Two nights ago I visited the Mission hoping to find a new third worldish cuisine. Instead, I ended up at Bar Tartine, 561 Mission, betw 16th and 17th, for more of a splurge but well worth it. The last post I noticed about this place was a year ago, just after it opened, so I'm offering this update.
Without a reservation my only option was the bar seating. Sitting at the bar at first reminded me of the Universal Cafe, with similar layout of salad prep station and all the cooking in full view off to the right. Otherwise, though, the decor is very different. Bar Tartine's countertop was an impressively wide, 4-inch thick, immaculate marble slab. Clearly, the desired effect here is an upscale, but relaxed, bistro atmosphere--none of Universal's endearing industrial grunge style.
Like last year's reviewer I enjoyed the celery root soup. It captured the celery root flavor well and played it out nicely, thickened with chestnut puree and cream, and lightly dotted with a clear aioli. Simultaneously delicate and satisfying, filling. The accompanying bread, presumably from Tartine bakery, was a moist, gluteny treat.
Of about four entrees on the menu, I chose the vegetarian option, gnocchi with hen-of-the-woods (maitake) mushrooms and kale. Nice complementing of flavor and texture: earthy, gently fibrous maitake, slightly bitter (and vitamin-packed) kale cooked to a surprisingly al dente tender texture, and ethereally light gnocchi. Somebody knows how to handle difficult veggies here.
That's it! I watched the salad guy meticulously sculpt leafy constructions, but have no idea how they taste. I had a pleasant glass of red wine but can't say anything intelligent about wines yet since I'm still a beginner on that subject. I inquired casually about the history and learned that the current chef, Jason, who does full hands-on cooking duty, is the third chef since the opening. The hostess claimed that his specialty is the matching of subtle flavors. I'd say this chef has a gift in that respect--a good reason to try this place when you're not in a raging jalapeno or vindaloo frame of appetite.