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Thu June 9, 2011
By Ian McNulty
New Orleans, La. –
No Frenchman would recognize the distinctively airy, outsized po-boy loaves we call French bread around here as his own. But take that same Gallic visitor to Tartine and I'm confident he'd feel a little more at home.
This small, tucked-away little bakery and cafe opened in 2010 at the edge of Uptown's Black Pearl neighborhood. Its name is a French term for buttered bread, though in practice tartine makers rarely stop there. The examples at the bakery Tartine are essentially open-face sandwiches made on narrow, crusty, dense and chewy baguettes - the type a Frenchman emphatically would recognize as his own - that are slathered with savory spreads and loaded with charcuterie.
To get a handle on all this, a good place to start is the tartine smeared with sharp Dijon mustard and a sweet onion jam and then lined from end to end with house-made pate that's been cut into thick triangle shapes, all richly mottled with herbs, crushed pistachio and dark bits of dates. It looks more like a decadent presentation of hors d'oeuvres than a sandwich, and a precise side salad of lentils or black eyed peas completes the one-plate spread. Another tartine made with pork rillettes tastes as meaty and rich as duck confit, and a few strategically-placed pickles make each bite pop.
Tartine is run by Cara Benson, a New Orleans native who was the pastry chef at Muriel's Jackson Square prior to striking out on her own. Her husband Evan Benson, a chef at the catering company Joel's Grand Cuisine, is responsible for the charcuterie. The building they took over, a former beauty salon, is well hidden off Broadway near the Tulane University Square complex. Its proximity to the Tuesday site of the Crescent City Farmers Market may have given the place an early boost. For some Uptowners foraging for fresh produce and seafood at the outdoor market, a lunch of authentic though offbeat French sandwiches after their shopping rounds quickly became a ritual.
In the mornings, the small, open kitchen is filled with baking activity, though the actual breakfast choices are limited and few customers are about. Scones and muffins are as good as the ambient aromas in the room promise. Tartine also joins the short list of places to get a decent bagel in New Orleans.
Things really get moving by noon with a stream of ladies who lunch, foursomes in tennis whites and university types. Colorful and bright, with bare wood tables decorated with small bud vases, the place may feel a bit froufrou compared with the gruff warmth of your typical New Orleans lunch joint. But you should have no fear of leaving this place hungry. In addition to those richly piled tartines, the conventional sandwiches pack a wallop too. A rotating roster of various salumi and fresh mozzarella fills a ciabatta roll and the ham sandwich spills open with equal amounts thin-sliced meat and brie. Those after a salad will find the beautiful tuna Nicoise rippling fresh, squeaking with oil and draped by intense sardines.
It's hard to resist something sweet on the way out the door. Dark chocolate bark with salty cashews is bagged up like bake sale goodies and peanut butter fudge sits in little single-serving cups like dessert shots. Tartine is indeed much different than our typical neighborhood cafes, but it's the kind of place New Orleanians would be delighted to find anywhere.
7217 Perrier St., New Orleans