Recently we were visiting in San Francisco around the time of the birth of Sarah and Evan’s second child. By the way, it’s a boy! During our visit we, of course, paid a visit to Rich Table and had a great meal. But the night that Mommy and the new brother came home from the hospital, we wanted to make it a special family evening, so Susan and I went to Bar Tartine in the Mission district.
The restaurant is part of the Tartine group operated by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery fame. The co-chefs at Bar Tartine are Nick Balla and Cortney Burns, who are friends with Sarah and Evan. To help us celebrate the new baby, they really pulled out the stops to make it a memorable evening for us as well as for our family. They certainly did that!
The bread on the table was freshly baked famous Tartine Country Loaf baked by Chad Robertson himself. The bread is one of the best in San Francisco. I say one of the best because Sarah makes a killer loaf of Douglas-fir scented levain for Rich Table.
Of course, we followed Sarah and Evan’s recommendations for what to order, though to tell the truth, I don’t think you can miss on ordering anything on the menu.
The brine-pickled vegetables are deceptively simple. A colorful plate of root vegetables comes to the table and you find immediately that the fresh tastes and crunch of each has been preserved even with a tangy, lightly pickled overtone.
The potato flatbread with garlic and sour cream is a must. The beautiful presentation makes it almost too pretty to eat – almost, because when you take a bite, the flavors come together and literally seduce you to finish the whole thing.
The smoked potatoes with black garlic are very unusual. If you don’t like smoked foods, then don’t order them, because they are definitely rich with fresh wood smoke. The black garlic adds its own overtones. It is very popular in restaurants in the Bay Area as well as the whole country. It has been used in Asia for centuries as a food and as a health supplement, but it was commercialized in the US by Scott Kim. He says the garlic is fermented in conditions of controlled heat and temperature while others say it is not fermented but rather deeply caramelized by the Maillard reaction over several weeks. Whatever the process, the result is garlic that turns inky black, given up its pungency, and gained a rich flavor that has been said to have elements of molasses, chocolate, and umami. Kim now provides the black garlic from his operation in Hayward, CA. (Just down the road from Gilroy, the self-proclaimed “Garlic Capitol of the World”. ) You can learn more about the product or even order your own from Blackgarlic. I can’t imagine someone not liking the very earthy flavor of this creative dish. The whole new potatoes are beautifully garnished, tender and very tasty. Unfortunately my shaky image doesn’t do them justice.
The beet and blue cheese salad comes beautifully presented. Now, I am not a big fan of beets in any form, but this salad makes even me a believer. The beets are sweet as they always are, but that plays off the blue cheese so well.
The beef tartare on koji (an Asian “yeast” – a form of Aspergillus used to ferment various foods including miso, soy sauce, and sake) toast with bottarga (salt-cured fish roe) is beautiful. Fortunately we had a very informed server who filled us in on all of the ingredients. This is unlike any other beef tartare you have ever eaten.
I’ve eaten lentils lots of different ways, usually in a dal or soup, but never sprouted, so the visual impact of the sprouted lentil croquettes with kefir and coriander is spectacular, and the taste is unlike any of those other lentils that I have eaten.
My green chili fisherman’s stew with collard was very spicy – much too spicy for Susan – but it came as an emerald-green broth filled with seafood and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms. And collard!! When one is used to the limp, damp clot that’s called collard greens in a Southern cafeteria line, you are unprepared for the lovely, delicious variation presented in this dish.