Restaurant: State Bird Provisions (Part 2/4)
Cuisine: New American/Pacific Northwest/Eclectic/Dim Sum
Last visited: May 10, 2013
Location: San Francisco, CA (Western Addition)
Address: 1529 Fillmore St
Phone: (415) 795-1272
Transit: Fillmore St & O’Farrell St
Price Range: $20-30+
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
- Chef/Owners Stuart Brioza & Nicole Krasinski
- “Best New Restaurant” – James Beard Award
- Multiple award winning
- Innovative New American cuisine
- Californian inspired “dim sum”
- Seasonal/weekly menus
- Farm to table ingredients
- Contemporary/playful menu
- Very popular/1-2+ hour lines
- Very friendly service
- Reservations recommended
- Walk-ins are welcome
- Mon – Thurs 5:30pm-10pm
- Fri & Sat 5:30pm-11pm
- Closed Sundays
- Twitter: @statebirdsf
**Recommendations: Pork belly citrus salad, Hamachi-avocado seaweed crostini, Garlic bread with burrata, Curry marinated scallop with avocado & satsuma, ‘World peace’ pea nut muscovado milk. I preferred the fresh sheet and dim sum cart items over the things I tried from the a la carte menu.
From one bird (Benu)…
I didn’t include it in my Top 10 Characteristics of a Hipster Restaurant, but naming a restaurant after a bird could be #12 on the list. Hipster culture aside… actually, that’s just it, put it aside, because this was more quirky than it was “hipster”. Yes, we all hate that word now, but it helps put things into context.
Official State Bird CA; 1931: California valley quail [native], known for their hardiness and adaptability
Provisions: the providing or supplying of something, esp. food & drink
State Bird Provisions; 2011: An adventurous, inventive, delicious, thoughtful contemporary American restaurant [CA native].
….state bird provisions started as a recipe for serving quail, it has slowly evolved into a restaurant without any programmed elements…..
– stuart brioza & nicole krasinski, chef proprietors (From State Bird Provisions website)
Oh gosh. Don’t do it. No wait, do it. Do I really want to put myself through this line up? Painful memories of the 2 hour line up at the Ladurée opening in New York came back to me, and I didn’t want to relive that. I really hate line ups, but as a tourist I’m a lot more patient with them and I was prepared for this one. It was Follow Me Foodie to San Francisco Round 2 and State Bird Provisions was on the top of my Follow Me Foodie itinerary.
I was in San Francisco during the James Beard Awards in New York and State Bird Provisions was just named “Best New Restaurant”. Well, @$#%. There goes my chances of getting in.
It only opened in 2011, but it has already gotten so much hype and media attention. I was already expecting an hour line up before they won the James Beard Award and I was planning on going half an hour before opening to ensure I would get in. Yes, I was desperate to get in and I’ve had my heart set on it for 7 months now.
News had trickled up to Vancouver food enthusiasts and I had to see what the fuss was about. However after hearing they won the big James Beard Award I pretty much lost hope of getting in, but I was willing to at least check it out. I had to test my chances.
It was Friday night and I had no reservations. I had already made my mind I would not get in or be patient enough to wait, so Rich Table was my plan B. I arrived at 5 pm (half an hour before opening) and I was pretty excited because I was expecting the line up to be way longer. It actually looked bearable. I was game.
Line ups build anticipation and it can really make or break the experience. The restaurant needs to bring their A-game and the food needs to be top notch to make it worth it, so the pressure was on especially after winning what the restaurant world would call an Oscar (James Beard Award).
The doors opened at 5:30 pm…
By the time the hostess got to me, my seating time was estimated at 8:30 pm. A 3 hour wait? Brutal. On the bright side she gave the option of calling when my table became available so I wouldn’t have to wait around. Well then, brilliant. She also gave me the option of dining at “the pass” which is standing only, and if I said “yes” I could be eating by 7 pm. Louder than a woman washing her hair with Herbal Essences… YES!
Ideally I would have loved to sit here…
… but I ended up standing and eating here. The real “pass”. Sure I felt like I was at a food cart having to eat with no chair for 2 hours, but it was actually pretty fun. I always prefer sitting in front of the kitchen anyways and at a place like State Bird Provisions, it really is the best spot and where all the action happens. This is where the food comes out, so you’re always first to get everything. There is an actual table and chair dining area in the back, but I don’t feel like it offers the full State Bird Provisions experience. At this kind of restaurant, it’s more fun up front.
State Bird Provisions – America’s Best New Restaurant… or was it?! I have my issues with anything being called “the best“, so I won’t even go there, but it was an excellent restaurant. The food wasn’t necessarily the highlight (although I had some fantastic dishes), but it was the whole concept and execution. It was innovative, smart, original and memorable.
I mean look at that! It’s a dim sum cart serving modern American tapas! It’s not really a “new” idea, but who else is doing it?! It’s different and fun! Honestly I ate up the whole experience – literally and figuratively.
I felt like I was a friend of the chef at a catered party featuring funky tapas and hors d’oeuvres. It was a nice open kitchen and I got to watch all the food being prepared and “sample” all the food before going out. That’s not what really happened and I didn’t get to “sample”, but it’s how I felt. It was almost like the New American version of a Japanese Izakaya place.
The food was eclectic, globally inspired and playful, yet professionally prepared. The flavours and items were interesting and experimental and they change on a weekly if not daily basis. Due to the frequent change and “go with the flow” mentality, not all the dishes worked out though. For the most part they were excellent and I must have ordered well because my tapas started on a high. However as I worked my way through the menu I hit some okay dishes and a few misses, which is quite normal and expected. With all its accolades and awards I didn’t expect many misses, but with the frequently changing menu it’s bound to happen.
I was told by several people not to fill up on the a la carte items because the dim sum cart and fresh sheet items can keep you interested enough. I would agree and it’s great advice for maneuvering their menu. The menu is huge which is usually a bad sign, but here it is exciting. They were always coming by with something new, and with the way I eat, it was too easy to say “yes” to everything. It adds up fairly quickly, but it comes with the dining experience and the prices are generally fair.
I am a bit biased because tapas and hors d’oeuvres is my favourite style of dining. I love variety and usually 1-3 bites of anything tends to be good, and it keeps your palate busy and entertained. The style of dining never really feels like eating, but instead grazing and tasting. On that note, as a food writer, I am not a fan of writing about food based on taste because the average customer is usually eating and not sampling. However in the context of tapas, hors d’oeuvres, or share plates, I find it fair because it is eating based on a few bites of every dish.
Anyways, part of the reason the tapas at State Bird are so good is because they are small and appetizer sized. If you don’t like something you don’t have to suffer through a big portion of it, and if you love something it’s gone after a few bites and leaves you craving more. You end up cherishing those few bites and often end up romanticizing the moments, or at least I do.
I don’t want to undermine the chefs though. They know what they are doing and they have a natural talent for food and putting flavours together. I had some unforgettable dishes and kick the table moments, but not every dish is a score, so selective ordering is still required which is hard to gauge here.
These days it is hard to be inventive and many chefs tend to copy ideas, but the food was creative and tasted even better than they sounded on the menu. The Californian inspired New American dishes were right up my alley and original. They often had Asian influence and being from Vancouver, it was very relatable and still impressive.
I was surprised with the amount of effort and detail put into every tapas too. I wasn’t expecting them to go all out with components or even ensure textures were all there, but they did and it came across effortless. The mise en place (“
The staff were also incredibly friendly, to the point where I felt like a guest rather than a customer. It was almost like they were trained to interact with customers as if they were friends. I felt like I was kicking it with the kitchen crew, and they are noticeably outgoing and sociable with everyone. They share recipes without even asking (they did this with many people) and they genuinely seem like they enjoy being there. They make you feel welcome rather than privileged to dine there. It was just enough happy without being creepy, and I had a great time. It’s that simple.
I really dislike the exclusive nature of some hot and happening restaurants. Often they are over hyped and reliant on a niche market and this one felt different. It was certainly hot and happening, but it was grounded. It has broad appeal, but the food and concept is unique enough to make it feel special. I’m not one to put service and ambiance over food, but those aspects couldn’t be ignored here. They play a significant role in what makes State Bird Provisions a success.
The ingredients were fresh, the dishes looked appetizing, and the food was reasonably priced. It is not fancy, but it is nice, and it is youthful without being immature. To top things off the ambiance was great and the service excellent, so what more do I want from “America’s Best New Restaurant”? Nothing, except for maybe a chair next time. Even though the food is not flawless, I can understand why people go crazy for State Bird Provisions. The concept would translate well in other cities *ahem* Vancouver, and it is exciting for the restaurant scene in general. The idea and format of the restaurant is the backbone, although don’t underestimate the food. It has an undeniable energy and contagious vibe, and I sense a 1 Michelin Star soon.
See! This is the face of someone who had a lot of fun!
On the table:
**Hamachi-avocado seaweed crostini – 5.5/6 (Excellent!)
- Boom! Solid start. 5.5/6 and the only reason I’m not giving it a 6/6 is because it is not super creative, but it was damn delicious.
- It was one of those tapas you have confidence in just reading the ingredients.
- The fried sheet of nori was lightly dusted in cornstarch and fried until perfectly crispy. It was not chewy, hard, or greasy.
- It was topped with 4 decent slices of hamachi, chunks of avocado, black garlic aioli, pickled radish, mint, and toasted sesame seeds.
- It was fresh, salty, nutty, tangy, creamy and crunchy. There was a good balance of rich and light too.
- The richness was from the avocado and there was intense umami from the black garlic aioli which was a fantastic idea.
- Black garlic is fermented garlic used in Korean cuisine and it almost tastes like mushrooms.
- I really love it and it was much more exciting than a standard aioli.
- I thought the aioli wasn’t necessary since there was already creamy avocado, but the black garlic aioli gave it umami.
- Avocado is a reliable condiment that effortlessly makes things gel, so I don’t give it too much credit although I love it.
- Everything was very simple and the flavours came together as expected. I wanted to order another.
- Vancouver is pretty notorious for using similar combinations of ingredients, so I’ve tried variations of this dish.
- I probably enjoy Joey’s Ahi Tuna Tacos, TacoFino Cantina’s Tuna, Avocado & Macadamia Nut Tacos, and Hapa Izakaya’s Tuna & Avocado Salsa Dip with Plantains just as much.
- Other fancy “chips” I tried during this trip was the Rice Cracker, Yogurt, Caviar at Aziza and the Salt and Pepper Squid “Chip” at Benu, but I liked this one the most even though it was the least fancy of the three.
**Curry marinated scallop with avocado & satsuma – 5/6 (Excellent)
- This was delicious, but again it used avocado which I just mentioned as an “easy route” to make things work.
- I love avocado, but it isn’t exactly thinking outside of the box although very Californian.
- The creamy whipped avocado was a great dipping sauce for the ceviche.
- The curry marinated scallops were fresh, large and sweet, but I couldn’t taste any curry.
- It was ceviche style and “cooked” with the satsuma (Japanese mandarin) juice.
- The bottom of the bowl was a layer of satsuma gel infused with a bit of ginger.
- The mandarin jelly was actually quite unique and unexpected.
- I could use more acidity in the jelly, but it had good aromatics.
- There was also some raw fennel which always complements orange, and I could have used a bit more of it.
- The pieces of spicy radish gave crunch and the crispy fried curry croutons topped things off.
- I’m big on texture and this had so many textures. It was interesting and fun to eat.
- It was creamy, crispy, crunchy and creative.
- I’ve never had all those ingredients in one dish and I can’t even really describe it, but it was a very unique ceviche.
- I would have liked some crostini or chips to eat it with though, and it came across as a salad.
- This was quite pricey, but it is easy to get caught up in the moment and not even look at prices here. I was just pointing at things on the cart and saying “yes” to everything.
Beef tendon and cabbage slaw – 2/6 (Okay)
- This was pretty funky and I would have never thought of it as to why I ordered it.
- It reminded me of the cold jellyfish appetizer at Chinese banquet dinners.
- It was shredded cabbage slaw and beef tendon and I couldn’t even tell where the tendon was.
- I couldn’t taste the tendon and it was all just crunchy like a regular cabbage slaw.
- It was marinated in a sichuan peppercorn vinaigrette which I found a bit bitter due to the spices.
- I could taste coriander, cumin, and other Indian spices which caught me off guard.
- It was an Indo-Chinese dish in terms of flavour and I felt like it was meant to be served with something.
- I could have used a bit more salt and some sweetness to enhance the flavours because it seemed unfinished.
Tuna crudo & confit with chickpeas & cumin – 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)
- This was fun and something you could even do at home now that you have the idea.
- It was another cold tapas highlighting sashimi and chips, but this time no avocado.
- Instead there was some cumin seasoned crème fraîche which was a nice change, but I lost the cumin flavour.
- The raw and confit tuna was mixed with chickpeas, fava beans, capers, and olives.
- I mixed everything together and it made for an original tuna and bean salad.
- It was fresh and simple, nice and salty with good texture, but basic in flavours.
- The chickpeas and fava beans could be seen as “filler”, but I could appreciate them for colour and texture.
- Both are starchy beans, so I would have liked sweet spring peas instead of fava beans, but it was still okay.
- It could have used more capers and the olives were meaty Castelvetrano olives which I love.
- Those were the only salty things in the mix, so overall I could have used more seasoning and cumin.
- The chips were crispy and made in house and it was a nice “warm up” dish.
- I can’t say I’ve had it before (like many of the items I was trying so far) and I did like it, but I wouldn’t have to order it again.
To be continued…
… sneak peek…
Grilled beef tongue, horseradish, remoulade
Guinea hen dumpling with aromatic broth
Mendocino sea urchin, ginger/scallion pancake, soy-lime glaze