Published on August 3, 2015

A Tartare Takeover: Diners Like it Fresh, Raw & Real in SF

Tartare is no longer just limited to tuna or steak: the raw dish has taken on many forms in San Francisco this summer, from salmon to yellowtail, along with new additions and accompaniments.

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Before you taste the tartares offered at all sorts of eateries, read on for five fast facts:

1. What’s in a name?

“Tartare” is a shortened version of the phrase “à la tartare,” which translates to “served with tartar sauce,” a popular accompaniment to fish, oysters, and raw beef (among other dishes) in the 19th and early 20th centuries. At that time, steak tartare was known as “steak à l’Americaine,” which was made without egg yolk, and with tartar sauce both on the side and incorporated into the meat.

2. What about the sauce?

Despite the origin story and seemingly identical names, tartar sauce couldn’t be more opposite from the dish itself: the sauce is mayonnaise-based (usually with a rough consistency), and it typically accompanies fried seafood dishes. Some recipes also include chopped pickles, onions, capers and fresh parsley, with chopped hard-boiled eggs, olives and Dijon mustard occasionally mixed in.

3. Not so clear-cut

Although the dish doesn’t require much preparation (besides the common practice of freezing the meat or fish to allow for easier cutting or dicing), there are differences in how restaurants approach the staple when it’s of the meat variety: some chefs use a meat grinder for both clean and tough cuts — which ultimately changes the texture to a tender-but-not-too-soft variety — while others use a knife for more precise slices.

4. What to wear

How is the dish dressed? Traditional beef tartare is typically seasoned with salt, pepper and herbs and served with capers, parsley, onions, and sometimes chives and shallots — all topped with a raw egg yolk. Tuna and salmon tartare are similarly seasoned, often with onions and capers, lemon juice, cilantro, salt and pepper or soy sauce. Small baguette crisps serve as perfect vehicles to ensure the tartare actually makes it into your mouth.

5. Around the globe

Not only are international varieties of tartare different than the ones we may be used to, but they also have entirely different names in some countries: a spicy dish of prepared raw beef known as kitfo is a staple in Ethiopian cuisine, while yukhoe and crudos are Korean and Chilean dishes (respectively) of a similar variety. Beef tartare is served in Austria, while bison meat is sometimes consumed in Canada. No matter where you order tartare, there’s a good chance that it’ll taste just a little bit different in each place.

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Where to find it

When it comes to enjoying tartare, forget everything your mother ever told you about eating raw food and dive right in. A few of Reserve’s San Francisco restaurant partners offer the flavorful dish in an array of approaches:

Ozumo

At this Japanese restaurant in the Financial District, the signature Dohyo dish is made up of bigeye tuna tartare, edamame, cucumber, avocado, black tobiko, ponzu and wasabi oil.

RN74

In the Financial District, this destination for French fare offers tartare two ways: a pastrami-style salmon tartare (to share) arrives on a warm brioche with dill crème fraîche and herb salad, while a steak tartare appetizer is served Vietnamese style, with a lobster cracker and toasted peanuts.

Frascati

Frascati is a California-Mediterranean restaurant in Russian Hill, with steak tartare accompanied by lemon-caper aioli, crispy shallots and crostini as a starter.

Absinthe

Steak tartare is served with violet mustard, green apple, red onion, cornichons, quail egg yolk and crostini at this French-Mediterranean brasserie in Hayes Valley.

Isa

Spicy Sriracha adds a kick to yellowfin tuna tartare, served with toasted sesame, seaweed, avocado, nori and soy sauce at this French-California wine bar in the Marina.

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Happy dining,

Ryan Gray, Reserve SF

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