Main Course

Bar Bolinas Brings NorCal Cuisine to Brooklyn

Chief among their offerings is "Dutch Crunch" -- a thick, savory bun that could be the ideal capper for a burger.

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Photo courtesy of Nate Smith

Chefs Nate Smith and Sophie Kamin, owners of the new restaurant Bar Bolinas, offer up a Northern California-focused menu that brings a Bay Area bread called “Dutch Crunch” and other Golden State-specific ingredients to Brooklyn. They talked to Brendan about how their concept of California cuisine differs from what chef Alice Waters did with her restaurant, Chez Panisse.

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Sophie Kamin: Alice Waters is French, so her roots — even though she’s using California ingredients — are French and Mediterranean, and although we want some French influence, we were looking past that.

Nate Smith: We’re focused on the Mexican cultures as well as the Asian cultures that settled into the area. So, what’s special about California is that you have the coast, but you also have the land and the mountains, and you have the ranches that were part of California’s history.

Oysters Bingo at Bar Bolinas.
Oysters Bingo at Bar Bolinas. Photo credit: Melissa Hom

So, you get a strong presence of meat as well as the seafood, and we’re excited to sort of show both of that. It’s almost, for lack of a better word, like the surf ‘n’ turf kind of a thing, this sort of ranchero California style.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So, when you’re talking about the land, you have a cut of meat here that I’ve never seen in New York, actually, but you see in California all the time, which is the tri-tip. Can you describe what that is?

Nate Smith: The tri-tip is a cut, it’s a triangular cut from the bottom round. It’s really common in central California, and it’s traditionally grilled in the Santa Maria style which, in my experience, it’s been garlic powder, a little soy sauce, some white wine, rosemary…

Brendan Francis Newnam: And then what kind of seafood is emblematic of coastal California?

Nate Smith: Well, sardines. Monterey Bay has got fantastic sardines. There’s Dungeness crab, which we’re trying to…

Sophie Kamin: …No one can get their hands on it.

Nate Smith: But sardines, uni is something that you see a lot, and as well as just nice roasted fish.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So, lots of California food: vegetables, fish, meat. But, you’ve been getting some attention for a dish I’d never heard of — not even a dish. It’s an item, a food item, Dutch Crunch. What is Dutch Crunch?

Sophie Kamin: So, Dutch Crunch is just a sandwich bread that we grew up eating, and it was not a specialty bread as far as I understood it to be because it was at every little deli that you could go, sandwich shops, essentially. They’re not delis, they’re sandwich shops.

Photo courtesy of Nate Smith.
A Dutch Crunch bun served up at Bar Bolinas. Photo courtesy of Nate Smith.

Brendan Francis Newnam: As I understand, it was an option just like sourdough, wheat, or Dutch Crunch.

Nate Smith: Exactly, it was sliced or it’s like, usually on a roll. It’s usually something that’s more oblong, sort of like the French sourdough roll with Dutch Crunch on it.

Brendan Francis Newnam: It’s greatest virtue is that it has a crunch, right? So, it changes the mouth feel of whatever…

Nate Smith: Yeah. I mean, I would compare it to putting, you know, chips on your sandwich.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Without all the salt, though.

Nate Smith: Without all the salt, yeah, exactly. No, it’s got a nice crunch when you bite down on it, and because of the Dutch Crunch over the top of the bun, it will… in our bun, it tends to avoid the bread from becoming too bready. You know, it kind of almost like, kind of gives it a little weight.

Brendan Francis Newnam: What makes Dutch Crunch different? How do you get the crunch on the top of the bun?

The Canyon Lady
“The Canyon Lady” cocktail at Bar Bolinas. Photo credit: Carlos Garcia

Sophie Kamin: You basically make a slurry, and when I was researching it, it was actually really challenging to figure out because it’s done mostly with big commercial bakeries. You know, when you go online, it’s three ingredients, and I kept doing it and I’m like, “This is wrong, this is wrong. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.” And I knew it had to be somewhat simple because I knew that big commercial bakeries did it.

So, I essentially had to start cold-calling delis in San Francisco, and then finding where they got their bread, and then talking to them about: what are the nuances?

Brendan Francis Newnam: Is this something they’re putting on top of pre-existing bread or is this something that just is from the ground up designed to be Dutch Crunch bread?

Sophie Kamin: It does matter, the base of the bread, and it’s usually a white bread. We use a potato bread base, and you make a slurry that has flour, rice flour, yeast, oil — the oil is really important — and you have to play around with the proportion, essentially, to get it the way you want it.

Brendan Francis Newnam: At what stage does the crunch enter the game?

Sophie Kamin: So, you put the Dutch Crunch on the bread before it goes into the oven so that when… the thing about it is that it’s a non-gluten slurry. So, when the bread opens up, it doesn’t stretch with it. It cracks and then dries out, and that’s where you get that.

Brendan Francis Newnam: And that’s why it looks like a topographical map of California, actually.

Sophie Kamin: Right. It’s also called Tiger Bread.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Because it kind of has a coloring, markings on it?

Nate Smith: Yeah, and I think it’s just the patterns, and it kind of has that sort of wild animal, desert animal… yeah.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Do you know how the heck that ended up in San Francisco if it’s called the Dutch Crunch?

Cabbage, treviso, asparagus and sesame salad at Bar Bolinas.
Cabbage, treviso, asparagus and sesame salad at Bar Bolinas. Photo credit: Melissa Hom

Sophie Kamin: Well, it’s from the Netherlands, originally. So that’s why they call it the Dutch Crunch, but no one’s actually really sure. You know, it seems to have appeared in the ’70s, and it’s in Europe. You can find it readily, again, in grocery stores.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Alright, so I’m looking at this Dutch Crunch, which this does look more like a giraffe than a tiger, I’ll say, today.

Sophie Kamin: They all say that. When you’re reading all the blogs, and everybody’s like, it doesn’t look like a tiger.

Brendan Francis Newnam: But it looks crunchy, and I’m not having a burger because we’re recording this in the morning, and so I’m going to taste it. Maybe we should all taste a little bit together, a little California communion here.

Nate Smith: The breaking of the Dutch Crunch.

Brendan Francis Newnam: And you can hear the crunch in that. And you’re right, it is less doughy than one would expect from a burger bun. And I guess that actually helps the integrity of the bun as the burger and the cheese is kind of…

Nate Smith: Yeah. I think one of the things that I always struggle with when eating a burger is this sort of unnecessary excess of bread. So, we’re excited that they’re the size and shape they are.

Brendan Francis Newnam: It worked.

Sophie Kamin: Yeah, it worked, and then the burger stays kind of classic. You know, we had talked about, do we put avocado on the burger? Do we do all these things? And it just sort of seemed like we wanted a classic burger with just a little twist.

Brendan Francis Newnam: You are in New York, after all.

Nate Smith: We are in New York, yeah, and happy to be here.