If you’ve heard of the Mission District in San Francisco, you’re probably aware that it’s known for hipsters, homeless people and some of SF’s best taquerias. But since the techies have moved in on Mission territory (it’s a convenient place to live if you’re commuting to Silicon Valley or Mountain View), the neighborhood has started to turn around a bit. And while some activists are spending their time protesting Google busses, others are welcoming this gentrification process with open mouths.
While the abundance of trendy restaurants in the Mission can be somewhat overwhelming (and overpriced), a few restaurants have continued to thrive and stand out among the throng of the “the next best thing”. Some examples of such gems are Farina, Beretta, Delfina, Flour + Water, Frances, Limón Rotisserie, and my new favorite, Bar Tartine.
Although Bar Tartine has been a fixture on Valencia street for the past eight years, the restaurant welcomed new chef, Nick Balla with about three years ago and the updated menu has attracted a new audience. Balla previously spent some time in Hungary, and while the food isn’t quite Hungarian cuisine there is definitely some influence on the menu – and this is one of the things that makes it special. Not to mention, Tartine Bakery’s famed bread is prominently showcased throughout the menu.
Starry and her wine-loving friend joined me for dinner at Bar Tartine this past week. They were running a bit late, so I started with a Pilsner as I waited and scanned the menus. Once they arrived, I suggested we order a bottle of Hungarian Pinot Noir – specifically the 2009 Vylyan, at only $48. The wine was on the lighter side, with a good balance of fruit and minerality, and complex enough to be paired with a variety of flavors. After getting some suggestions from our waitress, we settled on the following menu items to share:
- Sliced Bread and Pumpkin Seed Oil with Cultured Squash
- Tuna with Brussels Sprouts and Tonnato Sauce
- Smoked Potatoes with Black Garlic
- Broccoli with Brined Cheese and Green Walnuts
- Kale with Sunflower Tahini and Yoghurt
- Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms in Burnt Bread Chili Broth
My favorite dish was the tuna, which was served three ways: seared, rolled in grains and lightly fried, and drizzled with tonnato sauce (basically a tuna aioli). The tonnato sauce really tied everything together, and the combination of textures was really pleasing.
All three of us went nuts over the pumpkin seed oil, and nearly fought over the last piece of bread. The oil had a delicious smokey flavor to it, with a thick texture that when spread across the bread created a spongy consistency.
All three vegetable dishes were very good, and each dressed with a rich, creamy sauce. We probably could have done without the broccoli, as the potatoes and kale were plenty filling. I particularly liked the sunflower tahini that was served with the kale, and when mixed with the yoghurt it sort of created this peanut butter and fluffernutter imagery.
The sausage stuffed mushrooms was the last dish served to us, and it was the perfect finish. I’m not exactly sure what “burnt bread chili broth” is, but I plan to figure it out and recreate it!
The meal was overall very filling with unique flavor components and textures. The portion sizes were perfect, and easily split amongst three people (almost every dish had three of each component so it was evenly distributed). My only criticism (and it’s hardly negative) is that each dish we ordered was covered in a creamy sauce, which made them somewhat heavy. But this could have just had something to do with the types of food we ordered. Our waitress was attentive, and very knowledgable of the menu. We did notice that every male server in the room had a beard – but that was probably just because we were in the Mission.
I would definitely recommend this restaurant to anyone dining in the Mission, and be prepared to order family style because the dishes are on the smaller side and you will definitely want to try a variation of plates. They change the menu pretty frequently (in fact, our menu was replaced with a reprint after we had already sat down), but always have a selection of bread, seafood, vegetable and meat dishes. Our meal came to $55 each, which included a nice bottle of wine – not too bad if you ask me, and certainly cheaper than many other newer Mission eateries!