Sandwich-ing in the Mission

An array of Nick Balla’s artful smorrebrod at Bar Tartine during new daytime hours


Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Two unusual, new Mission sandwich options: one of the city’s best restaurants launches lunch with Scandinavian influence (part of the Nordic culinary wave finally reaching the West Coast), and a low-key panini shop opens, refreshingly real with Middle Eastern touches.

BAR TARTINE, Mission (561 Valencia St. between 16th & 17th Sts., 415-487-1600)

Bar Tartine chef Nick Balla talks smorrebrod at SF Chefs’ Scandinavian/Eastern European cooking demo in early August

Nick Balla’s forward-thinking, Eastern European cuisine at Bar Tartine is some of the most exciting food in the city right now so new daytime hours (Wed.-Sun., 10:30am-2:30pm) are a gain. Smørrebrød is Danish for “bread and butter” – these open-faced sandwiches (1 for $6; 3 for $15) lead the way on the new menu, though heartier sandwiches are on offer, too, such as beef tongue ($12) generously laden with sauerkraut, onion and that Hungarian staple, paprika, or on the vegetarian side, slab bread filled with lentil croquettes, yogurt, cucumber, padron peppers.

On rustic rye bread, smørrebrød toppings evolve – I find two enough, three for those with a bigger appetite. My favorite is bacon, egg, avocado, dill and roasted tomato in a blue cheese sauce blessedly garlic-heavy, garlic happily present in my mouth for the rest of the day. Creamy chicken liver pate is a gourmand’s option, although such a generous scoop of pate overwhelms accompanying apricot jam. Another toast is topped with smoked eggplant, white beans, olive, roasted tomato, while a sweeter side is expressed in hazelnut butter and rhubarb compote.

Hot Press

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In the spirit of meggyleves, Balla’s Hungarian sour cherry soup that wowed me last summer, there’s chilled apricot soup ($9), not as sweet as suspected, smoked almonds and sour cream adding texture to the savory/fruity broth. Jars of pickled treats line the walls, available in the menu’s snacks section (pickled curried green beans!), refreshing contrasted with a kefir-ginger-strawberry shake ($5). During the launch week of Bar Tartine’s lunch, I noticed the place packed with food writers, sommeliers, and industry folk eating artistic slabs of Eastern European/Scandinavian-influenced eats, already confirming it as a smørrebrød/daytime destination.

HOT PRESS, Mission (2966 Mission St. between 25th & 26th Sts., 415-814-3814)

Hot Press’ Dream Cream

With a friendly Middle Eastern welcome, the guys at the new Hot Press welcome customers into their humble Mission shop for panini, Caffe Trieste coffee, and Three Twins ice cream by the scoop, waffle cone or sundae. While American sandwiches, like their pastrami loaded Staten Island ($7.75) with Emmentaler cheese, house Dijonaise, cabbage slaw and sliced pickles, it’s Middle Eastern/Lebanese touches and vegetarian offerings that skew unusual. Dream Cream ($6.50) is soft-yet-crusty ciabatta bread slathered in light cream cheese, sauteed peppers, caramelized walnuts and cucumbers, Za’atar spices perking up the mild, comforting panini. On a French baguette, another vegetarian sandwich with Middle Easter leanings is Ayia Napa ($6.99), likewise comforting with melted halloumi (a traditional Cypriot cheese from the island of Cyprus), mint leaves, tomatoes and a douse of olive oil. Pollo de la Mission ($7.75) is a neighborhood tribute of free range chicken on ciabatta in creamy chipotle sauce, pressed with peppers, grilled onions, Colby Jack cheese and corn.

Staten Island: pastrami as panini

Sides ($2.25 1/2 pint; $4.25 pint) range from coleslaw to a salad of spinach leaves, goat cheese and strawberries, while three bean salad – cannellini, kidney and garbanzo beans tossed with onion, parsley, lemon, olive oil – comes in mini-tasting cups with each sandwich. Local ingredients go beyond ice cream and coffee to sandwich bread from Bordenave’s in San Rafael, with neighborhood goodwill in the form of a kids menu and dessert sandwiches like Peanut Butter & Better ($4.99): creamy or crunchy PB, sliced bananas, lavender honey or grape jelly.

The space is non-descript in a refreshing way, with sidewalk seating and Middle Eastern music videos playing on a flat screen. Thankfully, not every new opening in the Mission is a hipster, trendy affair.