Cortney Burns and Nick Balla, the longtime chef duo behind now-closed Bar Tartine, are taking what they’ve learned from their temporary, experimental restaurant Motze and reopening it as a Central European concept called Duna. It’s the next iteration of the chefs’ experiment, with a quick turnaround: Motze will close on May 28 for an interior revamp and Duna will debut on Thursday, June 1.
The restaurant, which has a limited lease of 18 months, was always intended as a way to test out solutions to problems Balla and Burns recognized in the restaurant industry, from tipping to waste. The chefs did away with paper entirely — no printed menus or receipts — and their original prix-fixe format was tipless, a holy grail for progressive restaurants.
But Chronicle critic Michael Bauer considered the affair a bit too experimental. He dismissed the restaurant with a one-and-a-half star review, calling it “more food lab than enjoyable dining experience.” Reservations dried up, Balla and Burns reported, and Motze went fast-casual. That format will remain at Duna.
For Balla and Burns, Central European cooking is close to home: Balla spent his teenage years in Budapest, and Burns’ roots are Eastern European Jewish. As a result, diners can expect potato flatbreads (a throwback to their Bar Tartine menu), pickles and liptaeur (paprika farmers cheese), and salads intended to be eaten with a spoon. A Rusa salad (beets, squash, sweet potato, and a green herb sauce dressed with kvass and lime) displays the chefs’ global inspirations, combining Russian and Mexican flavors.
The space, a DIY conversion from former tenant Herbivore Grill to Motze, will receive another quick upgrade. Duna’s aesthetic will feature a leaf-canopied patio and wood meant to evoke the landscape of the restaurant’s namesake river — Duna is Hungarian for Danube.
Until Duna arrives, fans of Motze — there were many, despite Bauer’s opinions — can head in to 983 Valencia for chanko nabe and okazu through its final service on May 27.