Number 1: Bar Tartine's Blood Sausage

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Albert Law
SFoodie's countdown of our favorite 50 things to eat and drink, 2012 edition

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The lengths to which chefs like Bar Tartine's Nicolaus Balla are going to ensure the authenticity of their creative vision are reaching the poetic. In age when he could order up an entire menu from Sysco, it's a pre-industrial -- even Benjamin-inspired -- act for Balla to culture dozens of types of pickles, cure his own meats and fish, bake his own bread (well, that's courtesy of Bar Tartine owner Chad Robertson), and recycle the bread yeast into beer.

So it goes without saying that the blood sausage Bar Tartine serves is made in-house. It pays homage to the sausages Balla ate in Hungary, the country that most inspires his cooking here. He stuffs the sausage with a forcemeat of pig blood, ground meat and skin, pork fat, buckwheat flour, and brown rice. The fat links, roasted until they sizzle, are meaty rather than custardy, and fervidly spiced. Unlike the blood, which tints the filling a purplish cocoa color, shades its flavor with an underlying richness, perhaps a hint of iron.

At street stands in Hungary, Balla says, blood sausage is displayed on the grill atop mounds of onions and sauerkraut seasoned with paprika. So his comes propped up on a dollop of lecho -- roasted peppers, onions, and house-cultured sauerkraut sauteed down into a spicy jam -- with a spoonful of whole-grain mustard on the side. The mustard is extraordinary in itself: It crackles in the mouth as the vinegar-soaked seeds burst; above the mustard's cutting bite comes the piercing note of dill flowers, which Balla and his cooks have laboriously lucked and pickled. On its own, the mustard comes off as too floral, too sharp; dabbed onto the blood sausage, it has the same effect is a psychedelic light show, illuminating and confounding at the same time.

Hungarians who come to Bar Tartine looking for dishes from the homeland can be disappointed. Balla's food is so idiosyncratic, so wide-ranging, that it owes its authenticity to one source: the chef who made it.

Bar Tartine: 561 Valencia (at 16th St.), 487-1600.

Other favorites in this series:
4. Falafel from Sunrise Deli
5. Smitten's chocolate ice cream
6. Josey Baker's black pepper-parmesan loaf
7. Hakka Restaurant's stuffed tofu
8: Al pastor burrito from Taqueria La Alteña
9: Pizza focaccia from Liguria Bakery
10: Boxing Room's dirty rice
11: Wing Wingschicken salad biscuit
12: Pamonha de sal from Pamonha's
13: Kasa Indian Truck's gobi aloo kati roll
14: Delfina's trippa alla fiorentina
15: Truffled tater tots from Leatherneck Steakhouse
16: Baia Pasta's durum-wheat pastas
17: Z&Y's flaming fish with chile oil
18: Auntie April's fried catfish
19: None but the Brave from Heaven's Dog
20: Saha's vegan kibbeh
21: Starter Bakery's hazelnut kouign amann
22: Pupusas at Cafe and Restaurant Montecristo
23: 2 a.m. apple fritter at Bob's
24: Le Sanctuaire's vadouvan
25: Crab louis salad at Nettie's Crab Shack
26: Soy sauce chicken from Happy Bakery & Deli
27: Locanda's Jewish-style artichoke
28: Local: Mission Eatery's asparagus-egg sandwich
29: Memphis Minnie's 18-hour brisket
30: Custard buns from City View
31: Mission Chinese Food's kung pao pastrami
32: Panisse frites from Frances
33: Izakaya Yuzuki's chawanmushi
34: Fatted Calf's chorizo
35: Silvanas from House of Silvanas
36: Linden Street Brewery's black lager
37: Aged oolongs from Red Blossom Tea Company
38: Broken Record's crawfish grits
39: Cebiche mixto from La Mar 
40: Nutella-hazelnut hand pie from Black Jet Baking Co.
41: Fifth Floor's burger
42: Perbacco's agnolotti dal plin
43: Iced coffee from Sightglass
44: Cypress Grove's Purple Haze Chevre
45: Lechon from Tastebuds Cuisine
46: Duck with beets from AQ
47: Tai nigiri at ICHI Sushi
48: Fish with explosive chiles from Spices! 
49: Baker & Banker Bakery's blueberry cream cheese muffin
50: Kufta tajine from Cafe Zitouna

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Bar Tartine

561 Valencia, San Francisco, CA

Category: Restaurant

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