My housemates and I love each other. This may come as a surprise, considering the mischief we’ve gotten into over the two, three years we’ve been cohabiting. Tensions often run high after the guys finish particularly competitive PlayStation NBA2K tourneys. Sometimes, prank wars escalate into near-traumatic territory involving elaborate hideouts, Halloween masks and surveillance cameras (I wisely choose to sit out as a non-partisan). There’s all the usual roommate drama: dishes piling up, fixtures breaking, bills coming in late. Once, an acquaintance stayed with us and basically took our money and ran, leaving us to pick up the pieces. Despite it all, however, we’ve managed not only to tolerate each other, but to genuinely care for our little family. Our cozy apartment has seen countless family dinners, yoga sessions, Netflix nights, board game matches, and heart-to-heart talks. Even when a few of us left for greener pastures, the ties that bind us stay intact. It’s reeeally cute.
In a truly telling example of our next-level friendship, my housemates forwent birthday presents this year. Instead, they looked deep into my soul to figure out my truest heart’s desires. Somehow, they beat out OpenTable hackers and pulled strings to get me the trendiest table in town: State Bird Provisions. Best of all — the reservation serendipitously fell on the weekend after my grad school decision. I was elated (as was Jay, the lucky incidental benefactor).
State Bird Provisions, from its nondescript exterior to its playful menu, is SF’s current it restaurant. The cuisine defies any neat genre, incorporating Eastern European, East Asian, and New American flavors and techniques. The food is served family- and dim-sum style, with small bites available as they’re fired and larger plates available a la carte. SF’s trademark rustic-hip aesthetic imbues the space, Blood Orange piping over the speakers and aproned, bearded servers circulating the room. As we pulled up at the best seats in the house (at the counter, facing the action), an ebullient Chef Stuart Brioza walked by. Later, he caught me snapping one of the below photos — and, to my relief, winked! Despite it’s larger-than-life reputation, State Bird isn’t frilly; it’s fun.
We began our meal by picking two seafood dishes off a dim sum cart. Gem-like oysters made for excellent, refreshing hors d’oeuvres. A server mixed a potato salad table-side, throwing in shellfish and toasted quinoa for an incredible mix of flavors and textures.
We couldn’t help but order some of State Bird’s vegetable dishes. So very pretty — such great produce — but flavors much more subtle.
State Bird had an entire section on their menu devoted to miniature and innovative pancakes and toasts. Their famous sourdough pancake was good — though I must admit I’m not a fan of ricotta, and this was no exception. Jay and I absolutely loved the beef tongue and horseradish-buckwheat toast, however, and probably could have gone for seconds.
Perhaps the most popular items on State Bird’s menu are its namesake quail and the crowd-pleasing garlic bread. I spied both of these dishes from across the room and salivated on sight. The quail, while super succulent, was not the easiest-to-eat or meatiest choice of poultry. We ordered the small for two people and found it enough for a good taste. The garlic bread, on the other hand, was a generous, deep-fried mountain of delicious carbs, punchy herbs, and creamy cheese.
Other dishes I couldn’t resist trying included the asparagus and a cute lil’ dumpling. The former was solid, while the latter was a bit too gamey (and the broth too strong) for my taste.
While I may have let my impulses lead in selecting the previous plates, Jay got to take the reins, too! Naturally, he gravitated towards the sturdier dishes. The pork belly citrus salad, especially, was a lovely meeting of bright flavors and tender, fatty meat. The snacking pork, too, was a classic, but exciting, combination.
After all these small plates, we somehow found the wherewithal to move onto some truly excellent entrees. I’d watched the chef prepare the fried rice, so was prepared for its complex, luxurious savoriness. Less traditional was the yuba “primavera,” described to us as a pasta of sliced tofu skins with a kimchi dressing. It was tart and acidic as the fried rice was rich and fatty. Both dishes were delightful.
Halfway through the night, I turned to Jay and swore to him that we would have two desserts before we left. I’d seen architectural-looking plates pass by us throughout our dinner and knew exactly which ones I had to try. The ice cream sandwiches were absolutely divine: fun and gourmet at once. The olive oil cake, recommended as a spin on strawberry shortcake, was also delicious but too dense to finish. I found myself struggling to fit a bite more into my stomach.
Duck liver mousse with almond biscuit.
The joy of eating at State Bird is that you can, in a sense, put together your own tasting menu. The plates are priced very affordably, so that there is little guilt in ordering something extra. There was, however, one dish that we sent away simply because it was not good: the duck liver mousse. Served with oily almond biscuits, it proved too cloying and rich for my palate. Those who enjoy foie gras and the like might find it more suitable! That one misstep, however, didn’t detract from our experience in any way. We loved the casual, playful ambiance and the exciting, unpretentious food (especially the potato and shellfish salad, the star of the night).
We ended our night with a few sips from a shotglass of State Bird’s signature peanut milk: creamy, smoky, intriguing. Like everything else at State Bird, it might sound simple, but it contained multitudes.
State Bird Provisions
1529 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94115