State Bird Provisions (San Francisco: Day Four, Part Three)
I was in San Francisco this week for WWDC (Apple‘s Worldwide Developers Conference). I found out a few months ago I’d be able to attend, so of course, I made a list and asked for advice beforehand. Now that I’m here, I plan on posting a report as quickly as possible for each day, to stave off procrastination. My report for “San Francisco: Day Four, Part Three” (Wednesday June 4, 2014) is as follows:
After an epic day of eating, I only had one place left on my itinerary for Day Four, but it was probably the most anticipated of the entire week. It’s notoriously difficult to get into, but I managed to get a reservation at 9 PM for…
I arrived a little early, since I was at the mercy of the Muni schedule and did not want to arrive late. As I waited to be seated, I saw many people come in and ask about walk-in availability, only to be turned away. To her credit, the hostess was extremely gracious. Eventually I was seated at the bar, next to a fellow solo diner, and a fellow WWDC attendee! We exchanged pleasantries, ordered our drinks, and had the process for procuring food explained to us by our very helpful waitress. Nutshell: It’s like dim sum but not with Chinese food, unless one of the items happened to be a Chinese (or Chinese-inspired) dish.
To drink I had the house-made Muddled Shiso-Yuzu soda. It was not too sweet, and, as I’m sure you can imagine if you’re familiar with the ingredients, quite refreshing. It was essentially the Japanese version of a (virgin) mojito, with the shiso standing in for the mint, and the yuzu standing in for the lime.
The carts and trays started coming, dishes were accepted and declined, descriptions of ingredients flew through the air, and I could hardly catch up, but I will try to describe what I had to the best of my ability.
Sourdough, Sauerkraut, Pecorino, Ricotta Pancakes: Apparently SBP is known for these. They are made-to-order, not passsed, and come $9 for a half dozen, but they can do a one-third order, two pancakes, for $3 for solo diners (and probably anyone else who requests them). They were savory, acidic, and cheesy. Even though they did not include any potato (as far as I could tell), they kind of reminded me of a cross between latkes (potato pancakes), complete with a sour-cream-y taste, and johnnycakes and/or corn fritters.
King Salmon Tartare with Fermented Turnips: The waiter mentioned many more ingredients than what’s in the dishes name, and I can’t remember them all now, but they including cucumber, quinoa, and shichimi togarashi (a Japanese spice mix that often has ground chili peppers, sesame seeds, nori, and more). This dish was very good. I could tell that the salmon was fresh, and all the ingredients really worked well together.
Raw Kusshi Oysters, Spicy Kohlrabi Kraut, Sesame: These were wonderful. The oysters themselves were very clean and plump, and the toppings had a bit of tartness and heat without overpowering the delicate bivalve.
Duck Liver Mousse, Almond Biscuits: This was probably my favorite, or at least in the top 3, of all the dishes I had. We can’t have foie gras in California anymore, but we can still have duck liver, and the mousse made with it was heady and unctuous. The biscuits had a little bit of corn bread consistency and was just sweet enough to compliment the savory-sweetness of the liver.
Guinea Hen Dumpling with Aromatic Broth: It’s too bad the dish only had one dumpling, as it was very good, but not sure what the guinea hen did for it. It could have been made with chicken, or, in fitting with the theme, the state bird, quail, and I probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. The broth was I believe made with dashi (stock made with seaweed and dried bonito flakes) and was delightful. I downed the leftover soup after eating the dumpling.
Stone-Ground Oat-Crusted Sweetbreads, Fava, Ramps: Another made-to-order item, I got this because: offal. Unfortunately, I’ve come to the realization that I am not a sweetbreads person, at least not when it’s prepared like popcorn chicken, breaded and fried. I had them at Animal in L.A. with a similar preparation, and I just don’t get enough of the subtle taste of the sweetbreads themselves, since the breading is too overwhelming. The fava beans were great, as were the ramps, but those were a bit hard to cut up in the bowl to eat.
Guanciale Chawanmushi: This delicate Japanese steamed egg custard was also one of my favorite. It was as good a chawanmushi as any I’ve had at a Japanese restaurant, albeit with decidedly non-traditional ingredients. It was like a little cup of breakfast: bacon and eggs!
California State Bird, With Provisions: I felt I had to try SBP’s eponymous dish, so I got a half order. The meat was juicy, and the batter was light and crisp, but since the bird’s relatively small, the bird-to-batter didn’t quite feel balanced to me. The provisions, stewed onions, were very good too.
Beef Tongue, Vinegar Potato, Ramps: The tongue was prepared with pastrami spices and sliced thin. The vinegar potato may have just been fried and smashed, but like the pancakes above, they tasted a little like latkes to me too. Aside from the above two ingredients, the menu only states ramps, but the bed of green purée tasted like it had something more than just alliums in it, like peas. This was another favorite of mine!
Lemon Verbena Chocolate Crunch ‘Ice Cream’ Sandwich, Aprium, Coconut: Having polished off quite a bit of food, I was finally ready to finish up my meal. I love that SPB allows people to get half portions of most of their desserts, so I opted for this one. The reason ‘ice cream’ is in quotes is because it is not traditional ice cream, but frozen sabayon, a French-by-way-of-Italian custard. So a concrete then! Whatever one calls it, it was delicious! The chocolate sauce on the bottom tasted to me like it had a umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums) flavor, but perhaps it was my imagination.
‘World Peace’ Peanut Muscovado Milk: Along with the ice cream sandwich, I also got a shot of peanut milk, poured into a shot glass that had a little muscovado sugar syrup in it. The reason ‘World Peace’ is in quotes is because if everyone drank a shot of this, that’s what we would get. I wouldn’t go that far, but it was very good, like a really refined version of the mi jiang I grew up drinking in Taiwan the first half dozen years of my life.
State Bird Provisions ended up being my “splurge” dinner for the trip, and even then the cost really wasn’t too bad. For the quantity and quality of food I ate, it was just over $100 including tax and tip. The service was fantastic! Sitting at the bar, I could order dishes directly with the chefs, which was a novelty. The chefs were really fun to talk to throughout the evening. We chatted about family meals, the ones they prepare for staff, and about The Progress, the new family-style restaurant the owners of SBP are opening a few doors down, which should hopefully open by the end of the year.
The only downside to SBP is the difficulty in getting a reservation. If you wanted to be sure to get in on a certain date but couldn’t get a reservation for when you wanted, doing a walk-in by lining up around 4 PM and having your entire party present by the time they open at 5:30 PM will be your best bet. If you don’t make it in right then, they will give you an approximate time to come back, but they will call you first. Again, if and when that time comes, make sure you have your entire party, or they will not seat you. It really is worth going to!
Onto Day Five!
State Bird Provisions
1529 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94115