UPDATE: Chef Nick Balla announced he will be leaving the restaurant to start his own venture, and Bar Tartine will end on Dec. 31, 2016. Tartine Bakery owners will replace it with a yet-to-be-determined concept.

It’s a natural progression that a restaurant with roots to one of San Francisco’s more popular bakeries would open a sandwich shop, taking full advantage of its access to great bread.

Bar Tartine has long enjoyed success in the Mission District, opened by the husband-and-wife team of Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson, who’ve made a name for Tartine Bakery a few blocks away. At the restaurant, California cuisine is featured with the fresh bread from the bakery.

Since 2011, the kitchen of Bar Tartine has been run by Chef Nicolaus Balla, who has changed the menu to focus on some of his European roots, with German and Scandinavian influences. The restaurant was renovated this year, giving it a sleek Scandinavian feel and expanding it to the space next door, which was set up as a sandwich counter during the day.

A counter and order station is an added element in the expanded Bar Tartine

The sandwich shop, which opened this month, has a menu featuring baked goods, a few sandwiches and salads, and several choices of smorrebrod, or Danish open-faced sandwiches. The format takes advantage of the full restaurant space, but a lettering system keeps things casual.

I dropped in to check out the format for lunch Sunday. Bar Tartine’s sandwich shop provides an upscale alternative to brunch without being weighed down by heavy egg dishes.

Six options are available in the smorrebrod section, and I chose three for $15. The open-faced sandwiches came out on a wood tray, each beautifully presented and served on rye bread slices.

The first was a smoked sturgeon, intricate with a potato and dill sauce as a base and a dollop of beet relish with sprinkling of horseradish. I expected this to be packed with flavor given all the components, but the entire thing was bland like the potato sauce (which was more like a puree).

White bean spread with roasted tomatoes and zucchini

The white bean spread with roasted tomato and zucchini was a fantastic reflection of summer, and the perfectly roasted (and peeled) cherry tomatoes had an intense flavor from being roasted.

But my favorite has to be the chocolate and hazelnut butter smorrebrod, which could be simply Nutella with chocolate, but there was something done in the kitchen to make the hazelnut and chocolate all gooey and warm, and the topping of walnuts added that special crunch.

While not everything was a homerun, this daytime menu provided a nice peek into the styling of Chef Balla and offered enough interesting and new items on the limited menu that will keep me dropping in for exquisite weekend lunches in the near future.

Bar Tartine Sandwich Shop, 561 Valencia St., San Francisco. PH: 415.487.1601. Open Wednesday through Sunday, from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. No reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.bartartine.com

A sandwich sign now hangs outside Bar Tartine’s distinctive forest green painted exterior

Iced tea one of several cool beverage options (left) and the restaurant gets a redesign emphasizing natural wood

Smoked sturgeon with potato and dill sauce, beet relish and horseradish

Under Chef Nick Balla, Bar Tartine now highlights artisan preserves and pickling

Letters signal to waiters where to bring your food

Hazelnut and chocolate on rye bread

4 Responses to A new casual slice of Bar Tartine

  1. Row says:

    Gorgeous overhead shot of the sandwiches! Silly question, but do you eat the sandwich with a knife and fork? Or, do you just pick up the sandwich and maneuver it into the mouth (and hope nothing falls off)?

    • Ben Ben says:

      Yeah, it’s tough to eat in one bite, especially with the many toppings. I ended up cutting them in half and then carefully eating it like a bruschetta. Occasionally I had to use the fork to pick up some droppings, like with the peanut butter I wanted to make sure I got every bit of that! 🙂

  2. Carolyn Jung says:

    I’m fixated on the sturgeon sammy. I love smoked sturgeon and always get it at a deli when I’m in NY. So meaty and smoky.

    • Ben Ben says:

      I was expecting a lot of flavor from the sturgeon, but I didn’t detect any smoky flavor. I wonder if it was just smothered by the plain potato sauce?