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Sit Back And Enjoy the Show

The experience of dining at Tartare has been likened to a game of miniature golf. On a recent visit: while some of the presentations were a bit fussy, and I did have trouble deciding where to put my fork, I encountered no tilting windmills. The small, neatly organized room beckoned with soft orange light and tranquil, spa-like music. The tables were close, making agility a useful attribute when getting into the banquette side, but there was ample tabletop to give you space from those next to you, as well as to accommodate the multiple glasses that began to arrive as sommelier Paul Einbund paired each course.

We started with the buffalo carpaccio ($14) and of course a tartare. Salmon ($16) was my choice. The carpaccio was a standout; moist and lightly spiced with a crust of coarsely ground black pepper. The salmon was served in a half coconut shell resting on ice in the indent of a wave shaped plate. Definitely a bit overblown for my taste, but not enough to put a damper on the meal, although the salmon itself was a close call. It was finely minced and not mushy, but the flavor of the fish was almost undetectable amid the banana coconut curry that lay in the bottom of the shell. And it seemed such a waste to not be able to enjoy the fresh coconut, but I could find no way to dig it out without thoroughly embarrassing my companion.

As I saw the ostrich tartare served at the table next to me I was thankful for the coconut half. The ostrich is served in an ostrich egg shell perched in a martini glass. I was easy to picture a cracked shell upside down on the table, but I was also a bit jealous of the decadence. After all dining out is about a little hedonism isn't it?

The soup course quickly made up for the disappointing tartare. New to the menu that night was crab and pumpkin bisque ($13) that we just had to try. Served as two separate soups in one bowl we were free to try them individually, but together the flavor combination was outstanding. Lightly spiced with only the slightest hint of sweetness, this soup is surely a sign of the experienced and imaginative palate in the kitchen. We also enjoyed the corn soup with spareribs ($11). A creamy, slightly sweet bisque accentuated the smoky-sweet ribs perched right in the center.

From there we moved onto the halibut with shittake mushrooms and a soy reduction ($27). While the fish was moist and complimented by the earthy pairing, it didn't spark with either of us. A hearty, satisfying dish, but with little personality. The roasted poussin "Tom Kha Kai" ($26) on the other hand was fun, interesting, and extremely well executed. The base of the dish was almond milk, so it was a little less sweet and thick than the coconut-based Thai soup after which it was modeled. The spicy and sour components married well with the richness of the roasted bird.

With each course, Paul brought out something to whet our palates. The pairings were right on, playful, and not necessarily wine. A Belgian wheat beer was the match to the salmon tartare, and for the pumpkin and crab bisque a framboise lambic was Paul's choice. The wine list is broken down into categories that are paired with menu items via letter codes. Chef George Morrone, Paul and consulting sommeliers Rajat Parr and Steven Geddes have marked their picks. But in the true spirit of dining out, let Paul choose the drinks, revel in the fuss, and be thankful that no one is keeping score.

North Beach/Telegraph Hill
Seafood/California Cuisine