As the menu at Bar Tartine continues to evolve at the innovative hands of chef Nick Balla, the team has become more and more aware that wine really isn’t always the best pairing for Balla’s food. Beverage manager Alex Fox recently left his post at the restaurant to pursue his own project in Baton Rouge, but over the last six months he and server/host Vinny Eng have been working to add a large and eccentric beer list to the drink menu, pairing craft and artisan beers from Europe and the States with Balla’s bold, Eastern and Northern European-influenced cuisine. “We really want to push funky, sour beer,” says Balla. “It’s kind of a trend right now in Northern Europe, and we’re trying to bring it here.”
Furthermore, Eng — who’s still in daily contact with Fox about the beverage program and who is getting his beer certification in preparation for taking over some of Fox’s role at the restaurant — explains that the way beer makers work is more in line, philosophically, with how Balla runs his kitchen than the more strict and precise work of winemaking. “Beer makers tend more to the approach that every brew is going to be a little different, and every day is different, and riffing on recipes is okay,” says Eng. “And that’s very much what Nick tells his cooks. Don’t be obsessed with consistency; just make it delicious every time.”
Balla and his team have been building up a larder on the premises with the goal being to use only house-made spice mixtures, pickles, and charcuterie in their dishes. Currently in the works and making its way onto the brunch and dinner menus are house-made bacon, goose pancetta, house-blend paprika, and a really intense yuzu powder that Balla’s been sprinkling on beignets.
Bringing things full circle, in a sense, Balla tells us about an all-in-one special he’ll be doing starting in about two weeks featuring a classic Slovakian winter stew called kapustnica, which is made with Bar Tartine’s house-made cured sausage, dried fruit, fresh fruit, house-made sauerkraut, and house-made sour cream. It’ll be served with a Tartine beer (being made at Linden Street Brewery in Oakland using Chad Robertson’s famed bread starter), Tartine bread, and pickles made using the beer mash from the Tartine beer, all for about seventeen dollars. (Using a dry-fermented pickle style popular in Japan, Balla has buried three kinds of radishes — watermelon, black, and daikon — in buckets of the beer mash to ferment.)
“These are all really ancient traditions,” Eng adds. “It’s all about elongating seasonality of food, preserving, fermenting. That’s what the entire menu is now about.”
The new artisan beer list features obscure craft beers from tiny producers around Europe and North America, like Dieu du Ciel’s ‘Rosée d’Hibiscus,’ an herbed beer from Quebec; Mikkeller’s ‘Chipotle Porter’ from Denmark; and Haandbryggeriet’s ‘Hesjeol’ smoked beer from Norway. For obvious reasons, the beer thing ties in perfectly with the bread-making operation at Tartine Bakery too, part of which will be moving in to the newly finished next-door space at Bar Tartine (behind the right-hand portion of the dining room) where a brand new, huge bread oven has been fully installed (just not yet fully fired up). Balla adds that he’s already serving a selection of smorrbrod (open-faced Danish sandwiches) on the brunch menu using Tartine rye bread. And yes, these go great with Danish beer.
Earlier: Bar Tartine and Tartine Afterhours Both Hosting Special New Year’s Eve Dinners
Actually Pretty Awesome: The Tripe and the Pickles at Bar Tartine
In a Nod to the Gluten-Intolerant (Like His Wife), Tartine’s Chad Robertson to Revive Ancient Grains
Bar Tartine Is Closed This Week, Might Change Its Name Sometime Later