The first best day of my life being the day I was born, of course.
(it was also my mom’s, but lets keep that between you and me)
The second was the day I ate at State Bird Provisions. Monday, January 20th. I know that is a bold statement and would also roll my eyes if I were you, but you just can not understand the magnitude unless you have tried it. This post is definitely more for my San Francisco readers than the rest of the world, but SBP is one of the hardest places to get reservations. I wrote about it a little bit here and it is even more true now then it was when I wrote that post. It is not the fanciest restaurant, nor the most expensive or stuffiest I have had the humble pleasure of visiting, but it is the absolute best.
What sets State Bird apart from its competitors is its originality. Every dish had at least one ingredient that made you wonder why the chef decided to include it and the second you took a bite, you immediately understood. You regretted doubting yourself because it just worked so wondrously.
Did I forget to mention that they won their first Michelin star this year and the James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant in the country? Well, they did.
Reservations being hard to book is an understatement. I have been trying on-and-off for a year and no dice. Their online reservation system gets filled within seconds of an opening. Luckily, the kind folks behind this hot spot understand the overprivileged struggle and keep 1/3 of the restaurant open for walk-ins (read: people like me). With a selected few friends who had the chance to dine here, I picked up on mandatory tips on how to get a table without waiting until their third seating. Taylor and I arrived around 4:10pm and already found people waiting in line.
I did quick math in my head and figured that if there was roughly 24 seats and we were sixth in line, we should be golden for an early seating. People walked by and wondered what we were waiting for and it sounded ridiculous to say out loud that we were lined up an hour and fifteen minutes before opening to try to eat at a restaurant. Crazy San Franciscans and their foodie adventures…
By the time 4:45p rolled around, the line tripled and I felt less crazy for going there so early. To keep this story short, we were the last people able to sit in the first seating. I was so excited that I almost lost my appetite. Almost is a keyword because I was so full afterwards I had to unbuckle my jean button on the drive home.
Being there is like being the jolliest kid in the candy shop.
Step one to the uniqueness of State Bird Provisions is their menu. Each night, you get a printed menu where you can order dishes with the waitress, but the magic happens with the trays being walked around dim sum style.
With me being half Chinese, I really appreciated the Asian influence of how the food was rolled out. However, that is where the comparisons stop- the atmosphere was 100% New American.
I am actually surprised that this place was the first to think of the concept, it is the perfect way to try small plates and gives you the flexibility to decide what to order. Genius.
Does this help you visualize a little better? Waiter, who is an actually really cool dude, is explaining his cart to other dining patrons. The prices are always shown and available before you decide if you want to grab a plate, but let’s be real, why budget yourself when you get a coveted seat here? We went all out so we could have a chance to taste everything we wanted, no regrets.
Which also reminds me how friendly every single person there was, it really added to the whole experience. The staff all seemed to enjoy working there and it showed in their service.
1. First to roll out on one of the carts was a steak tartare ‘caesar’ lettuce cup. I am so sorry Marlowe because this is my new favorite tartare. The croutons added the perfect amount of crunch to the otherwise delicate flavor of the raw beef. I also enjoyed eating it in the leafy green since we did not need a crostini.
2. Their star dish, the CA State Bird With Provisions- breaded and fried quail topped with parm. Also recognized as a gourmet fried chicken but I think it is so much more complex than that.
We both agreed that it was still very plump and tender.
3. The quail went very well with the burrata and garlic knot (right), as per the recommendation of our waitress. (who thought I could eat anymore burrata this week?) This was a must, considering it ran out before it came to our table. Also, who does not like cheese and bread? Come on.
4. The little guy on the left I am not so sure what is going on there. I am still waiting to get the full breakdown from the GM and will come back and edit accordingly. I know it is a pork chawanmushi with guanciale & chile. I am not a huge fan of egg custard when eaten warm, but this was a pleasant delight.
Sorry for the collages, but this post would have been 24 pictures and that would of been overwhelming. Instead, you get a good assortment of delicious eats.
5. Up first is the fried Brussels sprouts w/ umeboshi-rosemary vinaigrette. These were very crispy, similar to BS chips. Mi gusta.
6. I did not try the oyster with spicy kohlrabi kraut & sesame, but Taylor had her virginity stolen by Waiter and she was a little nervous about it. She said she liked the flavor but not the sliminess; I suppose we are not the best people to ask about mollusks.
7. The pancakes do not look appetizing because my camera had a hard time picking up the colors, but it was definitely in my top five of the night. These latkes lookalikes were made of sourdough (what up SF!), sauerkraut, pecorino & ricotta. We were told to swipe them across the seasoning salt and they were so. good. These are a must order, no matter what flavor you get.
8. The only thing I was not thrilled about during this meal was the wild mushroom faro spezzato. The taste was spot-on but it was lacking in a contrasting texture and resembled something similar to mush.
9. Not pictured because we ate it too fast was a guinea hen dumpling in an aromatic broth. We only ordered one and that was my only regret the whole night. It was fantastic and I never thought that the broth would be the star of the show.
10. Another favorite (see a trend?) was the pork belly and grape salad. This was the one dish that made me realize how innovative the chef/owner was. I never would have thought to pair the jalapeño & grape with the fatty pork belly and it was the perfect diverging of flavors.
11. Half-dozen cast iron quail eggs, apple, sunchokes & Mt. Tam. Runny yolk, check. Perfect sunnies, double check. However, this dish would be best shared with more than two people. The richness of the yolk stopped us from eating more than half of the skillet.
12. Spicy fried cauliflower salad w/ bayley hazen blue cheese was presented in a completely way then I imagined but it was a great veggie dish. The synergy of flavors (buzz buzz) was shown very well in this case.
13. Four stars for presentation, I loved how they brought this roasted bone marrow with chanterelles & pink peppercorn straight on the bone. I think you really need to like fatty meat to enjoy this dish, as a heads up. Me growing up in an Asian household definitely trained me well for the night. The bread helps you combat some of the richness but still manages to let the marrow melt in your mouth.
Finally, it was desert time. We were stuffed to the brim but could not resist sharing two halves of our waitresses’ two favorites.
The genmaicha ‘ice cream’ sandwich, yogurt & walnuts was my favorite compared to the chocolate roll cake, sesame mousse and seville orange-clove caramel.
The post-dinner amuse bouche courtesy of SBP was the ‘world peace’ peanut muscovado milk. It was the perfect way to cleanse the palate and brought back memories of peanut milk in Sichuan province.
I even managed to get our menu signed by the owner/head chef/flavor genius! Thank you, Ryan. It made my night and you bet it will get framed and put in my kitchen.
To summarize this food adventure, the ethos of State Bird Provisions is clearly defined in each and every dish that I tasted during my time there. I can honestly say I have never been to restaurant quite like it and it so lives up to the hype.
I do not know the next time I will have the cajones to go again, but it will be worth it and just as amazing as my first time.
Best restaurant you have ever been to? One that you have thought about years later.