On Sunday, I hoped to have a brunch fantasy fulfilled. H. had made reservations at Bar Tartine, lauded for its simple, well-crafted, and seasonally-focused dishes (and for its fabulous bread, sourced from Tartine Bakery). Was I pumped? Hell yeah! In honor of this occasion, I spent extra time styling my hair — a rarity for a weekend mornings, when I usually just twist my hair up into a high hipster bun and call it a day — and made sure we left the Haight with enough time to allow for a pleasant, unhurried bus trip.
I’d checked Bar Tartine’s online menu and had plotted out my brunchtime course of action: Pt. Reyes blue-cheese stuffed dates as an appetizer, savory bread pudding with red onions, Spring Hill cheddar, nettles and green salad as an entrée, and a beverage to be determined. Since reading this New York Times piece about savory bread pudding, I’ve been craving some hardcore. Bar Tartine was going to sate this weeks-old hankering, I was sure.
Bar Tartine has a lot going for it, atmospherically speaking. The dark, rough-hewn floor feels like a transplant from some provincial attic; ditto the chandelier crafted from intertangled antlers. The shelves near the front entrance and the bathroom counter are decorated with skulls; in the instance of the latter, the skull had fresh blossoms placed in its eye sockets — a detail charming and macabre. On the topic of flowers, the bathrooms at Bar Tartine and at plain-old Tartine had vases of fresh flowers on display, which detail I appreciated from visual and olfactory standpoints alike. Yes, Bar Tartine’s setting is romantically rustic, catering to those who dream about rambling country houses with chipped, 19th-century crockery, heavy-handled knives, and jugs of wildflowers picked from the adjacent meadow. Not that I belong to that demographic subset or anything; this is all purely conjectural. Like so many of his colleagues in this city, our waiter was coolly detached/borderline unhelpful. He asked us what we’d like to drink; when we ordered coffee, he brought our coffee. He took our orders and brought our food to the table. But he never asked how we liked our food — rather, if we liked it — and Hook practically had to grab the waiter’s arm to get him to bring us a pepper mill. As one who eats out a good deal, I understand the value of understated service. I don’t want a waiter or waitress all up in my business, asking every five minutes how everything is and constantly topping off my glass of water. On the other hand, I’d like to have pepper brought to the table without having to resort to acrobatics to catch the waiter’s attention.
On to the meal. The stuffed dates (four to an order) were average, failing to live up to the glory I’d predicted. One of my dates tasted overpoweringly of blue cheese (with not enough sweetness to offset the pungency of the cheese), while Hook said that all he tasted was the date. My second sample was more balanced than the first, but the cheese still overwhelmed the flavor of the fruit.
To my disappointment, savory bread pudding was not featured on Sunday’s menu. No matter: both the walnut-bread french toast (with a side of seasonal fruit) and the omelette appealed to me. I ordered the latter. Served with a simple green salad and adorned with fresh herbs, creme fraiche, and sweet 100s tomatoes, the omelette would have been a delight had it been cooked thoroughly. As it happened, there were large, underdone patches on the omelette’s face. I ate around those patches and picked off the tomatoes/ scooped off the creme fraiche, but the runny eggs were enough to put off my appetite. I finished less than half of the omelette.
Hook fared a little better. He built his own breakfast from three a la carte items: scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast. His eggs were also underdone (not as egregiously as mine), his bacon was extremely salty (I had a piece and corroborated his opinion), and his toast was buttered so heavily that it was greasy. Not moist, not just buttery: greasy. It wasn’t the worst brunch ever, Hook conceded, but was a major let down for the price point.
More than anything, I was disappointed by this meal. Had the service been off-point but the food delicious, or vice versa, I might have given a more sympathetic review. Sadly, the most enjoyable part of my brunch was the taxidermically-themed decor. Far from inspiring brunch monogamy, Bar Tartine may not even get a second date.