The talented couple behind Tartine Bakery created another signless culinary destination.
Elisabeth Prueitt and husband Chad Robertson, Tartine Bakery‘s James Beard Award winning owners, opened this full-service Mission District restaurant in November 2005. I ate at Bar Tartine within its first week and Chef Andy Kitko delivered solid “French” dishes. Chef Jason Fox has been in charge of the kitchen for over a year, and our waitress said that once he arrived, the restaurant became “special.” His market-driven “American” cuisine was probably an improvement on Kitko’s food, but was it special?
Our 6:45 reservation left plenty of natural light to photograph design touches like an elk antler chandelier that dominates the dining room near the entrance.
My fizzy Cherry Prosecco aperitif ($8) was stirred with sweet house-made cherry syrup and served as a refreshing prelude to a satisfying dinner.
Prueitt and Robertson bake phenomenal wood-oven country loaves, which are available at Tartine Bakery after 5 PM. The bread was incredible, still warm, and slightly chewy, with a slight sourdough tang.
Warm Marinated Olives ($4.50) included Moroccan black, Nicoise and Picholine marinated in coriander, orange peel, roasted garlic cloves, anise and red chile peppers.
Gorgonzola stuffed Medjool dates ($6) were served warm, so the interior cheese was nice and creamy. A balsamic drizzle added some acidity.
Sweetbreads ($14) were a good starter, with big chunks of juicy thymus gland, sweet corn kernels cut right from the cob, fingerling potatoes, scallion puree, bacon foam, scallions and blistered padron peppers. The entire dish was topped with a single over-easy quail egg. My only complaint: the sweetbreads could have been crisper, possibly fried, which would have added some much needed texture.
Blossom Bluff Stonefruit ($14) salad featured wedges of sweet apricots and peaches, White Crane greens, silky shavings of prosciutto and deluxe Marcona almonds. A single crostini plank held fluffy ricotta and an aged balsamic squiggle.
Heirloom tomato ($13) salad showcased yellow, red and orange tomatoes, plus soft shavings of pecorino, cucumber, purslane, avocado, basil and light Nicoise olive vinaigrette.
A smoky Prather Ranch pork belly ($24) brick sported herbaceous breadcrumbs and appeared on a bed of tomato- and bacon-studded shelling beans (similar to pinto). The bacon-on-bacon action was a bold move, but it worked thanks to earthy beans.
Four Story Farm onglet ($29) centered on seared slices of rosy strip steak, plus cherry tomatoes, bread salad, haricot verts, rosemary and dandelion greens.
Grimaud Farm guinea hen ($27) featured two juicy hen breast cuts, each sporting a fatty layer of browned skin. The plate also featured a beggar’s purse, basically a giant dumpling of hen leg meat, plus peas, summer onions, pistachios and marjoram. The bird’s flavor was stronger than expected; this is a dish for game lovers. The bird would have benefited from crisper skin, but the luscious meat may have been sacrificed.
Since the James Beard Foundation just anointed Prueitt and Robertson the best pastry chefs in America, we had big expectations for Bar Tartine’s desserts ($8 each). The duo didn’t disappoint.
Roasted Nectarine was incredible, warm and spreadable, paired with a tangy lemon verbena ice cream scoop. Blackberry coulis added nice sweetness, and scattered almond streusel added crunch.
Pain Perdu was basically moist, dense French toast, plated on fresh strawberries and honey caramel, topped with a large dollop of moscato d’asti cream. The cream sent it into the strawberry shortcake territory, a dangerous realm, but with a push of my fork, the cream was easily marginalized.
The Chocolate Tart’s crust was exceptional, but the chocolate was bittersweet. Tart raspberries and cocoa nib nougatine added to the flavor profile, but the chocolate flavor was too subtle.
The space and bread were the same as in 2005, but the cooking was slightly better. Bar Tartine probably still hasn’t achieved destination dining status, but it’s certainly a viable dinner option if you’re already in San Francisco.