PB and please -- lunch goes above and beyond with sophisticated sandos
APPETITE Two unusual, new Mission sandwich options: one of the city's best restaurants launches lunch with Scandinavian influence (part of the Nordic culinary wave finally reaching the West Coast that includes new restaurant Pläj) , and a low-key panini shop opens, refreshingly real with Middle Eastern touches.
Nick Balla's forward-thinking, Eastern European menu at Bar Tartine offers some of the most exciting food in the city right now, so new daytime hours (Wed-Sun, 10:30am-2:30pm) are a gain. Smørrebrød is Danish for "bread and butter": these open-faced sandwiches (one for $6; three for $15) lead the way on the new menu, though heartier sandwiches are on offer, too, such as beef tongue ($12) generously laden with sauerkraut, onion, and that Hungarian staple, paprika. Or on the vegetarian side, slab bread filled with lentil croquettes, yogurt, cucumber, padron peppers.
On rustic rye bread, smørrebrød toppings evolve. I find two enough, three for those with a bigger appetite. My favorite is bacon, egg, avocado, dill and roasted tomato in a blue cheese sauce blessedly garlic-heavy. Creamy chicken liver pate is a gourmand's option, although such a generous scoop of pate overwhelms accompanying apricot jam. Another toast is topped with smoked eggplant, white beans, olive, roasted tomato, while a sweeter side is expressed in hazelnut butter and rhubarb compote.
They're calling it a sandwich counter and you can certainly take out, but Bar Tartine's rustic tables and expanded space welcome: they're ideal for lingering with Four Barrel coffee and that divine Hungarian fried bread, langos ($9), you've heard me talk about often — it's on the lunch menu. Now it's amped up with toppings like lamb, horseradish cream, summer squash, and tomato, or blackberries, peaches, and cream. Langos with fried egg, hollandaise and bacon is a breakfast dish of my dreams.
In the spirit of meggyleves, Balla's Hungarian sour cherry soup that wowed me last summer, there's chilled apricot soup ($9) — not as sweet as suspected — smoked almonds, and sour cream adding texture to the savory-fruity broth. Jars of pickled treats line the walls, available in the menu's snacks section (pickled curried green beans!), refreshing contrasted with a kefir-ginger-strawberry shake ($5).
561 Valencia, SF. 415-487-1600, www.bartartine.com 
With a friendly Middle Eastern welcome, the guys at the new Hot Press welcome customers into their humble Mission shop for panini, Caffe Trieste coffee, and Three Twins ice cream by the scoop, waffle cone, or sundae. While American sandwiches like pastrami-loaded Staten Island ($7.75) with Emmentaler cheese, house Dijonaise, cabbage slaw, and sliced pickles are delicious, the Lebanese touches and vegetarian offerings that skew unusual. Dream Cream ($6.50) is soft-yet-crusty ciabatta bread slathered in light cream cheese, sauteed peppers, caramelized walnuts, and cucumbers, za'atar spices perking up the mild, comforting panini. On a French baguette, another vegetarian sandwich with Middle Eastern leanings is Ayia Napa ($6.99), likewise comforting with melted halloumi (a traditional Cypriot cheese from the island of Cyprus), mint leaves, tomatoes and a douse of olive oil. Pollo de la Mission ($7.75) is a neighborhood tribute of free range chicken on ciabatta in creamy chipotle sauce, pressed with peppers, grilled onions, Colby Jack cheese, and corn.
Sides ($2.25 half pint; $4.25 pint) range from coleslaw to a salad of spinach leaves, goat cheese and strawberries, while three bean salad — cannellini, kidney and garbanzo beans tossed with onion, parsley, lemon, olive oil — comes in mini-tasting cups with each sandwich. Local ingredients go beyond ice cream and coffee to sandwich bread from Bordenave's in San Rafael, with neighborhood goodwill in the form of a kids menu and dessert sandwiches like Peanut Butter & Better ($4.99): creamy or crunchy PB, sliced bananas, lavender honey, or grape jelly.
The space is nondescript in a refreshing way, with sidewalk seating and Middle Eastern music videos playing on a flat screen. Thankfully, not every new opening in the Mission is a hipster, trendy affair.
2966 Mission, SF. (415) 814-3814, www.hotpresssf.com 
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