561 Valencia Street, San Francisco CA 94110 (map); 415-487-1600 bartartine.com
Short Order: The infamous bone-marrow burger lives up to the hype, thanks to an impeccable patty, a smoked potato brioche bun, and a swath of cheddar mayo. In fact, the beef and toppings are so good that getting a straight-up medium rare burger without marrow may be the way to go.
Want Fries with That? Hand-cut fries topped with blood sausage gravy and housemade pepper jack cheese are delicious and decadent, but the chicken wings and wedge salad are even better.
Price: Bone-marrow burger, $16; burger, $12; fries with cheese and gravy, $8; wings, $9; wedge salad, $11
Notes: This menu made a two-night only appearance at Bar Tartine... unless they have the good sense to bring it back! Please??
You know what's unfair about pop ups? They're fleeting. Short-lived. Brief glimpses into what could be a regular part of your dining-out routine, save the "back for one night only!" tag and the sinking feeling in your stomach that this may, indeed, be your last bite of this glorious creation, ever.
This is what happened at a recent Monday night at Bar Tartine. The restaurant has introduced a Monday "oddities" series, where guest chefs take over the kitchen and create a menu for the evening. One night only*.
And I won't stand for it. The Monday burger menu, courtesy of former Bar Tartine chef Chris Kronner, needs to come back. FOREVER. Because his burger, offered medium rare, well done, or with bone marrow, brought me to a place of burger nirvana that I won't forget about anytime soon.
Lest you dismiss this outpouring as "over-dramatic" or "silly," let's talk about this burger. As mentioned, your choices are limited to done-ness (medium rare or well done) and one topping (with or without bone marrow). Now, I'm a girl who can't see something like "bone-marrow burger" ($16) on a menu and not order it, so that was a given. But we wanted to try the straight-up medium rare version ($12) as well, for comparison's sake.
Here's the thing: the bone marrow, aggressively served in a sawed off stump of bone, didn't really make a difference. The presentation, and novelty, certainly make for a nice conversation piece, but the burger is so meaty, so rich, and so packed with flavor on its own that the marrow didn't affect the taste much. I can't count this as a negative, considering the burger was so rich and flavorful that bone marrow didn't make a difference.
Plus, when it comes to bone marrow, I want to be able to taste it. The unctuous meaty richness of the flavor probably is best paired with toast, versus a burger. I'd order this again, but would ask for a side of Tartine bread for spreading purposes.
Back to the burger. The patty is made from Bill Niman Ranch beef (separate from the more widely known Niman Ranch)—it's all shoulder meat, aged for 14 days. The loose grind proved to be more rare than medium rare, but the meltingly tender texture of the meat and the incredible beefy flavor made this a definite positive. Needless to say, the burger was perfectly salted.
A stand-alone patty of this caliber would be worth devouring. But with this burger, it was just the beginning. The bun, a smoked potato brioche creation recently making appearances on Bar Tartine's sandwich menu, was airy in appearance and texture, and tasted of the browned crags you find in the best fresh challah. Vegetable toppings included a hefty slice of fresh heirloom tomato, iceberg lettuce for a fresh crunch, and red onions that are lightly pickled, then grilled.
And then, there's the cheddar cheese mayonnaise. Yes. Housemade mayo, laced with sharp cheddar cheese. It's liberally applied to the burger, with more served on the side—I found myself eating it with a fork, insisting that "it must be a creamy cheese. It can't just be mayo! ... I am not eating mayo with a fork, am I?!" I was. It happened. I'd do it again. The mayo was, in part, what rendered the bone marrow unnecessary. With a condiment so flavorful, rich, and unique, there was no need for more.
So, these burgers left plenty to write home about. But they were offered with a number of other options, all of which proved to be as decadent and delicious as the main attraction. Hand-cut fries were available straight-up ($5) or topped with gravy and cheese ($8). Specifically, blood sausage gravy and pepper jack cheese, made in-house. The meaty gravy had enough depth that I was inspired to compare it to beef bourgignon—it had that same slow-cooked, deeply meaty flavor. And the cheese—tangy, spicy, and fresh—acted as a nice counterbalance.
The fries were delicious, but deemed "less impressive" than the chicken wings ($9). Meaty wings and drums are breaded in rice flour and fried crisp, then doused in a vinegar-laced sauce of fish sauce and chili oil. The fishy-sweet sauce packs a wallop of flavor, and thankfully pooled at the bottom of the dish to allow for double and triple dips.
An iceberg wedge salad ($11) provided a relative respite from the meal's meatier options, without sacrificing on flavor in the least. Sprinkled liberally with Pt. Reyes blue cheese, the hefty wedge was topped with crispy shallots, sunflower seeds, bacon, and peeled cherry tomatoes. While rich (and certainly not a healthy salad), the crisp lettuce and bursting tomatoes lent a decided freshness to the meal and were a nice counterpoint to the bacon and cheese.
So tell me, Bar Tartine (and Chef Kronner, for that matter). Have I gushed enough? Have I expressed my love for this meal enough? Will you please, please bring this burger back again, or maybe even for good?
Until then, I'll have to live with my memories. And perhaps petition The Food Lab to recreate some cheddar mayonnaise for me.
* Okay, burger Monday happened two Mondays in a row. But that was it. And it's not enough, I tell you...not enough!
About the author: Lauren Sloss is a bicoastal food-lover who is based in San Francisco. Some of her favorite things include The Black Keys, goat gouda, and guacamole. You can follow her on Twitter @laurensloss.