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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 Walter 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.
San Francisco, CA 94110
Region: Mission/ Bernal Heights
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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 plucked and pickled. On its own, the mustard comes off as too floral, too sharp; dabbed onto the blood sausage, it has the same effect as 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.
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