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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bar Tartine Switches from California Cuisine to Chicken Paprikas

Posted By on Wed, Jul 20, 2011 at 1:00 PM

Bar Tartine's Dobos torte with apricots and candied hazelnuts. - LARA HATA
  • Lara Hata
  • Bar Tartine's Dobos torte with apricots and candied hazelnuts.

It's rare for SF Weekly to rereview restaurants -- small paper, big dining scene. But it was impossible for me to stay away from Bar Tartine after the owners hired a new chef, Nick Balla, who was known for his Japanese food. Balla has stripped the menu of its Mediterranean-influenced California cuisine and is cooking Hungarian(?!)-influenced dishes like langos and meggyleves. The Mission restaurant is the subject of this week's full-length review.

By some odd coincidence, a clutch of my closest friends served in the Peace Corps in Hungary, and I brought one to the restaurant, who was thrilled at the thought of eating smoky salamis, chicken paprikas, and dobos torte again. "That's nothing like it should be!" she kept saying, a little distraught. Unlike her, I wasn't tied to the same memories -- in fact, I was enthralled.

Balla's food reminds me of what Sarah Kirnon is doing at Hibiscus and Dennis Lee, at Namu

-- inventive food that is profoundly Californian, but doesn't taste

like the chef memorized Richard Olney and Elizabeth David cookbooks the

way the previous generation of California cuisine chefs did. To someone

who hasn't lived in Hungary, the Eastern European influences make the

food taste personal, distinctive; and if Balla's food is sometimes too

heavy, it's always exciting.

I'm looking forward to the fall, when owner Chad Robertson's imported oven gets cranking and the restaurant begins serving sandwiches on Robertson's Northern and Eastern European-style breads.

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Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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