I managed to take part in Bon Appetit’s so-called “Germanic cuisine boom” in San Francisco despite having a contender two blocks from my apartment (two more days in Portland and I totally would’ve ended up at Gruner too). These things happen.
Bar Tartine struck me as more Austro-Hungarian than purely German. Some might say Cal-Hungarian. I wouldn’t, but that’s my aversion to the Cal prefix. James took to calling the hey-that’s-cool Bay Area style “Cal-tude,” which started getting on my nerves (him saying it more than the practice) but the service here was so careless and forgetful—we were given a free blueberry dessert, to be fair—that I kind of had to agree in this case. Cal-tude is not the same as the haphazard style that’s rampant in aggressively homespun/quirky Brooklyn restaurants because the venues—Bar Agricole was another practitioner—are polished in other regards.
I can easily say that I’ve never eaten food like this in NYC (maybe I should check out Hospoda?). The flavors—lots of hot paprika, offal, rye, quark—hewed traditional yet everything I sampled managed to be fresh and light instead of stodgy. And a little daring; I don’t picture goat meatballs or beef heart tartare being common in Budapest.
Bottarga, grilled bread, butter, radish. At first I thought the butter had been smoked Extebarri-style, the flavor was so prominent, but I think it was simply the heavily grilled bread. A simple open-faced sandwich was made special by the translucent slices of fish roe.
Grilled tripe, fennel, cabbage, coriander. This dish almost never came, but I wasn’t about to say, “oh, never mind” because I have a thing for cow’s stomach in all preparations and like to see how it’s handled in different cuisines. These tender strips were also given a serious grilling, and despite the presence of fennel and cabbage had a vague menudo quality thanks to a spicy broth and cilantro.
Kapusnica – smoked blood sausage, pickled cabbage, cherry, chili, hen of the woods. I’ll also always order blood sausage if I see it (I’ve never seen one quite this obscene) especially when paired with unusual mushrooms, a hit of spice and cherries (which I encountered time and again on this trip—you know you’re eating seasonally when the same ingredient shows up on your plate in numerous restaurants). The richness of the sausage still dominated, but wasn’t overly heavy.
Halaszle – Rock cod, Hungarian wax pepper, smoked broth, purslane, fennel, onion. Hmm…if they can smoke broth, maybe that butter was smoked, after all?
Bar Tartine * 561 Valencia St., San Francisco, CA