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Review: Tartine



No Frenchman would recognize as his own the distinctively airy, outsized po-boy loaves New Orleanians call French bread. But take that same Gallic visitor to Tartine and I'm confident he'd feel more at home.

  This small, exquisite bakery and cafe opened earlier this year at the edge of Uptown's Black Pearl neighborhood and is off to a roaring start. Its name is a French term for buttered bread, though in practice, tartine makers rarely stop there. The examples at Tartine are essentially open-face sandwiches made on narrow, crusty, dense and chewy baguettes slathered with savory spreads and loaded with charcuterie.

  My favorite tartine is smeared with sharp Dijon and sweet onion jam and lined from end to end with house-made pate cut into thick triangle shapes, all gorgeously 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 spread. Another tartine made with pork rillettes tastes as meaty and rich as duck confit, and though the rillettes themselves need a little more seasoning, a few strategically placed cornichons 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 salon, is well hidden off Broadway near the Tulane University Square complex. Proximity to the Tuesday site of the Crescent City Farmers Market gave the place an early boost, and Benson's concise, exactingly executed menu has done the rest.

  In the morning, the small, open kitchen is busy with baking activity, though the actual breakfast choices are limited and few customers are about. Scones and muffins are inexpensive quick bites and 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, though the tepid, self-serve coffee is on par with the office breakroom standard.

  Things get moving by noon, and the place may feel a bit froufrou compared with the gruff warmth of typical New Orleans lunch joints, but you should have no fear of leaving hungry. In addition to the generously piled tartines, the conventional sandwiches pack a wallop too. A rotating roster of salumi and fresh mozzarella fills a ciabatta roll, and the ham sandwich spills open with equal amounts of thin-sliced meat and Brie. Those after a salad will find the beautiful tuna Niçoise 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 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 I'd be delighted to find anywhere.

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