7/17/2012 04:02:00 PM

Party Report: Christian Puglisi at Bar Tartine

San Francisco's chefs turned out in droves for Christian Puglisi's guest dinner at Bar Tartine
Ok, well last night’s guest dinner at Bar Tartine wasn’t exactly a party, but you couldn’t tell it from the wall-to-wall list of celebrity chefs fist-bumping each other as they table-hopped around the room. Joining hosts Chad Robertson and Elizabeth Prueitt were among others, Mitchell Rosenthal, Stuart Brioza, Nicole Krasinski, Chris Kronner, Dominique Crenn, Daniel Patterson, Christopher Kostow, Xelina Leyba, Jason Fox, Joshua Skenes, Ravi Kapur and sommelier Mark Bright (with a dozen or so wrapped bottles in tow for some sort of makeshift blind-tasting). And that was just the early crew - as we were leaving, we spied Danny Bowien (fresh in from New York in his now signature “summer whites” uniform) and his entourage, and fellow East Coasters David Chang and Frank Castronovo, as well as David Kinch and Chris Cosentino, were supposedly on the way.

Still, with all that culinary clout in house, the night belonged to Copenhagen’s Christian Puglisi, and his food managed to steal the show.

Puglisi, who runs two ventures, the high-end Restaurant Relæ and the more casual wine bar Manfreds & Vin, worked furiously along with Bar Tartine executive chef Nick Balla and his crew in the open kitchen, surrounded with massive vases of freshly foraged sprigs of wild flowers for garnishing, turning out a parade of 12 small plates, which arrived fast and furious. But the understated chef himself did manage to come out at least once to personally deliver one of the dishes and explain just how he smoked the almond milk that bathed the fava bean. We’re told that the gang spent four days prepping for the meal, visiting farmers markets, foraging up at Connie Green in Napa and scouring all of the Bay’s best sources for the evening.

So what was it like? The dishes were too numerous to describe in detail (see the full menu below) and while the chef did employ a few sleight-of-hand techniques and culinary winks - liquidifid goat cheese, slow/low cooked chicken, smoked almond milk and quenelles of corn “ice cream” - in the end, we’d say the fancy foraged food was refreshingly rustic and almost primal. There were big chunks of broccoli still clinging to their stalks, barely cooked pickled whole carrots, raw slices of lamb strewn across thick hunks of bread - all of it garnished with wild fronds and seasoned with a heaping dose of rock salt, buckwheat and other crunchies. Much like California cuisine, Puglisi’s style is based on ingredients and curiosity, and we have to say the vegetable dishes were the high-points of the evening. Oh, and it didn't hurt that much of it came with those unbelievable Tartine breads.

Bar Tartine's manager Vinny Eng did a yeoman’s job matching the chef’s earthy offerings with a special wine menu that superseded Bar Tartine’s already interesting, less-trodden Eastern European offerings, with more unadulterated beverages that captured the spirit of the meal. A favorite was the Rhone Field Blend "Sun Hawk" from Mendocino’s Natural Process Alliance, a beyond-groovy Syrah-heavy blend (mixed with 10 other white and red varietals) that was bottled the night before, sans sulfites, and comes to the table in a recycled Klean Kanteen aluminum bottle (the whole operation is zero waste). It was the 2011 vintage, and won’t yet be released until next week - but Eng plans to stock it, so do check it out. Another well-matched beverage was Moonlight’s “Legal Tender” ale spiced with fresh redwood, pine, and yarrow flowers (which is also on the regular Bar Tartine list.)

Alas, the dinner was a one-night stand, but we’re told that Robertson, Balla and Puglisi have an ongoing collaboration-Robertson is teaching Puglisi how to make bread - so while you won’t be able to sample this particular menu again, we have an inkling that Puglisi’s influence will be felt on Bar Tartine’s menu, as well as the ones from the other curious power chefs in the room, for quite some time.

The Menu
  • Pickled albacore, cucumber and lovage 
  • Broccoli, hazelnut and salted California olives 
  • Rustic tartar of beef, watercress and mustard 
  • Pickled carrots and Icelandic sol 
  • Tartine with raw lamb and dried shrimp 
  • Salad of salted courgettes and preserved lemon 
  • Fava bean ragout, verbena and buckwheat 
  • Fennel and smoked almonds 
  • Langos with white turnips, anchovy and chicken liver 
  • Warm chicken salad Liquid goat cheese and parsley 
  • White corn, marjoram and breadcrumbs

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