Since moving to San Francisco, I've become something of a Tartine obsessive. The bakery is right across from my new apartment, and it's hard to resist holding a breakfast meeting over a plate of their ethereal quiche, or stopping by when the lines have died down for an iced coffee and a scone. (Those almond croissants are a force to be reckoned with, and are best served with time for a nap after.)
But it's Bar Tartine, a block away on Valencia, that has come most to feel like home for me: a window seat to share a big bowl of spicy fisherman's stew with my mother when she visited, and a long table to gather friends for salads, stewed chicken, creamed chard, and lager after a long day scouring the Alameda Flea market.
And now there are more reasons to hang out at Bar Tartine during daylight hours, since they've added a massive new Italian bread oven in the adjoining space and are now serving sandwiches along with other lunch dishes from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays.
The new oven will allow Chad Robertson and his team to bake more—but not necessarily the same loaves Tartine lovers have become accustomed to. There's a tender sprouted rye pan loaf, which holds together a corned beef tongue sandwich, and they're playing with a caramelized onion fennel potato loaf, a foccacia-style slab loaf, and there may be a kamut loaf down the line. "What drives it all," says manager Vinny Eng, "is curiosity."
What really drives it all? Fermentation. Behind the scenes, Bar Tartine is literally bubbling: they're making kefir and yogurt, jack cheese and blue cheese, fermented celery and melon sodas, and of course, sourdough. (A partnership with Linden Street Brewery in Oakland also means they serve beer made with the yeast from their naturally-leavened loaves.) There are vinegary pickled cucumbers and bright pickled carrots, pickled curried green beans, and sauerkraut. They process their own paprika, they sprout their own grains.
"This is all accessible food," says Eng. "You can make pickles, you can make beer. All of these techniques have been used for thousands of years."
"The foundation of our food often comes from something familiar," continues Eng, "But then we play with it." Little smørrebrød (open faced rye sandwiches) are topped nontraditionally: there's one smeared restaurant's pungent housemade blue cheese, avocado, bacon, and a 7-minute egg, meant to be a riff on the Cobb salad, and a version with smoky eggplant and intensely sweet roasted tomato, and another with broccoli, housemade goat cheese, and onion jam.
There are large-size sandwiches too: when we visited, they were serving pulled pork, corned beef tongue, and a vegetarian option with lentil croquettes, yogurt, and padron peppers. For the non-sandwich eater, there are pickles, soup, and salads, including a hearty chopped salad with salami and housemade pepper jack. Langos (fried potato bread) is best shared (it's basically a potato doughnut), and available in the savory sour cream/garlic/dill variety as well as a brunch-friendly version with peach and blackberry compote and tangy sour cream. You order your food at the counter and it's brought out to the sunlit room, though it's also available to go, along with some of the day's fresh loaves.