Expectations, a word that comes with a lot of baggage both good and bad. Ever since State Bird Provisions opened it has been met with critical acclaim across the board including Bon Appetit naming it best restaurant in America. Since then it has been near impossible to get in to and while I've been intrigued I haven't even tried. Then by some sheer chance a fellow co-worker had gotten a reservation but was unable to go and like a vulture on a carcass I swooped in to take advantage when he offered it up to the first taker. (I'm nothing if not a fast typer/emailer.) On a rare Tuesday night out me and the SO put on our feed bags and headed out. Tucked away at the corner of Fillmore and Geary, if you blink you'd miss it.
Inside is a tiny narrow space that is full on a weeknight. Looking around from the exposed stone walls on the right to the peg board wall on the left (with string art!) and in the back (with color wood pieces!), it's like a loft space meets a fifth grade classroom.
After we get our table, the idea of the place is explained to us. They have a handful of regular dishes on an abbreviated menu and the rest of the food is brought around by trays and carts on small plates of which you can take or not take. You get charged just for the ones you take. It's basically a riff on dim sum but with small plates of California organic, local, sustainable, whatever was at the market that morning when the chef went. A very food buzz wordy place.
In the beginning, after we had barely sat down, the choices came a little fast and furious when we had barely had time to review the wine list, of which they had some good choices by the glass, if a little on the high side price wise. Once we squared away those choices we settled in to peruse the roving food. There's no easy way to go through these so here are the photos:
First was a fried garlic roll with a dollop of burrata cheese and pecorino, black pepper and olive oil drizzled over it. While these were not fresh and hot out of the fryer they were still good, yes just good. It was a light crunchy start with some mild flavors. There wasn't much garlic to taste and for that matter none of the ingredients were pops of wow. It was a decent roll with cheese.
Next was a smaaaalll portion in a tiny mason jar. Bits of lobster, Asian pear and quinoa covered in a persimmon sauce. Again this was good but I can't say it was wow. When you are doing small bites like this I guess I feel you need to bite in and go wow! I bit in and went, it's okay. Maybe a little sweet with the pear and persimmon and not a lot of texture going on here either. So decent, though not spectacular.
Then we picked the veal sweetbread meatball with quince jam, shaved pecorino and some pickled cauliflower. Now we get better. It had a nice crust on the outside, inside was cooked through but not dry. It paired nicely with the sharp cheese and the sweet jam. I won't say I was wowed by this either but is was a step up from the previous 2 dishes, though again the flavors were a tad muted, still a good dish.
The SO wanted to try the next one, yellow fin tuna ceviche with olives, capers, garbanzo beans, creme fresh with cumin and house made potato chips. I'm not a raw fish fan but the SO is and he really enjoyed this dish. What really brought it all together for him was the cumin creme fresh which I also really liked. Without the creme is was an okay ceviche, the cumin was the pop of flavor we had been waiting for that made it all taste fresh and delicious. The potato chips also added the texture and salt to round out the dish. Portion size it was also the biggest.
I wanted to try a menu item and ordered a half portion of the glazed pork ribs with swiss chard and togarashi. When it came, as you can see, a half portion for $10 was two rib pieces. The full portion was $20, I'll talk about that later. As for what I got, they were good ribs. The meat was fall of the bone tender and juicy. That said I didn't taste any glaze and if there were togarashi peppers they were of the mild variety because I didn't taste any spice. The chard added some color but otherwise, if you are gonna do ribs in this new barbecue town you need to really bring it and, well, these need to be kicked up some to compete.
We ended our savory tour with ricotta dumplings in a pumpkin soubise with toasted pumpkin seed strudel, crushed hazelnuts and chives. I thought these were very well done like little cheese gnocchi. The pumpkin sauce was not too sweet and went surprisingly well with the ricotta. I liked the toasted seeds and nuts for the crunch and flavor, a real nice warm winter flavor. While, again, I wasn't like, this is the best thing ever, I enjoyed this dish and would have a full size portion of it.
One fortunate thing about small plates is that we definitely have room for dessert and I picked the top of the list--olive oil birdseed cake with caramelized mandarin and walnuts.
Props for presentation, it was definitely different. This was not a traditional dessert, it had more of the flavor of a poppyseed breakfast muffin with an orange. The SO liked it a lot, me, eh, you know I like more heft to my desserts. This was light and airy though the orange was a bit too tart, close to bitter. The cake was moist and again they use the walnuts to give it some texture. Definitely not a dessert for everyone, but if you are into light and citrus like the SO you will enjoy it.
I will say this was a unique dining experience and I was glad I went. It was also a pricey dining experience for small plates.
Even when you take out the $32 we spent on booze it still adds up, which small plates have a tendency to do. I'm not above spending money on a good meal, but usually I like to feel full afterwards. Here not so much, I almost asked the SO to stop at one of the All Star Donuts we pass on the way home, but it was late on a work night. Is it the best restaurant in the country, I wouldn't go that far, there are a few better ones, even here in town.
Are they doing something different, sort of, though small plates and local ingredients aren't all the new. Would I recommend them? Hmmm...I'm torn, but only a little. Between price, size and taste of things, for me it was very hit or (mostly) miss. Considering the expectations I had, I was somewhat underwhelmed. But for millennials and foodies, I can understand the appeal of a hot new foodie experience and that is what State Bird Provisions kind of is. If that's something you would look forward to, then sure give it a try. If you are looking for unique and different food creations, well.....probably best to just decide for yourself if you want to go.