Bar Tartine, San Francisco

A little before 11am a small crowd gathers in front of the discreet Mission district facade for the weekend brunch. There are plenty of tables inside and, for a good 40 minutes after the doors open, you won’t need to wait.

The long dining room is flooded with the natural light that comes through the storefront window. It’s like a scene from an Edward Hopper painting. The light fading away into the warmer tone of incandescent bulbs as you advance towards the end of the room.

The vibe is more casual in the morning than at night but the experience of eating the brunch here seems to be consistent with what I remember from dinner. For more on Tartine’s ambiance, read the dinner review.

The crowd is mostly of local habitués, walking in on flip-flops and carrying the Sunday paper. The hip wait staff is attentive and efficient.

The menu

The small brunch menu offers about 10 dishes for main courses, half of them with eggs. There are also some appetizers that seem to have fallen from the dinner menu–gorgonzola stuffed dates and warm marinated olives to name a few. Overall, options sound fresh and appetizing.

The meal

Coffee is from Blue Bottle, served in a French press, brewed with the precision of a digital timer before it’s delivered to your table.

As I wrote on my dinner review, you’ll hardly find better bread in the city. Get in when the doors open at 11 and you’ll get to try them right out of the oven, still warm and steaming as you pull their slices apart. Add some butter and your meal could very well end here. It’s that good.

The same bread is found in the Country bread French toast with quince, huckleberries and vanilla syrup. A moist pain perdú with delicate flavors that ranks fourth on my list (after Canteen’s, Foreign Cinema’s and Zuni’s).

Among the egg dishes, a nice option is the Smoked salmon with avocado, watercress, poached eggs, toasted brioche and hollandaise sauce. I’m not sure the avocado adds anything to the dish and there’s a bit too much hollandaise but other than that, it is a good entrée.

A simpler option is the restaurant’s take on ham and eggs. La Quercia organic cured ham with poached eggs and grilled country bread. The thinly sliced American artisan prosciutto is topped with 2 perfectly poached eggs. Simple and tasty.

And when all seems to be going well, suddenly things go awry. On my second visit I tried 2 sandwiches from the brunch menu. Despite the appetizing descriptions and nice appearance, both were disappointed.

Liberty farm duck confit panini with blood orange marmelade, mizuna and shoestring fries. The shredded duck confit is dry, like water-packed tuna in a can. The marmelade is too sweet overpowing all other flavors. The shoestring fries are more like chips; not bad, but not what I was expecting. Simply put, a complete miss.

Now here’s something that grabed my attention. Truffled grill cheese with king trumpet mushrooms, thyme, red onion and small salad. I love grilled cheese for its play on textures and lusciousness. While the description may leave you salivating, the actual dish falls short. While there’s not nearly enough cheese to bind the mushrooms, there’s way too much raw onions–which have a devastating effect on the already subtle truffle aroma. At first bite, that dreamy memory of a comforting, creamy sandwich quickly goes away as wake up to a dry and boring dish.

In short

Even though this restaurant has a great atmosphere and service, brunch at Bar Tartine is, not unlike dinner, a hit or miss. Some dishes are good, others far from it. To be safe, stay away from the sandwiches. But however you feel after your meal, one thing is for sure; you will remember fondly of how it began, with good coffee, bread and butter.

Bar Tartine is at 561 Valencia Street
Online reservations


Manger La Ville said...

1. too much sauce is just a crime. And hollandaise is rich, you don't need much
2. Ok...I have had dreams of making duck confit sandwiches and selling them. But this confit sounds awful. And I would never put it in a pressed sandwich.
3. Where is the cheese on that sandwich. And what are raw onions doing there.
Without even trying it, I completely agree with you. Silly decisions made with great bread.

Eva said...

This was a nice review, balanced and fair -- the pics were lovely, capturing the ambiance of the place really well. It made me miss Bar Tartine so much! (I'm from SF, but in London now)

My fondest memories of brunch there are always about the coffee, bread, and a NYT crossword puzzle with friends. No need for anything else, though the food is often exceptional.

And it has to be said that Tartine (Sr) has an ambiance completely at odds with this one -- loud and crowded and not at all relaxing, though invigorating and well worth the effort.

Irene said...

Great reviews, thanks so much!

Kate said...

I do believe that is the most perfect bread I've ever seen. I think I would eat there JUST for that.