Though sourdough may now be considered almost a given on the menu of any dining establishment worth its starter, serious dough aficionados will know that the mecca for modern artisanal sourdough is Tartine, a San Franciscan bakery founded in 2002 by husband-and-wife partners Liz Prueitt and Chad Robertson. It enjoys a global clientele, including Michelin-starred chefs who come to apprentice in its sprawling kitchens.
I really didn’t think the whole, now much-copied experience – its famous crusty baguettes, molten chocolate chip cookies and tart blood orange jam – could be improved upon, but they’ve done it with Tartine Manufactory, a 100-seat bakery, restaurant and wine bar. In a converted laundry factory, this Mission District gem opened in 2016 and draws local techies and curious epicures, all of whom happily queue (and there will be a queue) for the array of sweet and savoury delights on offer.
In addition to the wonderful smell from the bakery that greeted me on a recent visit to the space, there is also a convivial buzz as the bakers tend to the huge ovens with long wooden paddles, churning out country sourdough and wholewheat sesame loaves, as well as assorted olive fougasse and oat porridge breads. Dramatic floor-to-ceiling windows let that magical California light stream in, and the overall effect is one of a bustling hive.
I arrived for lunch on a busy weekday with three gourmand friends who know the restaurant well, and between us we managed to try just about one of everything on the delicious menu. There are Scandinavian, Japanese, French, Italian and Middle Eastern influences – think smørrebrød and burrata with Meyer lemon and pistachio ($10) – as well as Northern California nods to both local produce and the prevailing preference for vegan cuisine.
I over-ordered – it all looked so tantalising. A starter of chewy sourdough bread ($5) with creamy butter for the table was a no-brainer and deeply satisfying. They serve beer, wine and coffee all day but we opted for non-alcoholic “Shrub” spritzes ($7), made with essences of strawberry and plum.
Each dish that followed seemed better than the last – a flavourful California halibut crudo ($17) with kiwi, leek, puffed rice, mint and coriander; and a little gem salad ($15) sprinkled with carrots, pickled rhubarb, herb ricotta and a splash of Meyer lemon. The hits just kept coming: coddled eggs ($16) with sea trout roe, fresh horseradish and zesty Za’atar toast; gooey grilled cheese ($14) made with Fontina and roasted squash on country bread. Everything is served atop minimalist but earthy bowls and plates by Heath Ceramics in subtle shades of sand and cocoa that just add to the overall sense of aesthetic perfection.