Bar Tartine Switches from California Cuisine to Chicken Paprikas
|Bar Tartine's Dobos torte with apricots and candied hazelnuts.|
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.