A person can accomplish a lot in three months. He or she can read a book two, watch a Netflix series or ten, fly around the world or he/she can count down the days until a reservation at State Bird Provisions. That’s right, it takes planning three months in advance to get a reservation at this James-Beard-awarded ‘Best New Restaurant of 2013.’ By the time the fates decided I could have a go at the place, my expectations were high. Meet hype — a common and dangerous concept in a city like San Francisco with so many competing high-caliber eateries. Hearing nothing but amazing things about a place is likely to taint your experience, while stumbling upon something unexpectedly great satisfies in a different way.
Did State Bird live up to its three months worth of expectations? Let’s discuss…
The concept: Small dishes are served dim-sum style by servers who circle the restaurant with carts offering items like raw oysters and house made potato chips and chickpea crudité. Be advised that your eyes are probably bigger than your wallet. The menu includes many singular items by price (such as one beef tongue pancake) and larger dishes (such as fried rice).
Each dish or item is its own world. This is the most hype-worthy part. SBP’s owners and chefs come up with completely unique ways to use cuts of meat, with ingredients prepared differently than I’d ever seen before.
The food: If I go back to State Bird, it won’t be for the way the food itself tasted. It would be for the items that I can’t get anywhere else. The idea that they’re constantly changing their menu and creating new masterpieces in food preparation is enticing. Some of the dishes stayed on my mind afterwards, but only about half of them or less.
Take this beef tongue as an example. I had never had beef tongue before. The garnish and the horseradish buckwheat pancake with the meat (or.. what even is it?) was very interesting. It tasted, um… very beef-tongue-y. Each bite I took was for the sake of the experience, not for my taste buds.
These little hedgehog mushroom toasts, on the other hand, were both incredibly unique and something I loved every bite of.
The state bird: The dish — fried California quail served atop onion garnish and shaved parmesan cheese — was good. That’s all it was. It wasn’t as unique and interesting as everything else. Fried quail is fried quail is fried chicken. It was as good as the last high-end fried bird I’d had.
The hype-worthy stuff: The pork belly citrus salad was excellent. The meat paired perfectly with the citrus and wasn’t too fatty. The garlic ‘bread’ with burrata was dangerously good, we each had to fight our instincts to finish off the bowl. The green garlic steak tartare on caeser toast was a group favorite. The guinea hen dumplings are delicious, though another item served one at a time. The yellowfoot mushroom & duck fried rice a la plancha was not as flavorful as some of the other items, and the kung pao bacon beef sweetbreads with nuts and seeds were another experience, though not my favorite taste.
In sum, a lot of the dishes were pretty delicious, while others were simply good. It’s a place to share and try new and different things. It’s pricey because of that. Maybe things would’ve been different between us had I not heard State Bird was one of this food-crazy city’s absolute best restaurants. We’ll never know. For now, State Bird will go up on the shelf as ‘sure, that place is good,’ ‘yeah, I’d go again,’ and ‘you should try it if you can.’ It doesn’t quite make the cut for ‘oh my god, I will never be the same without it.’
Desserts, in order of what you should order:
State Bird Provisions
1529 Fillmore St.
Western Addition, SF, CA