The other day I made this kind of mint/basil sauce to go with my rack of lamb dish I was serving for a dinner party. The sauce has garlic and anchovies as well, giving it lots of that umami flavor. I thought it would work really well in a pasta dish. To keep things interesting I add Spanish olives stuffed with anchovies and then finish the dish with lots of Parmigiano Reggiano and aggressive amounts of hot chili flakes.
Ingredients (serves 6-8 as a first course):
-leaves from 1 large bunch of basil
-leaves from 1 large bunch of mint
-1 whole garlic clove, peeled
-10-12 anchovy fillets, chopped (do not rinse or wash)
-Extra virgin olive oil
-Juice of one lemon
-1 can of Spanish olives stuffed with anchovies
-1 pound best quality dry spaghetti
-Parmigiano Reggiano for grating
In a blender or food processor combine the basil, mint, anchovies and garlic. Add about 1 cup of oil and blend, drizzling in more oil until you have an emulsification. Add the lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Given that we did not rinse or soak the anchovy fillets it is probably not necessary to add any additional salt. If you are using fresh anchovies or fillets soaked in vinegar then you may need to add a bit of salt to taste. Pour the pesto into a container and chill in refrigerator until ready to use.
To make the dish put a large pot of salted water on the stove and bring to a boil. Drop your pasta and cook according to the package instructions, removing the pasta about 1 minute before it's perfectly al dente. While the pasta is cooking pour the pesto and Spanish olives into a large sauté pan and heat very gently (do not boil). Add a generous amount of chili flakes and stir through.mWhen the pasta is ready use tongs to transfer to the pan and toss for 30 seconds over medium-low heat. If the sauce looks a bit tight or dry add a little pasta cooking water.
Place the pasta onto plates and serve each dish with liberal amounts of grated Parmigiano Reggiano and extra chili flakes as desired.
As many of you know, chefs Nick Balla and Cortney Burns began their pilgrimage of bringing authentic Hungarian cuisine to SF diners at Bar Tartine nearly five and a half years ago. Over the years they evolved their cuisine and experimented endlessly and even published a cookbook. More recently they ventured off into new territory with Japanese-influenced Motze. They have now decided to go back to making what they call “Central-European peasant food made with noble ingredients” at their new concept Duna, Hungarian for the Danube river.
This writer couldn’t be happier as I have so many fond memories of the early days of exploring Hungarian dishes at Tartine. Favorites that come to mind are numerous and include the Hungarian “langos” potato-wheat fried bread (seasoned with onions and garlic and a generous amount of sour cream), the succulent tripe braised in beef stock and orange juice and finished on the grill, the chilled kohlrabi soup (baby turnip, sour cream, radish) and the goat meatballs (red tipped spinach, chili, garlic).
Assorted dishes at the new Duna - Photo courtesy of Postcard Communications
Although some of these dishes may make their way onto Duna's new menu, it will probably be in a different form or evolved preparation. For example, the restaurant's dips—such as the Liptauer paprika cheese and the kohlrabi tzatziki—are accompanied by a smoked potato flatbread inspired by the original langos. Another new concept is the chopped salads like the Budapest/Brooklyn (paprika salami, pepper jack, mushroom, tomato pepper vinaigrette) and the Sofia (feta, tomato, cucumber, pickled beans, marjoram vinaigrette). These salads are hearty and best eaten with a spoon! Other notable dishes include the chilled beet soup with kvass, kefir and almonds and the exquisite stuffed cabbage rolls with sausage, pork belly, mushrooms, dried apples and sour cream. The latter, while complex in ingredients, manages to be hearty, flavorful and light at the same time. It is the kind of dish that tastes even better the next day.
The Sofia Salad - Photo by James Stolich
It should also be noted that Duna offers an interesting selection of Hungarian wine as well as some very creative cocktails based around sake and soju (the restaurant does not have a full liquor license). Two standouts include the “High Balla” (strawberry juniper cocktail with soju) and the “Rye and Smoked Tangerine” made with sake and Sherry. For not having hard alcohol both deliver that “stiff” drink type experience while being well balanced.
Chicken paprikas with spatzle - Photo courtesy of Postcard Communications
The former herbivore space at 983 Valencia Street underwent a brief and thoughtful refresh, drawing inspiration from the wild flowers and old-growth forests that line the Danube. Small pieces of art adorn the restaurant and reflect the history of Central Europe. There is even a custom art piece inside the entrance created by Ms. Burns. The restaurant and concept are evolving so expect ongoing changes and experimentation within the framework of the Hungarian cuisine that Nick and Cortney hold dear to their hearts. Duna is open Wednesday through Sunday for dinner. Lunch service is planned for later this summer.
Click here to read my original interview with Nick and Bar Tartine back in October 2011 and to learn about the history and roots of Hungarian cuisine.
On Wednesday, June 14th, Duna officially partnered with Caviar, the restaurant delivery service. San Franciscans across the city are now able to order spoons salads and chicken paprikas delivered to their doorstep for lunch (Wed-Sun 11:30am-2:30pm) and dinner (Wed & Thur 5:30-9pm; Fri & Sat 5:30-10pm). And with an eye towards all the surrounding offices, they also have specials for groups of eight people or more. Orders can be made here.
Starting on Sunday, June 25th, Duna will introduce its weekly supper series, an ever-changing, multi-course, set menu ($58 per ticket) – everything from a taste of the Danube to a Midwest, Central Europe mash-up.
As most New Yorkers know it’s next to impossible to find decent Mexican food outside of California or of course Mexico itself. And historically Mexican cuisine—at least in the States—has mostly been relegated to the ubiquitous taco and carnitas and bad Tex-Mex, or—if you come to San Francisco—you can find the holy grail of burritos. Yes, this can be delicious, but it's not regional Mexican cooking. I’m delighted to say that contemporary Mexican cuisine has started to be taken a lot more seriously across the country, particularly in major food cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco. There was a great write-up in the New York Times titled ‘Modern Mexican’ Steps into the Spotlight. The examples are numerous and include the likes of Californios and Cala in SF and one I did not know about until recently—Cosme in the Flatiron District in NYC.
Stuffed avocado "vuelve a la vida" - photo by James Stolich
On a recent trip to “el gran apple” I had the good fortune of connecting with my Instagram colleague—and prolific eater and critic--@elgranpete over a most enjoyable lunch at the aforementioned Cosme. Located at 35 East 21st Street, just steps from the Union Square Green Farmer’s Market, the restaurant is quintessentially modern with a very chic vibe. The industrial space is well appointed with soft pendant lighting, wooden tables and a very comfortable bar with an extensive collection of mezcal.
Chef and owner Enrique Olvera (owner of the very successful Pujol in Mexico City) opened Cosme three years ago after extensive research into the city’s dining scene. He and chef de cuisine Daniela Soto-Innes offer guests a highly curated, modern take on regional Mexican cuisine, using mostly local ingredients from the Hudson Valley. Start off with the stuffed avocado and seafood "vuelve a la vida" a very unusual dish to find in the states. A perfectly ripe avocado is filled with a combination of raw striped bass, fluke, scallops, and octopus and seasoned with a sauce of ketchup, Valentina hot sauce, Serrano peppers, horseradish and cilantro. Another unusual and exceptional dish is the uni tostada with bone marrow salsa, avocado, and cucumber. The egg sope with chorizo, refried black beans, and a barely poached egg is also an excellent appetizer for sharing. The green sauce is comprised of tomatillos, white onion, garlic, scallions, cilantro, epazote and cumin and balances out the richness of the masa. Other favorites include the classic chilaquiles divorciados (shredded chicken with a red and green sauce with house made chips and a poached egg) and the duck enmoladas (mole rojo, crème fraiche). In the latter the mole is made with pasilla, tomatoes, garlic, onion, herbs, aromatic spices, nuts, prunes, raisins, chocolate and a bit of clove and cinnamon, all adding up to a very complex and rich flavor profile.
Egg sope with chorizo, refried black beans, and a barely poached egg - photo by James Stolich
All of the dishes are rooted in tradition and are delectable. If you are feeling adventurous—and hungry—order the enfrijolada, a lovely sopa of pureed black beans with garlic, onion, epazote, avocado leaf, and pasilla. Beneath the black beans and hidden under an "hoja santa" or holy leaf are several house made Cosme tortillas. The dish is finished off with ricotta and queso fresco. Finally, if sharing, the lamb barbacoa is an absolute must-order. Soto-Innes marinates the shoulder in a rub of guajillo adobo and slowly braises the meat until very tender and succulent. The dish is served with shishito peppers, quelites (a type of leafy Mexican green) and three unique salsas.
Enfrijolada con hoja santa - photo by James Stolich
For dessert, the kitchen offers a very respectable rendition of churros and Mexican hot chocolate, but the dish that speaks to the creativity and high level of Cosme is the famous cornhusk meringue with corn mouse. The husks are baked and ground up into a powder to form a meringue. A mouse made from corn kernels, sugar, salt, and cream makes up the middle of this fascinating dessert, a beautiful homage to Mexican corn and tradition. Cosme is open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner and brunch and dinner on Saturday and Sunday.
Corn husk meringue - photo by James Stolich
Note: this interview was originally published in October, 2011 by James Stolich
San Francisco has always been a city recognized for its eclectic and international cuisine. Our local progressive restaurants like Commonwealth, Aziza and Michael Mina innovate by drawing on the influences of either the chef's country of origin or area with which they have a special connection or affinity. What happens when the owners of a French bistro in the Mission turn the restaurant on its head and go all out with a full Hungarian menu? Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt re-opened Bar Tartine (561 Valencia Street) earlier this year with a menu focused on dishes reflecting the Danube River region of Eastern and Central Europe. Their strategy was to hire chef Nick Balla (formerly of Nombe and O Izakaya) who is of Hungarian descent and spent 3 years living in Budapest.
We caught up with Nick following his recent 3-week culinary research tour throughout Hungary:
Nick Balla with co-chef Cortney Burns. Photo courtesy of Bar Tartine.
What inspired your interest in cooking?
Nick: Both my parents were into cooking and I gained an appreciation early on. My dad cooked some traditional dishes and things handed down from his mother. My mom had the garden so she’d make all sorts of amazing stuff including Indian and Asian. My dad later moved back to Hungary and I went to live with him when I was 14 for two years. Then I came back to Michigan to finish high school. I really wanted to be a rock star but that didn’t work out so I started washing dishes in a couple of restaurants. When I was 19 I was the chef at this restaurant in Michigan. Later I decided to go to the CIA in New York and get my bachelors.
You just returned from 3 weeks in Hungary. What sorts of new things did you discover and how might this translate to the menu at Bar Tartine?
Nick: We started in Budapest and visited every farmer’s market possible. We also did some day trips to small towns like Etyek. We had an amazing meal at this family’s house. They had killed a rooster for us the day before and also had the most delicious homemade cheeses and sausages. They even have their own still and served us homemade házi pálinka (house brandy). It was just great. Then we headed down to Lake Balaton south of Budapest where we hit up the major wine producing areas of Villány and Szekszárd. Hungary has always been more of a wine country than beer drinking but during the years of socialism the wines became mass produced and less artisan. Native grapes Kékfrankos and Kadarka nearly became extinct. And now it’s coming back. There are many small producers making amazing wines and food products. We will start to see them exported over the next 20 years.
We also found a lot of obscure regional dishes like halászlé, a fresh-water fish stew with paprika. This is one dish I definitely want to recreate at the restaurant and put my own stamp on.
What do you like most about Hungarian/Eastern European cuisine?
Nick: It has very unique flavor profile. I hate the word fusion but Hungarian cuisine marries so many different cultures and foods together. Some might want to group it in with Slavic or Germanic food but it’s really its own thing. Hungary is right in the middle of a ton of different spice routes that were occupied by the Turks. The Hungarians themselves were nomads who also explored much of China. It’s a fusion of Germanic and Slavic food with Asian influence. They love southeast Asian chilies and dumplings and embrace both subtle and loud forward flavors. And the food is not heavy.
Have diners been receptive to the new menu at Bar Tartine?
Nick: We are getting amazing feedback. People have been receiving it well. It’s risky taking off a burger that is popular and completely overhauling a menu with dishes people are not asking for. Overall, though, it’s been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve gained a new audience of people who appreciate it. It’s going to keep evolving.
You can tell that Balla has the support of Bar Tartine’s owners to embrace Hungarian cuisine and bring its distinctive flavors to diners. The new menu at Bar Tartine is fun and refreshing with well-composed, thoughtfully prepared dishes. All of the pickled appetizers artfully served in individual glass jars are delicious. They include shredded cabbage with chili paste, King trumpet mushroom and artichoke, dill and green garlic cucumbers, pickled parsnip and radish and carrots with turmeric. I recommend ordering the sampler so that you can savor each one at the beginning and throughout the meal. The starter of eggplant with arugula, cardoon mayonnaise and lemon was very earthy and savory. The grilled tripe with fennel, cabbage and coriander had an extraordinary flavor and texture and imparted a delicious sweetness with undertones of game. According to Balla, the tripe is first simmered for 5 hours in a combination of orange juice and beef stock. Later it is fried for about 10 seconds before being finished on the grill. For tripe lovers this is a must have.
Other dishes include chilled kohlrabi soup (baby turnip, sour cream, radish), goat meatballs (red tipped spinach, chili, garlic) and smoked rainbow trout salad (horseradish, sour cream, kohlrabi, crispy skin). If you are hungry or up for sharing with your dining companion indulge in some bigger plates like the Kapusnica (smoked blood sausage, pickled cabbage, cherry, chili, hen of the woods), the Gulyas (beef brisket, red wine and caraway broth, whole wheat bread, marrow) and Chicken paprikas (baby shiitake, shallot, kale). Order a side of the grated buckwheat egg dumplings (onion sauce, chervil) to accompany the succulent chicken.
All of these dishes have bold, pronounced flavors due to the regional spices and preparations but at the same time never feel too heavy. Bar Tartine accepts reservations and is open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner and brunch service on Sundays from 10:30am to 2pm. Go beyond goulash and give this unique restaurant a try.
James is a food writer and Bay Area chef who owns and runs a private dinner party and cooking class business specializing in regional Italian and Spanish cuisine. See CookWithJames.com