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.
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