Sprouted Rye at Bar Tartine
It was no surprise that Sunday brunch at Bar Tartine was delicious. The eggs on the Benedict perfectly poached, served under strips of crisp and smokey bacon, a dousing of caraway Hollandaise sauce and a handful of fresh greens. The undertones of fennel in the caraway had me convinced that this slightly sour, sort of Irish (soda bread) flavor should always be in a Benedict. The caraway also drew out the rye in the sprouted rye bread that lay underneath.
This sprouted rye redefines moisture in a loaf. More than dough, cutting open this dense, golden loaf reveals an explosion of seeds - lots of sprouted rye, (maybe some caraway?) and something that looks like pumpkin seeds. These seeds are held together by a dough that is so moist that it almost seems like its been soaked in preparation for french toast. When we ask the hostess where we can buy the bread, she directs us to Tartine Bakery, but I've rushed to Tartine too many times to make it there by 5 PM for a loaf of country bread (after wondering I should branch out and get the sesame, walnut, or olive), to know that this sprouted rye is actually not available there.
Chef Nicolaus Balla came out from the kitchen when he hears someone wants to talk about the bread, which he offers to sell me (on the underground brunch black market) for $8. In a way that is at once serious, eager and refreshingly relaxed, Balla says he's glad I like the bread and tells me that it gets better with age: "It's best on its fourth day." I'll admit I was dubious until I cut myself a slice of the dwindling loaf four days later to find the same freshness and a more potent flavor in the sprouted seeds.
As he returns to the kitchen to retrieve a loaf, the hostess exudes enthusiasm as she talks about how generous and down to earth Balla is, adding that he frequently comes out of the kitchen to see how people are doing. I think I know what she's talking about, as we've only talked about bread for a moment and I am ready for Balla to be my new best friend. She draws back the curtain that conspicuously hides a gargantuan bread oven where Chad Robertson (Tartine Bakery's mastermind) will soon move all bread baking operations.