When I first heard the gabble over Tartine AfterHours, a uno night per month calamity where Tartine Bakery and Chef Samin Nosrat pair up to make a family style feast, I KNEW...oh yes, I knew that is where I wanna be.
I excitedly emailed them for a reservation and marked it on my calendar. ONLY to realize that getting in was not THAT easy......It runs on a lottery system, so everyone has a fair chance to get in...wonk wonkkkkk
So after over 8 months of trying to get in, I finally got my golden ticket in email form. Informed my dear Mr.Phi that we were IN and he said "YAHooo..uummmm... what date was that again?....eeeks!" He had assumed that this was going to be another tartine-fail and had double booked himself for a 5K marathon the same evening! It was his first marathon and he had been training for it, so he couldn't quit it, even though it killed his very soul. So instead I attended the event with my tough and cuddly cousin. This was her first city meal since moving from NYC and now her standards are set impossibly high!
We arrived in front of Tartine, there was a huge crowd outside and they were calling out names from a list. People were licking their lips in anticipation of being chosen...and I'm sure the smells of the food, too. Felt like the movie "54"1 as our names were called out and envious eyes fells all over us.
We were seated at a long table with a gang of fellow foodies since the meals are served family style. I ordered a nice glass of Rose but wish I had gotten the Syrah after I took a closer look at the menu. (ShortRibs!) But it was warm inside and I can't resist crisp wines under such conditions. Many people took advantage of the $10 corkage fee and brought their own bottles, which I definitely plan on doing in 2013. 2
Immediately they placed a huge wooden platter of Fresh Figs, Fried Squash Blossoms, Padron Peppers and Salumi in front of us. Everyone was really kind at our table and conscious of each other getting equal shares of the bounty. Plus our waitress asked us if we needed refills of any item and thank the gawds, she brought out more freshly fried squash blossoms. When I told my dear Mr.Phi about them, he banged his head on the wall.3 After much chewing, there was one final awesome blossom left on the platter, and a war of eyes went over the table, who would be the piggy to take it..who WHOOOooooo?!?!.....This went on for 5 WHOLE minutes before I squealed and grabbed it! I did share it with my cousin though, who would of given me Indian burns had I not. The crust on the squash blossoms was a cornmeal which holds a delectable crunch for far longer. Not sure of the cheese but my guess is it was a Bellwether ricotta. In any case, one of my favorite parts and I could eat a zillion of them.
While the tables were munching down, the band "John Ingle's Ghost of a Chance" was filling the room with old time tunes and I really could not have asked for a better soundtrack to the evening. If my Mr.Phi had been there, I may of asked if we could slowdance behind the Tartine counter veryyyyy carefully.
"Late summer bean & tomato salad" was the second course to be placed on the table. This was really a beautiful display of some of the best seasonal vegetables at this time of year. Sweet red tomatoes, yellow cherry tomatoes, green beans, snap peas, yellow beans and nice crunchy cucumber with a dressing that brought all the flavors together. This was really refreshing and a perfect blend, like eating crunchy, juicy sunshine.
Along with the salad came out baskets of Tartine Bread with big slabs of butter on plates. I asked Miss Samin what kind of butter it was, but she was not sure besides it being European in style and we would gape at the mere size of it. Didn't get to do that on this evening, but I did try to make a dent in it by the amount of butter I spread on my bread. This was my first time eating Tartine Bread, not that I haven't attempted to get a loaf. Usually it is sold out and being a relatively new Bay area transplant at 3 years, I never really made the effort to buy it until this year.4
"Braised Short Ribs" was thankfully the main course since its one of the few proteins my cousin loves. I proclaimed them to be the juiciest ones I have ever had. Drooling a lil just remembering them....
Another amazing item was the corn and beans side with roasted red peppers. The beans had an amazing flavor and raised themselves to be the most memorable vegetable of the entire night. Samin told me they were from Dirty Girl Farm and gushed about how tasty they were as well. The vegetarian entree was an eggplant and farrow dish, which the Veggies at our table kindly shared with the group. In addition, there was a Cilantro Salsa which I did not really care for, but I'm not a good judge since not a huge Cilantro fan in general.5 Worries over if there would be enough food family style was quickly put to rest as there was leftovers of a few dishes, but the bean dish was almost licked clean.
By this time in the meal, people were tipsy from so much good food.... aaaannnnd maybe a few glasses of wine. The place really had a family atmosphere as people hung on one another, whispered closely and savored last bites. As Samin and her staff entered in with trays of strawberry-lime popsicles and fresh watermelon slices, it really added to the whole merriment in the room. The popsicles were even made in dixie cups! You had to use your hands to warm the dixie cup so you could free the popsicle from it's paper cage and be promptly rewarded with hot pink lips. Samin walked around the room admiring her handiwork of getting an entire group of adults to become kids in a matter of minutes. I loved the sweet tartness of the popsicles which actually contained no sugar! But my cousin said was too much "sour/super sweet" for her taste. But I managed to eat a ton of it before my ears started leaking strawberries.
Samin said this menu was her "love letter to summer" and I really felt that. The fresh figs, perfectly ripe tomatoes, crisp corn, beans, sweet summer strawberries..... Makes me sad thinking the season's almost over....actually made me more sad that the meal was over and who knows when I'll be lucky enough to get another reservation. This had to be one of my all-time favorite meals. The atmosphere, family style seating/serving, music, and friendliness of everyone involved pushed the high quality ingredients to a whole new level for me. This is what I would love every meal to be like... Good Honest Food.
1 I didn't know about Studio 54 was an actual place, until the movie "54" came out.
2 I would not be surprised if it took me until 2013 to get another reservation.....
3 On the morning of our mini honeymoon, we went to the hotel's fancypants breakfast buffet and they had a muthaeffin' fried squash blossom station! I'm pretty sure Mr.Phi set the world record for amount of squash blossoms you can put in your mouth at once. And really....can you eat too many fried squash blossoms....
4 My first two years was a love affair with Acme Bread, after having a particular amazing Baguette during my first month here. But I haven't been able to duplicate the experience since...until I found Pinkys...
5 Especially when I buy a salad mix from TJs and discover cilantro in it. But tacos is a different story....