Porcini and summer squash salad.
Burger and fries (white cheddar mayo is lurking).
Coconut rice pudding.
Some of you long-time readers may feel like the intro to this review is a little familiar… Truth be told, it starts exactly the way I wrote it back in 2008, because I still feel the exact same way about the décor. As for the menu and tone set by the new chef, Chris Kronner, well, you can jump ahead to the fourth paragraph.
Hey player. So, date one has gone really well (nice work), but now you want to step it up to the perfecto spot for date number two or three? Okay. Or maybe you have some cool out-of-town friends coming to visit, and you want to feed them some très San Francisco cuisine while impressing them with a place sporting some hip instead of hippie atmosphere. Or perhaps you’re a solo diner, looking for a friendly counter to perch at. ~BAR TARTINE~ is a good answer to all three situations, and let’s not forget those seeking a sophisticated weekend brunch.
Bar Tartine really is the picture of gentrification (I gotta call it), located on a grubby stretch of Valencia next to Arinell Pizza and La Cumbre that is usually teeming with 20-somethings. You could blaze right by it, actually—there’s not much of a sign proclaiming its existence. It’s a chic space with an authentic artsy vibe, with wood floors that have letters scattered here and there in the planks, a nod to one of the space’s previous incarnations as a letterpress (as I was told). There’s also a long marble bar, and I especially enjoyed the gentle lighting, with the backlit bench seats along the wall casting a soft glow. It’s romantic, but not at all in a way that would give most straight guys the heebie-jeebies.
I’m a fan of sitting at the bar, but larger groups will like the cozy round table in the back, and there’s a slew of two-tops along the wall, full of couples on date night. It’s like date HQ, straight and gay—it’s a nicely mixed room, from gender to age. Quite a few ladies out on B.F.F. dinner dates as well. The space feels sexy, comfortable, and there are always fresh, fragrant white lilies in the bathroom—classy. There’s also modern and lively art on the walls, currently displayed in an eclectic salon style.
You want to know what else is pretty? The beautiful charcuterie board ($11/$18). A swirling piece of burl wood comes layered with chef Chris Kronner’s marvelous charcuterie, from the pinkest, smoothest, and très elegant chicken liver pâté (think: meat peanut butter), to a slice of rustic pork terrine made with Range Brothers’ Berkshire pigs from Prather Ranch, rich with smoked ham, kidney, liver, belly, a note of star anise, and garlic confit. The wood slab also included quickly formed quenelles of housemade nectarine jam and whole grain mustard, plus some pickled vegetables (like chard stem), and of course thick slices of crusty, toasted Tartine bread. I would happily come back just to sit at the bar, drink wine, and munch my way through this board again (with some Lipitor in my purse).
There is definitely something to be said for good salads. Sure, $12 for a plate of White Crane Springs Ranch greens in a Champagne vinaigrette may seem a bit too “fig on a plate” for some, so you might want to skip that salad (although I found them revelatory in their freshness, bright with mint, arugula, purslane). More satisfying was the salad of porcinis ($13), shaved summer squash, and minty nepitella, resting under a generous layering of Bellwether San Andreas cheese—a savory, springy combo. I also thought the caper vinaigrette dressing on a salad of baby mustard greens ($12)—with Pt. Reyes blue cheese, almonds, and wedges of nectarine—was made with a deft hand. There are five larger salads in all—I like a kitchen that gets fired up on salad options.
The menu broadcasts on a Chez frequency, offering that mash-up of Frenchie-California, hyper-seasonal, fresh, and local we know so well. But there’s also some clever innovation, like Bar Tartine’s personal submission into the city’s melee of burgers ($16). The juicy and beautifully cross-hatched patty comes on a lightly sweet and grilled brioche bun slathered with white cheddar mayo, plus pickles and lettuce. It’s mega-rich. Uh, yeah, and that’s not all. How about the option to add marrow for $4? Pure evil. And back that all up with a glass of the Château Ferrière Cabernet blend (Margaux, Bordeaux), and you are tight (so are your pants). I’ll be shocked if any of the perfectly executed, medium-weight frites remain, served hot and crisp with a classic dusting of fresh herbs.
Meanwhile, the braised hog jowls ($23) with wheatberries, tangles of watercress, cracked pickled cherries and shallot, plus a scattering of favas, came together flavor-wise, but the decadence of the jowls meant I wouldn’t want them as a main course—I was done after a few bites. (But as an appetizer? Rock.) Other choices include a couple seafood dishes like sea bass or rex sole ($23-$25), steak frites ($29), and some simpler dishes like semolina gnocchi or a rolled omelet for vegetarians (both at a very pocket-friendly $16). Oh, and those of you who were a fan of Kronner’s savory bread pudding while he was at Serpentine, you can order it as a side here for $6 (it was listed with nettles, onion, and oyster mushrooms).
While I was a big fan of former chef Jason Fox’s impeccable dishes, the restaurant feels a lot more easy and flexible now—a place where you can come in with a friend for an aperitif (like the new fashioned, $8, with Antica Carpano vermouth, cherry, and bitters) and a quick nosh, or dine at the bar by yourself (semi-affordably), or with friends for a birthday dinner, or have a really hot date (we love those).
The wine program has been going under some adjustments with the new GM, Alex Fox (a good friend of mine who is one of my favorite people to taste wine with). Since there are many available by the glass (about 15), have fun engaging the staff for some on-point pairings. There’s a good mix of some local wines, along with plenty of Eastern French wines, and some Northern Italian picks. There are a few local beers on draught, like Linden Street (plus wine from Scribe), and the bottled beer choices are very food-friendly: you gotta try the charcuterie with the Verhaeghe “Echte Kriekenbier” ($9) from Belgium—crikey is right.
And of course you saved room for dessert—there are options like the oh-so-creamy coconut rice pudding topped with rum raisins served in a little glass jar (I especially loved the accompanying gingersnaps, they crumbled just so), and a simple Shaker Meyer lemon pie that didn’t particularly wow me, but it was a pleasant finish nonetheless (all desserts $7.50).
The menu changes almost daily, so don’t get fussy if some of these dishes have said à bientôt. You can also come by for breakfast Wed-Fri from 8am-11am, and weekend brunch. Oh, and a tip: try not to fill up on bread, okay? Try.