tx8Kvi1n4...

                                                          1. re: Windy

                                                            The Hungarian word for those is nokedli, which means dumplings.

                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                              If Hungarian is anything like German, it's only one of many words that can be translated as "dumpling."

                                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                What's traditionally served with paprikás is nokedli, which is invariably translated as dumpling. My point being that it's not at all odd for Balla to call them dumplings, even if most Americans think of dumplings as being bigger, softer, and not pasta-like.

                                                          2. re: drewskiSF

                                                            I enjoyed the dish, but as a traditional spaetzle, or even dumpling, they're not a standout version, rustic or otherwise. Some pieces had a rubbery, cheese curd like texture.

                                                            1. re: drewskiSF

                                                              "the prior "noodles" description"

                                                              I wasn't describing them as noodles, they're not. I was describing the base.

                                                              1. re: sugartoof

                                                                Not a response to you. Robert's post said a prior menu description called them noodles. Since edited.

                                                  2. They're doing special menus on Monday nights. Tonight's:

                                                    CURIOSITIES SERIES
                                                    MONDAY JULY 23rd

                                                    SPECIAL OKAZU MENU: SMALL JAPANESE PLATES AND RICE
                                                    DISHES

                                                    Mendocino kombu seaweed salad 6
                                                    Fried halibut kamaboko 8
                                                    Eggplant with black garlic chili paste 7
                                                    Karasumi with radish 9
                                                    King salmon and cherry stone clam suimono sashimi 18
                                                    Langos okonomiyaki 12
                                                    Roasted padron peppers with lemon 9
                                                    Dry aged NY strip tataki, radish, ponzu 16
                                                    Chicken skin Yakimono - hops and sunflower spice 7
                                                    Tsukune with egg 9
                                                    Fried chicken livers with rakyo 10
                                                    Veal tongue with tomatoes, beer ponzu, tonnato, grilled scallion 10
                                                    Tomatoes, black garlic, purslane, dulse 9
                                                    Pork belly with mustard, beer egg, onion 10

                                                    Umeboshi onigiri 7
                                                    Wild nori rice with scallion 4
                                                    Baby turnip rice bran pickle 5

                                                    Sweet corn ice cream with blackberry, kinako powder 6

                                                    Curiosities: dinners will take place Monday evenings. Every Monday will feature a unique menu.

                                                    For reservations call 415-487-1600 or online at opentable.com/bar-tartine

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      Because everybody is doing Cal-Central European and no one is doing Cal-Japanese. /sarcasm

                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                        I think he is just missing his O Izakaya/Nombe days (which were stunning!). If I were free tonight, I'd head there in a heartbeat. I miss the Japanese Nick!

                                                    2. Had a great meal last night.

                                                      Fennel and mushroom escabeche ($6) was a plate of excellent pickles, also including carrots. Would have been perfect with soju or whiskey.

                                                      Crispy chicken skins ($7), very crisp, nicely seasoned, big portion.

                                                      Smoked potatoes with ramp mayonnaise ($9), my favorite dish of the meal, amazing texture and flavor.

                                                      Beef "tatkaki" (quotes on the menu) with charred rapini ($19), sort of a Japanese twist on carpaccio, great combination.

                                                      Barely blanched spinach with sunflower tahini ($8), also very Japanese, excellent.

                                                      Creamed herring on kamut toast, excellent and a big portion though the bread didn't seem much different from the regular Tartine loaf. Kind of cried out for aquavit or Dutch gin.

                                                      Blood sausage with simmered cabbage ($17), heavenly.

                                                      Had some kind of cheesecake for dessert, wasn't crazy about it.

                                                      Wine list much improved and full of surprises such as a dry Brachetto and a gorgeous California Alvarelhão.

                                                      8 Replies
                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        I wish I shared your love for this place. Been twice now and don't think I'll go back again.

                                                        The first time was a real disaster both in terms of food and service. Went back a second time because I thought maybe it was an off night. It wasn't.

                                                        Issues:
                                                        1.Both times the server told us to get five dishes for two people which was far too much food (didn't follow it the second time).

                                                        2.we had food that was cold, when it should have been warm and both times it appeared our food had been sitting. The smoked potatoes tasted ok but some of them were cold while some were warm. The portion was too large and I wish they did half-portions for half the price. I don't see the value of spending 9 dollars for a bowl of potatoes.

                                                        3. the goulash was a very loose interpretation of goulash so loose that it shouldn't called that.

                                                        4. It was if they took the ingredients of some East European food and made it more bland. This is not the food I've had in Budapest, Prague, Krakow and if it is just taking inspiration there to make a new hybrid, it is sorely missing some flavour.

                                                        5. The pescatarian spouse was going to get a the veggie soup until I was smart enough to ask what kind of stock it was. They use a meat stock for a veggie soup. Who does that. So if you are veggie or pescatarian I would double check that your vegetarian dish actually is.

                                                        6. I did like the pickled items and I'm happy they jumped on the trendy pickling bandwagon.

                                                        7. The bread of course was so good.

                                                        1. re: tjinsf

                                                          We had seven courses plus dessert which was more than we needed but not by a lot. If I had it to do over I would skip the chicken skin (great as it was) and dessert. I was happy we didn't get a smaller serving of the potatoes.

                                                          Five courses could be a light or heavy meal for two depending. The escabeche, spinach, and beef tataki were very light.

                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            I'm always happy the potatoes are not a smaller portion. We usually end up fighting over the last ones.

                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                              I understand if it is just a general suggestion but when we ordered and I specifically asked the server if we had ordered too much and he said no when it was clearly far two much food with three big plates. Either the server wasn't familiar with the dish sizes or he's been told to up sell. Frankly the potatoes were more starch than a German family of five eat.

                                                              1. re: tjinsf

                                                                People have different ideas about what a large portion is. I could have eaten all the potatoes myself.

                                                                We had only 3-4 slices of bread in addition to the pieces that came with the herring, that probably helped. I thought about asking for more but realized with all the dishes we'd ordered that was a bad idea.

                                                            2. re: tjinsf

                                                              I think it's the bread combined with the potential order of fried bread. It's then too easy to order a mismatched meal with unbalanced portions. You order a Goulash which isn't a Goulash and it's easy to turn to the side dish to sustain the meal. In my case it was the Spaetzel. It does feel heavy, but not in a satisfying, hearty way. It's fusion that doesn't work, but I guess in not working, the trainwreck reads as interesting and good tasting for a lot of people.

                                                              Re: Beef stock. Shockingly, even some so called vegetarian places use it. Always a good idea to ask.

                                                              1. re: sugartoof

                                                                Re: Beef stock. Shockingly, even some so called vegetarian places use it. Always a good idea to ask.

                                                                Yeah I know which is why I always double check even though I'm the omnivore. What is most annoying is when servers lie when they don't and say it's veggie when it's clear it's not. At least here after telling us he thought it was vegetarian he did go and check and found out it wasn't.

                                                            3. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                              I forgot to mention that the place never filled up, and we were there at peak dinner hours, 7 to 9:30. So maybe a good bet for short-notice dining.

                                                            4. Bar Tartine does it for me again! Still one of my favorite restaurants in the city.

                                                              Had a wonderful dinner there last night and really, really enjoyed everything I ate. I have been here many times now for dinner and I have never had a bad experience yet. We walked in at 7:30(on a Sunday but maybe more like a Saturday as its MLK day today so its a long weekend for most people) and the place was packed. Woman at the door was able to offer us two seats at the bar but we asked to wait for table. She quoted 45 minutes and got a call from her right on the dot.

                                                              A friend and I made a meal out of a handful of starters, which is always my favorite thing to do here. Had the smoked potatoes, langos, beef tongue, tripe, and the blood sausage with lardo toast. For dessert, which I am so glad is still on the menu, we had the salt roasted pear sorbet. May have been my favorite restaurant dessert of 2012.

                                                              1. Wandered in last night with no reservation, no seats at the bar but they had a two-top open so I got seated right away.

                                                                Anchovy toasts ($13) were a nice appetizer, cultured butter, shaved fennel and radishes, herbs.

                                                                Green Hatch chile fisherman's stew with collards ($18 / $28) was very light, sort of Japanese in structure though not in flavor. Quite spicy for a restaurant. Delicious. Lots of broth for dipping the best bread in the world.

                                                                I would have tried the koji chicken but wasn't hungry enough (damn that bread), most of the choices on the menu were more than I wanted to eat, so I went with the roasted kale with rye crumbs, seeds, and yogurt ($13), a sort of warm salad. Delicious.

                                                                Had several great wines by the glass. I must go back soon with another person or three so I can order more.

                                                                1. I saw "Blood sausage in black chili broth with collards and a poached egg" on the online menu so went in to eat it for lunch and it was great. It also had mashed potatoes, which I would have had them hold if I'd known, since the sauce was great to sop up with bread.

                                                                  Also had a lovely trout and roe smørrebrød.

                                                                  I only wish I'd had more appetite. It's hard to sit next to people eating the smoked potatoes and not order them but I was stuffed.

                                                                  1. Tried a couple of new-to-me dishes. Schmaltz with paprika is a great spread on regular Tartine bread, kind of like ajvar. Chicken liver and buckwheat dumplings in paprika sauce, couldn't taste the chicken liver but it was delicious, not very similar to anything I've had before.

                                                                    1. Stopped in to try the Friends and Family menu last night and everything was great, a fully realized meal of twelve dishes centered around dark, fermented flavors. My only minor complaint would be that a couple of dishes might have veered into overly rustic territory--"king salmon with peas" was literally just a barely-cooked piece of salmon nestled under a mound of pea shoots--but the flavors were always spot on. I particularly liked warm kale salad with sunflower tahini, the poached chicken with crispy potatoes, and the two contrasting desserts: a bright, tangy pound cake balanced against the bracingly sweet sesame custard (which I think includes a big slab of carob). Celery root puree with lovage oil was also a surprisingly good, bright green condiment for their bread.

                                                                      Contrary to reports from years past, they now seem to have moved away from culturally loaded descriptors ("goulash", "soba") on the menu, and they also asked about dietary restrictions at the beginning of the meal. Maybe some growing pains. Service is still casual, but they're doing fantastic stuff now.

                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                      1. re: tripit

                                                                        Seems they've taking the culturally loaded descriptors out of the menu, but they still use them to describe the dish when asked. For example, the rainbow trout and rice is a narezushi, but if you didn't ask, you wouldn't know. The menu descriptors seem almost too minimal.

                                                                        1. re: TheOffalo

                                                                          Yeah, I agree with the menu descriptors veering a little far toward minimalism. I wasn't bothered, but someone who doesn't like surprises or is especially picky might have trouble.

                                                                          I am actually not sure about that rice and trout dish. I had been looking at the menu a week or two prior and saw it described as narezushi there. However, on the menu that we received, it was described as only "rainbow trout with brown rice." I didn't ask about it, no mention was made of fermentation/preservation, and it didn't taste especially tangy, so I figured they must have run out of the narezushi or decided to abandon that preparation. I didn't think to ask about it at the time.

                                                                          1. re: TheOffalo

                                                                            Going minimal seems like an odd solution to the problem, but I'm happy to hear they're moving on from misleading titles. Describing a dish so your customers know what they're ordering is still a smart idea.