Combine mystery menu items, farm-to-table sensibility, meeting new people practically in your lap and effing epic preparations. This, my friends, is how a restaurant experience is done. State Bird Provisions is a place where The Lincoln Club and The Labor Council could break bread and be thick as thieves. Yes, people, it was that.damn.good. Here we go.
My friend Jared said that my best bet for this place was to show up right at opening and put my name in…if lucky I’d get in around the time I’m usually going to sleep. My other friend Brandon called this place an essential stop, or something to that effect. So, having a bit of OCD in me I show up early thanks to my new “friend” Orhan–the Turkish black market towncar driver who ripped me off something ferocious–but more on that in a moment. I show up 10 minutes early and what do I find? Well, it would have been a PHOTO of the long line, but I don’t know what happened to that one. Instead, here’s the less exciting description of that line…
A line of 25-ish people also waiting to get their Statebird on. Well, if I was even moderately unsure about this rec from three quality sources, this Sky Fall movie premier-esque line pretty much sealed it. Oh wait, what really sealed it is that when they did finally (on time, I was just jones-ing after 10 minutes) open at 5:30, half–yes HALF–the people in line already had reservations. Why The Face!?! Who has a reservation for 5:30 p.m.? In San Francisco? Who has a reservation for 5:30 p.m. in San Francisco and shows up all early like they are gonna run out of state birds or something!?! People who know what they are about to get, that’s who.
Before I continue–and lord forgive me for failing to get a photo inside of Orhan’s pimp-mobile–I have to take a moment to tell you about my new “friend” Orhan. Since he ripped me off–twice–I assume he didn’t use his real name. Orhan, if this finds you, I am salty that you ripped me off despite my being a nice guy. And I hope you were honest about having three kids in school who want to be police officers and who work really hard in school. But even as I type this I feel the hot imprint of the word “schmuck” forming on my forehead. Damn. He seemed like such a nice guy. We talked about world events and the muslim origin of my name and–alas, I was bamboozled. It wasn’t so bad at first. I knew he was going to overcharge me, but I was on a mission to get to Statebird before I was given the response my friend Kelly received – “it’ll be four hours”. So I gladly paid the premium despite my spidey sense tingling. Then, as I sat talking to Alicia–the server sent like manna from heaven to help what was a phenomenal dining experience–I realized just how badly my new “friend” had taken me for a ride (yes, literally AND figuratively). At one point, Alicia said “ah man, that ride shouldn’t cost more than 15 bucks, 20 at the most.” Orhan got me for $30–each way. Good for him. He probably does have kids and bills to pay. And his black market approach, while a little distasteful, gave him some flexibility to overcharge me. Still, I was tired of waiting for a cab when he pulled up and didn’t have to wait at all after dinner. So it could have been much, much worse. Now, having set the stage with my fantastical adventure with the Turkish off-brand, bootleg, janky, half-a-cab taxi driver, I can move on to the actual dining experience. So let’s start with this
This is where the magic happens. Can I just say how great it was to have a super-busy, super-hip, super-on top of the local culinary experience restaurant behave like a normal place with a sense of humor and courtesy!?! Take note, restauranteurs, being decent (and having exceptional food) is how you have a 60-day wait list for reservations and you haven’t been open very long and the only non-reso seats are cramped up on the counter. That, I tell you, that is how it is done. I realize I have typed for a good 8-14 minutes without showing a real food photo, so let’s get down to business about this state bird-selling gem of a restaurant. First up, there was this
The first thing you’ll notice is how bomb the 13 megapixel digital camera on my new Optimus LG is and how clear that damn picture is. Okay, maybe you didn’t notice, but now that I’ve mentioned it, can’t you see it? This, friends, this is why the Mayor did not heed the recommendations of the City Attorney about Snapdragon-gate (aside: the use of “-gate” as synonym for scandal makes me chuckle). Because he wanted to bring Snapdragon to the masses–and the masses needed Snapdragon. Qualcomm is not known as the most awesome, most innovative place to work because of the coffee machines, after all. Nope, that Snapdragon processor was holding it down and allowing me to take beautiful pics of good food for multiple hours. Wait, I digressed, again. Okay, so the actual hummus was just okay. I couldn’t really taste the olio nuovo (first olive oil of the season) and the lemon emulsion was kind of cool, but I just wasn’t bowled over. THIS WOULD BE THE LAST TIME I FAILED TO BE BOWLED OVER ALL NIGHT. In fact, for the rest of the meal I was so bowled over–no, I’m not going to succumb to bad literary tools in the name of making my point. The pictures and the food will do that. First, I need to back track and explain the basic concept of the restaurant.
Statebird is a relatively small restaurant–I’m guessing 25 tables and counter seating–on Fillmore in San Francisco. They source food from local growers who I think do their best not to be jerks about how they grow/raise/provide their food. Excellent. The folks at Statebird were pleasant from the moment they come out to the masses to inform us that if we acted right we can be blessed with the goodness. There was no ‘we’re too good to be nice to you common folk’ attitude that too frequently pervades hip restaurants. From the very first person I interacted with, they were all like that friend in high school who is inexplicably nicer and more grown up than you or anyone you knew. Not pretentious, just genuine and honest. The executive chef was doing his thing throughout the night and I realized that the attitude his people had was very top down. A good leader matters. Reminded me of Chef Matt at Urban Solace in North Park, San Diego–yes, I will take whatever chance I feel appropriate to remind people of restaurant owners I think practice their craft in an honest and decent way. Wait, now I’m gonna get on the food for real this time. Next up was this
This is what they called seafood salsa. It has scallops, mussels, clams, shrimp and calamari…and a jalapeno yogurt creme sauce. The dish was exceedingly fresh. Fresh tasting fish is good. Note to my friend Jared (one of the people who recommended this place): you missed out not having this. I suspect it’s better than the Cioppino at that other place you rec’d last time. After the seafood goodness–no, actually while I was eating, I realized Love roller coaster was on the
radio iPod playlist. What a fun, festive song to associate with the whole experience. In fact, part of the experience was my little counter seat that had not enough room to eat freely but made me very happy. Happy because I sat next to this dude named Chris who was a biodynamic farmer for Benziger in Sonoma for the first half of my meal. And I learned about how the real live people on the farm get food to my table, plus he was a good dude. And happy because the couple on the other side of him were lovely and from the Bay but living in Durham because she got a kick-ass research job so he found something that worked to enable her to fulfill her career. You know, the way women have been doing for pretty much ever while their husbands chase the next big job. Totally unassuming people on our counter seat row. Chris was replaced by Natalia from Mexico City via Austin later in the night, but more on her in a bit. With roller coaster replaced by Joy & Pain by Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock, the upbeat vibe continued with this
Which I would describe as a little bit of sunshine mixed with heaven…and raw meat. It was steak tartar, some green vegetable I can’t pronounce or remember, golden beets and–wait for it–rasps drenched in olive oil and friend. What, you ask, is a rasp? Well enter our friend Executive Chef Stuart Brioza (Nicole Krasinski was either not there or I did not meet her, not sure which), who explained that when you bake your bread in a loaf there is an outside crusty part that can be used in a variety of ways. One of those ways is to
combine it with baking soda, boil it and make crack drench it in olive oil, lightly fry it and serve it as a delicious accompaniment to steak tartar. Also in the steak tartar was this delightful cream-based sauce made with anchovy and capers. It was really several shades of delicious. If I were a professional writer I’d come up with more synonyms for delicious, but since this is just a hobby and it describes the taste experience perfectly, we’ll stick with it. On the other side of the tarter I thought it wise to try the state bird. So, with the instrumental version of Nuthin’ but a G Thang (radio version, FYI) setting the stage, I dove into the buttermilk-drenched, fried bird.
As it turns out, the state bird of California is the –you didn’t think I would ruin it for you, did you? Google it. Or Bing it. Or use whatever other off-brand search engine might be out there that only subscribers to Wired and hard core Wozniak disciples know about. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Here’s a search engine (and here is a link to what I got when I googled what the best search engines besides google were). The statebird was tasty. It was juicy and not over-battered. It had good seasoning and flavor and although the parmesan seemed unnecessary, it wasn’t bad, either. Yes, I gave you the slightly finger-greased, partially eaten photo version, but the steam from the first two whole bird photos fogged up my otherwise awesome 13 Megapixel camera and didn’t come out great, so this was the best one. Yes, I will be as nice to LG as I have been critical of Evo. Fair is fair. What happened next almost shouldn’t be allowed. The next three items were stunningly better then what most other restaurants are able to create. First up was this red trout
It was red trout, with garum brown butter, mandarin chunks and glaze with a crispy, salty skin that complemented the mildness of the fish very nicely. I just googled garum brown butter and the first seven results were other people posting pictures related to Statebird. I am apparently not the only one with a serious crush on this dish. By the way, according to my server Alicia, garum brown butter is made from fish sauce, but minus the part of fish sauce that tastes bad. To call this dish flavorful would be a dumb, boring understatement. It was, if I’m being honest, the best savory dish I had all night. This was followed by something that would have been the best small plate at half of the restaurants I’ve been to in the last ten years. It was this
The sourdough puffed airy dough with burrata, poached garlic and seven-pepper blend was really something nice. I don’t even really like burrata all that much, I just eat it because Wife always orders it. But my new friends from the Research Triangle in Durham said it was a can’t miss so I was all for it. I also had a Hop Head Red (pictured up with the hummus, if you are curious), which in addition to being my Halloween costume last year, is a super-hopped beer by Chuck Silva at Green Flash Brewing Company in San Diego. This was followed by two nice glasses of a grenache blend and my new friend Natalia from Mexico City by way of Austin, who had replaced Chris the farmer from Sonoma. How awesome. The wines were great and sharing the experience with new people–while a poor substitute for Wife (who rarely reads this so I am not even getting brownie points for mentioning it)–added to the experience. Natalia seemed like an adventuresome eater and, despite the pressures of three young boys and a business to run in Texas, was surprisingly easy to randomly bump into at the very tight counter seats in Statebird. Just a delightful stranger to have met. Now I can move on from the wine and cheese and trout to the final bit of something delightful that Alicia actually warned me against.
You see, as much as I like things like chocolate and ice cream, Alicia told me about this plum jam in the dessert and it was nearly ruined for me. I’m not a plum jam kinda person. In fact, I’m not convinced anyone is. But there was this dessert that had a solid following. Fortunately I was feeling wild and crazy and this is what came
Can I just tell you that this was no ordinary ice cream sandwich. Look, I know it seems like every place I talk about is really, really good. But that’s not true. Next week I’ll tell you about the worst place ever in Charlotte. And I think I mentioned some place that I was significantly underwhelmed–right, 100 Wines in Hillcrest (which I wanted to like and will give another shot). Point is, I don’t just rave about good food, but I prefer to celebrate success. Plus I try to get good recs so that the food I’m spending Wife’s hard earned money on doesn’t suck. I’m kidding, we are both gainfully employed and I am not yet #idleandrich (Laing ’12). Continuing an old trend started by a friend back in D.C., I will be offering attribution to catchy phrases when needed. And since we now have Twitter, they will be hashtagged. If you want to know what Twitter or hashtags are please grab you some google–and also watch this funny debate clip about 1980’s policy! HAHA. Back to Statebird. The dessert was really as outstanding as my new Optimus LG showed it to be (no, they are not paying me to say that – though I won’t begrudge them sending me a check of course – it was this or Samsung after I ruled out that phone with a ‘5’ in the title). The chocolate drizzle tasted as good as it looked. This whole endeavor was a meal I didn’t have to wait four hours to get, but would have gladly done so if asked. Please support these people so that more restaurants will realize they can only survive by using products that come from farmers who care about their employees and the food and animals they produce. I’ve written all I can about this place, I think. Just go. If you happen to be in the Bay, this is a place to go. Wait in line. Pay some student to wait in line. Bring a book and camp. Whatever it takes, just go there–appetite in tow–and prepare for one of those meals your friends will be jealous you had and they didn’t. Then come back and tell me about it. Oh, almost forgot. I was fully expecting for it to be a let down. Ruined by the hype of three recommendations about “the best meal in SF” and the “best meal of the decade” (the latter of which was a rip-off when I realized the decade was only two and a half years in). But unlike the original Batman remake back in ’89 at Fashion Valley, this really lived up to the hype. Speaking of that Batman, the line was all the way from the old theatres to the transit center area. If you lived in San Diego awhile you know how crazy that is. Okay, enough. go eat now. Thanks for stopping by.