Went to Tartare last night after a quick drink at Frisson. Especially after an hour in Frissons cavernous round space, Tartare's small dining room seemed almost cavelike! Tables were fairly close to one another and maybe in part because the tables themselves are particularly wide, voices seems elevated and carry. However, this was ok, it is just not as a subduded dining experience as I had expected.
From the greeting, to the presentation of Indonesian marinated veggies and a water carafe w/lime, mint and maybe cucumbers (not overpowering and refreshingly, no upsell for bottled water!), there were little touches and polite and knowledgeable service that was the high point of this meal. Our waiter was great always there when you needed him, never intruding when you wanted to talk and enjoy the course. At the end of the night, he went out of his way to ensure that we had a cab hailed for us (nice as it took over a half hour to get a cab on the way there; I guess it was an unusually busy night).
Oddly, neither of us were blown away but yet satiated enough to have an overall positive impression of the night. I know this is a controversial statement here but I loved the food at Michael Mina and given the timing of the openings and pedigree of the chefs, I was expecting a similar culinary experience here, yet didnt find that.
Yes, the menu is somewhat pretentious, with headings like naked and natural, raw and rare and simply soup but the waiter dispensed with all that by saying these are all apps/small plates and these are entrée sized and we then discussed how many small plates/apps to order per person and that was that.
Ahi Tuna tartare with w/Habanero Infused Sesame Oil, Plums & Mint ($15) I saw no plums but the biggest thing lacking here was SALT. No salt on tables, as pointed out by the SF Chron review.
Hamachi Tartare with Pickled Watermelon salad ($16) we both were surprised by a LIBERAL application of caviar on this dish?? Very confusing as caviar (or an exotic spice if we are both idiots here) was not mentioned on the menu. I know this sounds crazy, but we wished it wasnt there. Whatever it was, it overpowered this dish; I kind of couldnt tell what the main ingredient was and felt the whole dish was trying too hard and contrived.
A romaine salad, the leaves dressed in a Caesar like dressing, sprinkled with cheese, then wrapped up with thin strips of cucumber. They split our order for us so we each had one of these things, plus a large ½ tomato, roasted and drizzled with olive oil. Again, I wished for a sprinkle of nice salt, but it was a really nice dish with cool albeit 80s sort of presentation (tower food) ($9)
Steak Tartare ($14) not enough flavor to interest either of us and this is a matter of personal opinion but it was a bit too chunky for me (the menu did say hand cut). My dining companion had never had steak tartare before so I was a bit bummed that this was his first taste.
Carpaccio of Buffalo with lobster mushrooms ($14) very solid dish, perhaps the most interesting and least contrived flavors.
Duck fat French fries (~$6) how can you go wrong? I like the trend of upscale restaurants serving great fries! These guys even serve you ketchup. Yum. Very crispy and well done, which was ok w/me.
Roated shitake mushrooms (~$6) way too much gloopy sweet sauce. Very generous portion.
Ah yes, the white mini baguettes were great and served with *soft butter* yes! As a result, no room for dessert. Most tables seemed to be having a sorbet or ice cream.
The SF Chronicle review indicated that wine pricing was stratospheric so I went in expecting the worst. The menu has a letter after the price of each item, indicating which section of the wine list may pair best with those choices. Some people wont find any value in this but it cant hurt and we found it an interesting place to start, with some solid recs .it did make us rethink a few choices in order to formulate courses that would pair well with a half or full bottle.
We had a ½ bottle of Dr. Loosen Spatlese Riesling 1999 ($25) with the first course and then a bottle of Shea Pinot Noir Pommard Clone 2002 ($75) with the 2nd course. I believe the Shea is about $35 retail so didnt find the pricing unreasonable and was pleasantly surprised with the both the number and pricing (many in the $25-$30 price range) of half bottles.
The Sommelier, Paul, was excellent; he was incredibly down to earth and provided great direction.
Tab was $200 before tax & tip for 2. Id go back to try some of the soups as well as the Ostrich carpaccio, mostly because of the service and what I found to be interesting and reasonably priced wine, served up in a nice space.