Although it doesn't sound it, the word tartine can often be quite foreign and confusing for Americans. However, it is simply yet another example of a single French word that encompasses several American ones. While my all time favorite word like this is "flaner" (to wander aimlessly), tartine is right up there with it as it describes an excellent culinary concept - the open-faced sandwich. Leave it to the French to knock off that extra slice of bread, improving both presentation and calorie intake. Is it really still any wonder why French Women Don't Get Fat?
My love of sandwiches and anything French is no secret. And so the opening of Tartinery in Nolita caught my attention immediately. One aspect I liked most was knowing that this restaurant was set up for both lunch AND dinner. Too often my favorite sandwich spots pack up shop around 7 pm and would never dream of selling alcohol. Tartinery, as with most French establishments, encourages both lingering and the consumption of all kinds of wine and beer. While the setting has a more modern, New York feel, the waitstaff transport you immediately back to France. This is the kind of place that will drive many Americans nuts as they simply let you be. It is actually up to you to let your waiter know when you are ready to order - and when you do, it's almost as if you have interrupted them from their own night out. For those of you who have spent any time in France, you are nodding your head right now, remembering this strange sense of service - and hopefully smiling too as you had quickly learned to almost appreciate this idiosyncrasy. For the others, I do warn, this will be a true test of patience.
This kind of service is usually excusable as the food delivered to the table makes it well worth the attitude. However, Tartinery still has some work to do in its kitchen to really transport me back to France. While the sandwiches were indeed all open-faced, the large amount of food placed on top brought me right back to America. They do have a wonderful list of sandwich selections with very interesting flavor combinations, but I really do believe it would serve them well to offer them with French portions. All of the tartines are served on multi-grain or rustic sourdough Poilane (from the famous French boulanger) and accompanied with a house salad. They cut them up into four portions, so I highly recommend sharing several. My favorite was the roast farm chicken topped with homemade herbed mayo, shaved fennel, and olive oil. This was extremely comforting and nicely balanced. I also really enjoyed the goat cheese tartine topped with frisee, honey, olive oil, and fresh thyme. Besides overkill on the frisee, the portions actually were appropriate on this sandwich. I was a little disappointed by the Saint Marcellin cheese tartine with bayonne ham, arugula, and olive oil. It would have worked much better had the cheese not been melted into the sandwich (and, of course, with a little less ham).Be sure to ask about the daily specials since there are few other non-tartine items on the menu. We enjoyed a really nice shrimp risotto that was creamy and actually served in a French portion.
New York really does need more spots like this. Tartinery is a wonderful restaurant for groups as it is affordable, great for sharing, and actually fairly large once you head downstairs. It is just a shame that a French concept has been so Americanized already. While the waiters know exactly which side of the pond they represent, the kitchen still seems to be in the middle of an identity crisis. I am hopeful that as the chic upstairs bar draws in the crowds the French attitude will start to rule in the back as well. And so as the French say, "bon courage!"
209 Mulberry Street
New York, NY 10012
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):