Nick Balla's 2011 Find: Great Skewers and a New (Old) Herb

Categories: Food Find
Chad Robertson
Nick Balla of Bar Tartine.
SFoodie is calling up food types around the city to ask them about their favorite discovery of the past year, whether it's new or ancient, an ingredient or a person. We'll be running their responses over the course of the next 10 days.

This year, Nick Balla switched directions, culinarily speaking, leaving his position as chef of Nombe Izakaya to cook Californian-Hungarian food at Bar Tartine. Here's what he had to say about his 2011 finds:

"I just had a chance to check out Izakaya Yuzuki (on Guerrero and 18th St.)," he says. "I was blown away. It's a mellow place, with more of a family feel, not as wild as a lot of izakayas with booze. The chef, Takashi, worked at Ame for a long time.

"From crab sunomono and yakitori (skewers) marinated in a house-cultured koji -- the grilled wings and tsukune (meatballs) are excellent -- to nuka pickles, shiokara (squid guts), braised beef tendon, and grilled squid, everything is prepared at a level you would find at a top-quality izakaya in Japan. They use few processed ingredients, unlike most American Japanese restaurants do. This is the real deal."

anise hyssop.jpg
Anise hyssop.
"The other discovery of 2011," Balla continues, "was anise hyssop. We use a lot of fennel and anise seed at Bar Tartine. The discovery of a large garden of hyssop plants at Bob Cannard's farm in Sonoma led to us process many pounds of the flowers for herbal teas, and transform the leaves into a bright green powder that we use for a variety of preparations. We currently are serving a homemade goat cheese dusted with hyssop and served with charred sesame bread and sea laver."

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