One of my favorite restaurants in the city over the last five years, Bar Tartine, is calling it quits at least in its current incarnation on New Year's Eve. That would be a far sadder thing if chefs Nick Balla and Cortney Burns weren't already on to their next exciting project, or if Bar Tartine as we know it, with its charming, flatteringly lit, wood-paneled space were destined never to open its doors again.
The chefs, who began dating just after Balla took over in the kitchen at Bar Tartine in 2011, announced in August they were working on a more Japanese-influenced side project called Motze, and this fall that moved into the former Herbivore space on Valencia in the form of an 18-month pop-up. They committed to the 18-month timeframe perhaps already knowing that the departure from Bar Tartine was imminent,
As the Chronicle's Jonathan Kauffman writes in this great piece on Balla and Burns, their food "grows ever more personal and iconoclastic every year" and defies easy description, or categorization. They are at once rustic and experimental, fans of the ancient but embracing the modern, and they fearlessly combine flavors, textures, and pickled things like no one else in town. Their 2014 cookbook and visits from international chefs and the national press have won them wide-reaching acclaim in the last couple of years, despite the humble setting of Bar Tartine, and now they will be shedding the Tartine name and brand to create something even more personal.
Balla tells the paper that he's had increasing discomfort with the restaurant industry, in particular with the pay inequity between waiters and cooks, and "he became convinced that the restaurant he wanted to create wouldn’t fit in the existing space" of Bar Tartine.
And Bar Tartine is more than likely going to get a new concept, the fifth in its decade-long life, after they depart. Owners Chad Robertson and Elizabeth Prueitt haven't revealed their plans, but they hold the lease and it makes sense that they should make another go at it with a new chef and continue this unprecedented success streak.
Balla, Burns, and partner Jamison Wiggins think they may have landed on that space nearby, a home for the restaurant they intend to call Crescent where the included gratuity will be shared with the entire staff as it is at Motze which could potentially complicate things for the 18-month Motze plan, but that is why I bring you this Go Eat This column, to convince you to check out this interim chapter in their culinary saga while you can.
Pete Kane at the Weekly also reviewed the place this week, highlighting the trout narezushi fish preserved by a technique using fermented rice, something that fell out of custom in the 19th century and is a precursor to modern sushi.
I had two delicious pieces of crispy trout belly that were served with a dipping sauce of burnt sorrel, and the opening course of snacks with matsutake miso soup was as delightful and surprising as any at Bar Tartine over the years. But I'll highlight the chicken nare rice porridge with a soft-cooked egg, rich with spice, flecked with pork sausage, cilantro, and peanuts, and doused in schmaltz (chicken fat). It is a terrific and warming dish for winter, and epitomizes Balla and Burns' talent for elevating the humble and riffing upon ancient comfort foods.
The three-course prix fixe is $58 including tax and gratuity, with several dishes arriving with each course, and I'd recommend this over doing the a la carte option, because this food needs to be appreciated as a variegated picnic, rather than single dishes in isolation. And all of it, particular with the Japanese influence here, fits together wonderfully.
Motze - 983 Valencia Street - Open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Wednesday to Sunday, and dinner Tuesday to Saturday at 5:30 p.m.