Tartine Bianco at the Row is where all your bread dreams come true
Early in the evening, ROW DTLA has the gloomy air of a post-apocalyptic city on the mend. Most of the shops and offices inside the vast complex of redeveloped, century-old warehouse spaces have closed by 6 p.m.; a couple of storefronts, currently under renovation, are boarded up with plywood. Even the 10-story, 4,000-space parking structure squeezed in between Bay and Center streets is unnaturally empty and quiet.
On days like these, ROW DTLA feels like a semi-private compound for the “creative class” — a destination for “artisanal” fashion, high-end fitness studios, and furniture showrooms where it’s easy to drop $1,000 on a modish new chair.
If there’s a softer side to ROW DTLA, a well-lighted spot where there always seems to be a hearth going, it’s the Manufactory, the 44,000-square-foot mega-complex that opened early this year on Dock Street. The complex, which houses two restaurants, a bakery, coffee roastery, a walk-up window and a gourmet market, is the long-awaited first collaboration between chefs Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson of San Francisco’s Tartine Bakery and Chris Bianco of Phoenix’s Pizzeria Bianco. The undertaking is so large and ambitious, its physical footprint is roughly equal to a New York city block.
The first thing you’ll see is the bakery. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer a view of the 7,000-square-foot space, a gleaming universe of stainless steel work stations, neatly arranged proofing baskets and a massive deck oven.
A 12-person baking team and 19-person pastry team produce hundreds of fresh loaves, viennoiserie, cakes, tarts and cookies every day. Most of the product will eventually support the three new Tartine locations projected to open in Hollywood, Silver Lake and Santa Monica later this year, and starting this week, bread produced at the Manufactory will be available at two L.A. Whole Foods locations (3rd & Fairfax and downtown). The Manufactory, in many ways, is based on the concept that high-quality artisanal goods can be produced at sizable scale.
Past the bakery, you cross the raised sidewalk patio that leads into Tartine Bianco, the casual, all-day restaurant that debuted in early February. Inside, the space has all the raw utilitarian qualities that have made ROW DTLA appealing to entrepreneurs and consumers alike — a wide open floor plan; lofty, unfinished ceilings; an overflow of natural light.
The space transitions easily between the dining room, furnished sparingly with a mix of banquettes and tables, and a sleek, partly open kitchen. Take a left at the host stand and you are in the Market Bar, a communal dining area where you can sip wine and nibble on small plates under massive round chandeliers. Beyond that, there’s the Market, selling everything from wine and cookbooks to cut-to-order cheese and charcuterie.
The mood inside Tartine Bianco is friendly and laid-back; outside the Friday and Saturday night dinner rush, reservations rarely seem to be required.
At dinner time, the thing you see on almost every table is the bread plate — a thick hunk of Tartine’s country loaf, a wedge of long-fermented sesame bread and some tender oat porridge sourdough, paired with things like tangy eggplant dip; a creamy butter bean hummus; and a sublime bowl of buttery, peppery warm ricotta. At Tartine Bianco, the bread plate is perhaps the whole point of dinner.
The Tartine team and Bianco overlap in notable ways — both parties have mastered the trick of scaling up, successfully transitioning from chef-operators to full-fledged restaurateurs. Both share what the Tartine team calls an “old soul” culinary sensibility, a kitchen philosophy revolving around the use of optimal ingredients, spun into simple yet wondrous compositions.
You won’t find Bianco’s famously blistery wood-fired pizzas on the menu, but there are exquisite flatbreads, which are also available at the Market Bar and at the Market’s take-away counter. They are thick and delicately chewy, revealing a mastery of flavor and form. A lemon flatbread speckled with fresh rosemary and thin rounds of red onion revels in bright, herbal flavor; the leek version is suffused with the bittersweet flavors of deep caramelization. The Bianco DiNapoli tomato flatbread is an unassuming masterpiece: the sharp, baked-in parmigiano reggiano converges beautifully with the sweet-sharp acidity of Bianco DiNapoli’s California-grown plum tomatoes, which have been cooked down to a soft, creamy slurry. This is some of the best pizza in the city, even if it’s not technically pizza at all.
The inevitable carb-loading is counterbalanced with something like a plate of shaved celery and dandelion greens, a sophisticated composition of sweet, nutty flavors, pleasantly slashed with pungent crumbles of Stilton cheese. Grilled chicken hearts and oysters, zapped with a mildly sweet and fishy XO sauce, are delicious and snacky wrapped up in frilly gem lettuce and topped with snippets of fresh herbs.
Large-format dishes shine: a slow-cooked lamb shank is blissfully tender and stewy. A whole Thai snapper, sheathed in a lightly spicy batter, is phenomenally crisp and moist. Almond wood-fired rotisserie chicken, crisp-skinned and smoky, is an old-fashioned dish attuned to the very best kind of backyard barbecue cooking.
Lunch-only items include a terrific patty melt oozing with creamy ribbons of pink-orange Ogleshield cheese. The fried chicken sandwich with smoked garlic aioli is almost miraculously crisp and flavorful. If you come for breakfast, you will probably snack on crisply toasted sourdough toast with olive oil, dolloped with fluffy ricotta-like Laychee cheese and layered with glistening circles of blood orange citrus. You are probably going to want the smoked salmon tartine, punctuated with sharp, pleasant dashes of pickled mustard seeds and preserved lemon. The coddled egg — custardy and buttery and covered in pearls of salty cured trout roe — is delicious.
In the end, though, you will probably find satisfaction in a tried-and-true Tartine staple: the morning bun, a flaky, cinnamon-swirled croissant, delicately tinged with orange zest. It’s not new or exciting, but it’s very good. This, you realize, is the Tartine Bianco credo: unfussy food, amplified to its highest expression.
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