Friday, July 29, 2011

Bar Tartine - a new face

Bar Tartine has gone for a complete makeover, and by that, I don't mean aesthetically. It's the food I'm talking about. No longer can you find paninis and the ubiquitous bone marrow dish. Instead are the barely enunciable gulyas, halasles, and kapusnicas. In case you're wondering, I'm speaking Magyar, or the Hungarian language. The new chef, Nick Balla, has applied his Hungarian roots in the once American fare of Bar Tartine.

          Meggyleves - chilled Hungarian soup of sour cherries and sour cream

The frequent dousing of sour cream vaguely reminded me of my short stint in Budapest. Although, abashedly, I only knew to order goulash, the common place soup of stewed beef and vegetables often drizzled with sour cream. The meggyleves, albeit a ghastly pink color - much like the results of one too many cranberry and vodka - is actually quite refreshing and savory.

Langos - fried potato bread with onion garlic and sour cream

                       Bottarga, grilled bread, butter, radish

                                                       toasted rabbit livers, arugula, dill sauce

An audacious move on the part of Bar Tartine to terminate a "safe" menu that, although isn't as lauded as its sister, Tartine Bakery, is still considered an innocuous bet for all-American cuisine. It seems the reaction is a positive one as I tapped in on the next table, "This is way better than before." I agree. The flavors are more dramatic, a colorful fusion of Hungarian with mild Japanese undertones, as expected from Nick Balla who ran an izakaya previous to this stretch. The langos is a respite from the conventional flatbread or pizza. Much like a Hungarian pizza, but more rich, flaky, and simpler in flavors that allows the bread to speak for itself. Do not overlook the Bottarga (salted mullet roe). Bottarga is another dish that isn't seen enough nowadays. Its delicate briny flavors sing harmoniously with the bitter, crisp of the radish. The meal was undoubtedly a memorable one, with each dish justifying a few commentaries after depletion, in spite of the flacid turo cheesecake - nothing Hungarian about that.

Bar Tartine
561 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110-1114
(415) 487-1600

Friday, July 22, 2011

A speakeasy within a speakeasy - Wilson & Wilson

Password (of the day): Yale Standard  

House Rules:
1. Please Speak-Easy.

2. No standing at the bar.

3. Patience is appreciated.

4. No cell phone use.

5. No camera use.

6. Don't even think of asking for a 'Cosmo'.

7. Smokers, use back door.

8. Please exit Bourbon & Branch briskly and silently.

Hidden deep inside the cryptic rooms of Bourbon & Branch lies another password protected chamber, a password not easily obtained, or so it seems. After a tedious registration, the email confirmation:

Cute, isn't it?

If you've been to the speakeasy Varnish in Los Angeles, then you're familiar with the whole concept of 1920's prohibition theme, which, quite frankly, I'm a sucker for. Wilson & Wilson has taken this to a whole other dimension. Starting from the private detective email confirmation stamped with your name, to the password protected entry, to the flappers costume; I was as giddy as a schoolgirl.

So here I am, in front of the speakeasy entrance, Bourbon & Branch. Not a single sign. Just a bleak doorway with the only indication of it being anything besides a doorway is the doorbell. Once the doorbell is pressed a flapper comes out to greet you and asks for the password. We enter the dark mahogany bar only to be led to another locked door.

We now have Wilson & Wilson, which is exactly how I would imagine a speakeasy to be.
The drink menu is as extensive as a pharmacology textbook. Pages and pages of whiskey, cocktail, absinthe outline the tattered menu. With the pri-fixe menu, you get a choice of an aperitif, a "main course", and a digestif. As you can imagine, the drinks were en pointe, innovative, with enough kick to make you wish they served food. Alas, the only drawback, nothing to nibble on.


With an allotment of only 20 guests per evening, one feels like a Fitzgerald until you get ushered out after 1.5 hours which is the exact time you're allowed there. And punctual they are. No worries. Once the flapper escorts you out, the soiree continues into another room, the Library Room. It never ceases to amaze!

A few friendly suggestions:
Come with a full belly.
Order the pre-fixe menu.

Allow Wilson & Wilson to take you back into an era where bootlegging, covert rooms, and jazz come to life.

Wilson & Wilson

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Plate Shop - Sausalito

"Farm to table, nose to tail..."

That's the buzz lately on the locavore restaurant, The Plate Shop. Having never been a locavore follower, I've always found the whole Chez Panisse movement, dare I say it, boring? (There. I said it. Lynch me.)
But TPS sheds a whole new light on the concept of locally produced goods. It is the embodiment of farm fresh, with the progenitor of the immaculate poached egg just a few feet away clucking without a worry.

Tucked away in the picturesque town of Sausalito lies a hidden gem, The Plate Shop. And well hidden it is. With barely a sign, one can drive by many times without even noticing this tiny shop, as we did. The decor is whimsical, modern with a tinge of rustic. Service is impeccable.

The Plate Shop articulates with the seasons. Not only are the ingredients from their own garden, a few steps from our table, each bite bursts with flavors of summer. Freshly plucked sprigs of rosemary flavor the tender ribchop and the poached egg that adorn the rabbit livers was just laid by the hen I was chasing around in the garden.
                                                           Toasted Rabbit Livers, Poached Egg, Pancetta

                      Assortment of warm olives imported from Spain

                                                                          Ricotta Gnocchi, browned butter, hazlenuts

Ribchop, coleslaw

With that said, I'm here to stress this: All movements come and go, be it nose to tail, locavore, MoGa,  or street food. So please drop by and have some warm Spanish olives or better yet, sip on one of their artisanal cocktails, as I would like to see this one stay.

The Plate Shop
39 Caledonia 
                     Sausalito, CA 94965                    
                                                                      (415) 887-9047