State Bird Provisions (San Francisco)
State Bird Provisions: named “2012 Best New Restaurant in America” by Bon Appetit, beating out some stiff competition, including NYC heavy hitters The NoMad, Atera, Blanca and Battersby. We would have to see for ourselves!
State Bird Provisions, which opened earlier this year, is run by husband-wife duo Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski. While their shared history includes serving time at Drew Nieporent’s Rubicon, the couple took a 3 year hiatus from the restaurant industry to cater private events, often employing an “hors d’oeurves party” format. They decided to take it to the next level: applying that hors d’ouerves format to a restaurant setting. Which is how they came up with the concept behind State Bird Provisions. Everything is offered in tapas sizes. There are two ways to load up on food: there’s a small a la carte menu of “pancakes” and “commandables” (slightly bigger portions) to choose from. Everything else (the “provisions”) arrives on dim sum carts or trays, marked with price tags ranging from $5 to $9. No one small plate in the restaurant exceeded $15.
The dim sum style ordering results in some psychological nervousness/anxiety and serious over-ordering. We noticed they’d often come to our table with one dish remaining and say “it’s the last dish of this we have right now, want it?” and the overwhelming reaction is to say “Yes!” for fear that if the opportunity is not now taken, your moment with that dish may be gone forever. The pace is a bit slower than normal Chinese dimsum, so because you don’t know what’s coming next (perhaps nothing else good?!), and you don’t know if you’ll ever see a certain dish again (not all the dishes made it out more than once), you best order it now just to be safe! So here’s a spin through the dishes our 3 person party took down….
Kimchi pork belly and tofu. Loud, spicy and pickled… but a bit too blunt for me.
Albacore crudo with quinoa and bonito-rosemary aioli. Subtle but delicious.
The namesake dish: CA state bird with provisions. Quail deep fried in a pumpkin seed/breadcrumb crust, served with a citrusy lemon onion jam, parmesan cheese and chives. Zing! That onion jam sure packed a zesty punch, which sang in perfect harmony with the slightly gamey, perfectly fried and very savory quail. Best. Dish. Of. The. Night. (Spoiler: minus dessert). We ordered 2 of these.
Guanciale (cured pork jowl), pecorino, soft boiled egg, bread crumbs, spicy tomato sauce, chanterelles and chives. Tasty. But been there, done that (blends in with a dozen other dishes I’ve had before).
Sweet corn and garlic chive “shortstack” pancakes with Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam. Awesome, in that totally guilty pleasure way. I actually buy Mt. Tam to eat on its own, but this pairing elevated it to a whole new level for me.
King salmon with mandarin oranges and a hazelnut-garum (a sauce made from fermented fish) brown butter. My brother and ATO thought this was a knock-out.
Burrata served on fried garlic bread. Can you really ever go wrong with fried bread and cheese? Me thinks not…
Togarashi oil oysters with pickled karabi. Simple but unique; clean yet flavorful.
Sungold tomatoes with fried eggplant, fried dried basil, pimenton and pickled tomatoes. Mmmmm, the tangy pickled tomatoes and that perfectly fried meaty piece of eggplant came together so well.
Duck liver mousse with almond biscuits. WTF. Heaven. Smooth, creamy, decadent musky mousse with slightly sweet, nice-and-sticky-on-the-outside but moist-and-delicious-on-the-inside biscuits.
Guinea hen dumplings with aromatic mushroom broth. ATO’s favorite dish of the night. I started to fade at this point.
Oxtail curry with bok choy and French crepes. At first, we declared this dish the biggest miss of the night. But then, the complexities and nuances in that curry really started to grow on us. And the texture of those crepes was to die for.
Almond parsley pesto and Calabrian spiced yuba, cucumber and tofu. Egh…. just OK.
Steak tartare with shishito peppers and bell pepper buttermilk. Again, nothing special.
Finally, for dessert: cheesecake japonaise with tomato caramel and strawberries. Holy sh*t. This was outstanding. My personal favorite dish of the entire night (and desserts usually never win that title for me). Savory but sweet, creamy and tart, smooth but dotted with crispy little seeds…. so out of the box and so out of this world!
All in all, a very entertaining and yummy meal. I wouldn’t, however, have picked it over Blanca, Atera or The NoMad (and we’re going to try Battersby next week). So because of all the hype and the Bon Appetit title, I left slightly underwhelmed and disappointed. But upon further reflection, I think it’s unfair to compare it to those 3 other restaurants. Because our entire meal with drinks for 3 people was less than the cost per person of either Blanca or Atera, and was even far less than a meal for 2 at The NoMad. Comparing it to similarly priced restaurants, this place is a gem. A pound for pound (or dollar for dollar) welterweight champion!