Throughout the year, Restaurant Editor Bill Addison will travel the country to chronicle what's happening in America's dining scene and to formulate his list of the essential 38 restaurants in America. Follow his progress in this travelogue/review series, The Road to the 38, and check back at the end of the year to find out which restaurants made the cut.
Nicolaus Balla spent several of his teenage years in Hungary (where his father has roots) and later homed in on Japanese flavors at Bay Area restaurants where he cooked. But at Bar Tartine, where he's co-chef with Cortney Burns, the menu's Asian and Eastern European influences may not immediately pop out on first glance. One might take note of the rainbow trout and brown rice, kale with sunflower tahini, and sprouted lentil croquettes and think: tiresome hippie food.
Those impressions dissolve within the first few bites.