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The Delicate Sound of Buzz
by sidra durst on Dec 23, 2005
When the owners of one of the city's most beloved bakeries open a full-fledged restaurant, expectations inevitably run high -- sometimes impossibly so. Like Tartine Bakery, Bar Tartine has no exterior sign, but the warm glow of the dim-but-not-too-dim lighting and the pleasant bustle within beckon passersby from off the street. The interior that owners Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson created is comfortable and classy, familiar without feeling stale.
A chandelier fashioned from a jumble of antlers casts a friendly glow over a large communal table, creating an inviting vignette in the front window. Walnut tables nestle together, and the bar's white marble countertop has a reassuringly rounded edge. The restaurant seats a maximum of 45 people and hums with the cheery clamor of a bistro -- an agreeable backdrop for catching up with old friends or perhaps the ideal setting for a second date.
Originally conceived as a wine bar and café-like extension of the nearby bakery, Andy Kitko's kitchen has helped turn Bar Tartine into a bona fide restaurant. Kitko comes by way of Gary Danko and most recently served as saucier at New York's Café Boulud. Despite his refusing to be confined to any one Old World influence -- he gives French, Italian, Spanish, and other Mediterranean cuisines equal weight -- the diverse menu comes together under his modern touch. Carnivores will rejoice at sophisticated-but-hearty offerings such as grilled beef tenderloin and short rib daube with pomme puree ($24) and Moroccan braised lamb shank with chickpeas, dates, and harissa ($20).
The pommes pont-neuf with sauce béarnaise ($6), one of the standout appetizers, deserve a permanent spot in the rotation. They are so flavorful that a fellow diner described them as "mashed potatoes and gravy in the body of a French fry."
Other starters need to be improved or excised altogether. The fennel, goat cheese, and roasted red pepper arancini ($6) suffer from lack of flavor and awkward presentation; the four rice croquettes arrived naked and huddled together for warmth in the middle of a parchment square.
The mere memory of the grilled venison loin and crepinette with pomme puree and red wine braised cabbage ($24) excites the tastebuds. The bright, tangy cabbage offset the rich, tender slices of meat, and the creamy potatoes hugged bites of the meatloaf-like crepinette like a buttery stole. The perfectly tender lobster risotto with black trumpet mushrooms and herb salad ($13/26) was thoughtfully available as a half serving.
On the other hand, portion size was occasionally problematic. The white truffles with scrambled eggs and grilled bread ($30) came in an enormous heap and were better suited for breakfast, as the leftovers deliciously proved next morning. Although the menu does not routinely feature vegetarian-friendly entrées, Kitko says he is happy to prepare a platter of fresh roasted vegetables or chickpea stew upon request.
Refreshingly, the dessert menu emphasizes fruit-based desserts (all $7) like roasted plums with frozen crème fraiche and individual apple pies. Prueitt handles all of the pastries, and her loving touch shines through in the trio of sorbets: a spicy, complex plum, a perfumey mango, and a mellow cranberry. Accented with gem-like pomegranate arils, citrus segments and candied flower petals, the painterly barrage of reds, pinks, and oranges made diners take pause. The torta di cioccolata with nutmeg ice cream and kumquats will likely satisfy even the most insistent chocophile. Only a couple of desserts sampled lacked resolve, such as the savarin, a brioche soaked in a berry-prosecco sauce.
Steve Kopp, the man behind the acclaimed wine lists at Zuni Café and Quince, arranged a selection of offerings that is extensive, international and varied. The non-alcoholic selection was equally enticing and included expertly-brewed cappuccino from Blue Bottle Coffee Company. The mint tisane, a fresh bunch of mint sprigs plunged into a clear glass teapot, tasted as simple and perfect as it looked.
It is too early to say whether or not Bar Tartine will reach the delicious heights of its older, simpler sibling, or if any earthly restaurant will ever meet the expectations demanded by the bakery's rabid devotees. In the meanwhile, expect delicious although occasionally inconsistent food, a noteworthy wine list, and scrumptiously light desserts, all of which should only improve as the month-old restaurant gets its footing.
N.B.: Starting Jan 1, the restaurant will be open for dinner Monday through Saturday (it is currently open Tuesday through Sunday). In coming months, Prueitt and Robertson plan to expand service to include lunch and weekend breakfasts.
by sidra durst on Dec 23, 2005
photo credit: Sidra Durst