A few days ago, Zagat posted a blog featuring ‘The 10 Hottest Restaurants In The World’ (10 can’t-miss spots from Spain to Singapore that are perfect for any gastro-savvy holiday traveler or just the straight-up restaurant-obsessed) and wouldn’t ya know it, State Bird Provisions made the cut.
I was in San Francisco in October and, thank Christ Almighty, my dear friend Charlotte insisted that I go to State Bird as her beloved Andrew Knowlton, Restaurant Editor at Bon Appétit, gave it a phenomenal review and deemed it a ‘must-visit.’ After having a meal there, it is of zero surprise that it has received so much praise. This place is ridiculous.
Zagat says all this stuff:
“At newcomer-of-the-year State Bird Provisions, husband-and-wife duo Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski (of the now-shuttered Rubicon) recreates the informality and pace of an appetizer-heavy dinner party, via a moderately priced nightly selection of Eclectic-New American-inspired shared savory plates and desserts (including their signature deep-fried ‘state bird,’ aka quail served with provisions) served on carts dim sum style and passed via trays from the open kitchen. The snug, narrow dining room, which channels a ‘modern workshop’ vibe replete with unfinished cement walls, 1970s-era peg boards and school auditorium chairs, isn’t much to look at, but that doesn’t stop the throngs of hopeful foodies who line up nightly with the hopes of snagging a walk-in spot, or even a chance to dine standing up at the front counter overlooking the kitchen.”
Unless you have superhero-like vision, you probably can’t read that. Essentially it says State Bird Provisions is Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski’s vision of high-end dining in a relaxed atmosphere. “Adventurous, inventive, delicious, thoughtful and contemporary” – yup, that about nails it.
For such a highly credited restaurant, I was really moved by how lovely and kind the entire staff was – no snobbery, no conceit – including Chef Stuart who hand delivers many of the meals to anxiously waiting customers, like ourselves, where he didn’t seem to mind, one bit, sitting and explaining the dishes to us. We sat at the kitchen table. Literally. A long bar top serves as one part table for the guests and one part prep station for the kitchen.
There is a traditional dining room setting, as well, but we were happier than pigs in shit to be able to sit and chat with the cooks who didn’t mind one bit (or at least kindly pretended not to) when I took a pic of everything (EVERYTHING) and asked them a bajillion questions about eggs.
So, it works like this. Dim Sum style carts weave through the moderately sized restaurants carrying magnificently unique dishes prepared in extremely creative ways. The dishes appear to be almost simple as they allow one or two ingredients to really take center stage. However, Chef Stuart explained to us that most dishes have over 30 ingredients – a pinch of this, a tablespoon of that – creating a final product that is fucking stupid good.
Their menu is always changing depending on what’s fresh, what’s in season and whatever strikes their fancy. It originally started as a place to spotlight California’s state bird – the quail – but has now become a culinary free-for-all where smoked sturgeon and sweetbreads reign supreme. Here is just a small sample of possibilities:
The pancakes are not to be missed. Do you hear me? If you even set foot inside that restaurant you eat as many pancakes as humanly possible. No, inhumanly possible – go full on Incredible Hulk on these things. We were lucky enough to be there when they were serving sweet corn pancakes dripping in Cowgirl Creamery’s famous Mt. Tam. A little garlicky, a little sweet, a little savory all piled into a puddle of rich, buttery triple creme. I wanted to stab myself in the neck they were so good, but the kitchen staff suggested I knock it off.
I don’t quite remember what this thing was but I wish it were in my face again. I know it was some kind of take on hand pulled garlic bread with a pile with ooey gooey goodness. Had I known I would soon be writing a blog about it I would have taken better pictures and kept better notes. Alas, I was just sending these to Charlotte as a vicarious eating experience. So, sorry that I just described this as merely bread with cheese when truly it was one of the better appetizers I’ve ever eaten. I am ashamed of myself for not being able to recall the exact description. Ashamed.
This was probably my favorite dish of the night, both in beauty and in taste. It is theee most masterfully soft-boiled egg sitting atop a stunning and delicious salmon tartare – with, I’m sure, at least 500 other secret ingredients. But look at that egg. To me, this is the sign of true culinary genius – being able to cook something so simple in a way that is rarely achieved by the home cook. They turned the simple little egg into a thing of art and talent. Bravo chefs.
Coming in second was this dish of mixed mushrooms. It was a cold dish, which surprised me, however, the broth perfectly picked up the many subtle layers of earthiness that mushrooms often lose in hot soups. There are just so many elements going on in these dishes, so much thoughtfulness, so much skill.
This guinea hen dumpling was also obnoxiously wonderful. Perfectly seasoned and perfectly portioned. The sauce was both rich and light. This seems to be the standard for State Bird – juxtapositions of seemingly mismatched flavors and textures that work harmoniously together, never in competition.
We ate a lot. A lot a lot. We had at least 15 dishes and desserts – and we each had a glass of wine that had some incredible backstory that I can’t remember because I am a horrible person who didn’t commit that story to memory. And we got out of there, tip included, for 90 bucks. Had I realized the bill would be so agreeable, I would have doubled my order. I may have not been able to consume it all (plus my purse was filled with eight pounds of edible goods from the Ferry Market Building), but I’m sure it would have made for one wonderful midnight snack.
So, what do you really need to know? Well, for under a hundy you can eat like a fucking rock star in a legitimately amazing atmosphere. Go. Now. Eat.
If you are in, around, near, passing through or lost in San Francisco, please listen to Charlotte and be sure to stop into State Bird and stay a while.
1529 Fillmore St., San Francisco; 415-795-1272