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Aug 15, 2012 12:05 AM

State Bird Provisions, SF - Bon Appetit named Restaurant of the Year 2012 - w/ Pics

Bon Appetit named it Restaurant of the Year 2012! We got to try it before that announcement when it was named One of the Top 50 American Restaurants of 2012!

We got there about 5:40pm on a Sat without reservations, the late was 1.5hr, but we were willing to wait this time. Get your name on their list & they will send you a text & you gotta call them back to let them know you want the table or not.

Since we didn't have reservations we got seated at the Chef's Counter - those are for walk-in only. Stuart, owner, told us to get reservations to call the day you want to go between 2-5pm, maybe they'll be cancellations.

There's some dishes on the menu that you have to ask to be made to order, other dishes are on carts or carried on trays.

We tried:

mendocino sea urchin, ginger, scallion pancake, soy-lime $12 - pancakes with sea urchin on top. We liked it fine.

Cucumber & stuff I can't remember $5 - ok

Cold tofu, cucumber dish $5 - ok

lamb dumplings - 2 little dumplings in broth $7 (?) - ok

Salmon & other stuff that looked like ceviche

Peach pit soda $3 - nothing special

Fried quail half order $8 - B. liked it, I took a taste & found it ok, juicy.

Green beans, egg salad, crunchy stuff on top $6 (?) - fine

Seafood dish w/ chips $9 (?) - B. likes seafood & liked the dish.

World Peace Peanut Milk Dessert Shot $2 - tasty

Double chocolate pudding & crunch dessert $8 - tasty

Our total before tip $75.95. Charged it.

Make Reservations! It's The Hottest Restaurant NOW!

State Bird Provisions
1529 Fillmore St, SF

Hrs: Closed Sun
M-Th 5:30-10; Fri & Sat 5:30-11

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  1. The food looks good in the photos, but it doesn't sound like you enjoyed it much. You don't rate anything better than "fine" and most dishes "ok". Are you recommending the restaurant? Why or why not?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Kathleen M

      It's good overall, I think it's worth trying at least once, I like the desserts the best.

    2. I've eaten there at least a dozen times and while there are some misses, there is such a high level of good tasty dishes. I find the quail to be the least successful dish most of the time. It's been pretty hard the last couple of months to get reservations so I can only imagine what is will be like now.

      1. Maybe this post should be in the recent Overrated Restaurants thread…

        Late in August, I looked for a reservation for my wife’s birthday in mid September at State Bird Provisions and found nothing until middle of October where there was a 10:30PM available just on a night when friends from Chicago would be visiting. So, I grabbed it. The day before we were able to change to 9:30, and so on Saturday we went with great anticipation.

        We tried many of the dishes, both those exhibited on trays and a cart, dim sum style, and a few from the menu. They ranged from one outstanding dish to several excellent and about half just good or OK. All in all, on the basis of food, I could understand some limited buzz and reservation difficulty for a new restaurant like this, but nothing near warranting the national food media adulation and long waits.

        The dishes were difficult to share for a table of 4, maybe OK for 2. The one outstanding dish was the tofu skin “tagliatelle” with matsutake and nori. Since I was the last one to share, I managed to get a very high ratio of the wonderful sauce and mushrooms to “noodles”. So, for me that was a big winner. In another case, the excellent State Bird (quail) and Provisions, there was barely enough of the delicious onion soubise for one person in the double entree meant for four.

        The concept, dim sum like service for an informal and innovative upscale California cuisine, is the big new thing here. But it is extremely poorly executed. Trays of choices were very rare in coming, and when they did appear, selections were often missing. It appeared that there was only one tray server and the cart appeared twice during the meal. It got so bad that I had to search out a waiter and beg to get a new tray brought to our table -- it arrived a long time later with one uninteresting dish. As I have noted in another thread, I personally find having to complain in a restaurant to really destroy a fine dining experience and I try to avoid it at almost any cost, but here it was unavoidable.

        Other aspects of service ranged from occasionally competent and efficient, to incompetent, negligent, and, in one case down right rude. The latter was in response to a gentle comment to the tray bearer that we missed seeing her, to which she grumbled it was a big restaurant (hardly) for her to cover. Spoons were removed and never restored (they are necessary) and no one could be found to correct the problem. Wine and beer took a long time, arriving after a menu order had been consumed.

        The place is incredibly noisy, even by SF standards, which makes it very hard to hear dining partners or waiters whispering descriptions of food on the trays.

        I would compare SBP to Namu Gaji, which is also doing very creative things with Korean/Japanese concepts. Namu Gaji is much better. Similarly, Bar Tartine, working off a Hungarian/Middle Europe base, is far superior.

        More and more, I am getting convinced that places with huge hipster buzz, national media recognition, long lines,and or impossible reservations (like SBP, Mission Chinese, Frances, French Laundry, Burma Superstar) are often not worth the trouble and in many cases anti-correlated with an excellent food experience.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Thomas Nash

          I like two things about BSS: the non-soy tofu, I think I liked the yellow bean version; and that they have ridge wine by the glass. Otherwise, you can take it or leave it.

          1. re: Thomas Nash

            Our party of four had a similar experience food-wise. The great difficulty of sharing a majority of these dishes makes it philosophically opposite to dim sum to my mind, where the sharing of virtually every dish has been considered.

            We also shared the experience of the cart not coming around nearly often enough, which was a source of consternation if not frustration. The food included some good dishes (the quail was quite tasty) but a majority came across as fine but unmemorable.

            The night we were there the service was more along the lines of somewhat overwhelmed and inefficient rather than incompetent or rude. I'd mark it down as a slight negative, something that could be easily overcome if the quality of the food motivated it..

            I don't think any of us would likely return, even in the hypothetical state of easy reservations on a Fri or Sat evening.

          2. I went tonight with a vegetarian friend. I had: the tuna tartar with quinoa, the game hen dumplings in an aromatic broth, the pork belly with kimchi and tofu, the trout, and the fried green tomatoes and eggplant in a spanish aioli. my friend had (and i tried), the farro/fava/sesame seeds/green beans dish, the yuba tagliatelle with matsutakes, the same tomato/eggplant dish, and another mushroom dish in dashi.

            I do believe this place may be suffering from hype. everything was good, but the only great things were the dumplings, the farro dish, and the tagliatelle. in fact, most of the vegetarian dishes were more "special" than the meat dishes i had. my friend did not like the mushroom in dashi dish at all (i didn't taste it, but she said it was unexpectedly room-temperature.) we both found the fried tomato dish very regular. my qunoa dish was tasty, especially the bits of really crunchy quinoa interspersed throughout. the pork belly and kimchi were fine, tasty, good texture - what you'd expect from good pork bell, but not outstanding. the tagliatelle was wonderful - at first i found it a bit underseasoned (as T. Nash mentioned earlier, if you don't mix it in with the buttery sauce at the bottom of the bowl, there's not a lot of flavor) but the texture was so great, so earthy, it was a memorable dish. the farro/fava bean dish was another great study in textures - again, very simply dressed - really good olive oil, maybe a squeeze of lemon. fresh, crunchy, really good. the dumplings were incredibly tender, lovely morsels, in a richly flavorful broth. i wish there had been more than two in the bowl. probably my favorite dish, next to the tagliatelle. my trout was good, very crispy skin, a little oversalted (and i love salty) with a nice contrast with the hazelnuts (i'm not normally a fan.) again, good, but probably not something I'd order again. We kicked ourselves for forgetting to get any of the pancakes.

            my friend had dessert (i was too full): the strawberry granita with tapioca and chunks of passion fruit. i had a bite - good! refreshing, cool, great combo of textures, tart/sweet, not too much of either.

            Service was fine - we never felt rushed, never felt as if we had to wait too long for food. Our server was not particularly warm - no one was - but service was competent and at least the cart guy was a little friendlier, making a point to come over with vegetarian dishes for my friend, then directing the meat dishes to me.

            the space is noisy in the extreme, not very comfortable, but cute. very hipster, and i have quite a high tolerance for that, living where i do.

            the price was right - i spent about $73, she spent about $43 (tiip included) - i had two glasses of wine, she had water. We both found the portions more than adequate, and a good value.

            i would go back again if someone wanted me to go with them (there were other passed dishes I'd love to try). but with so many other restaurants in the Bay Area, I probably won't go back soon.

            1. I finally went last night.

              Because I had other business in the area, we showed up at about 4:30 on a Friday night, and snagged the second spot in line. The line grew rapidly behind us, maybe 12 people by 5:00 The line was festive, but our end was out-of-towners. The line was huge by 5:30, stretching half way down the block. 40 people?

              There were probably 16 people who had reservations for the first seating. About the first 10 folks from the line got seated. There's no point in standing in line if you have a reservation.

              At 6:00, as we were eating at the counter, and the line had been consumed, I heard someone getting a 9:00 placement.

              On to the food.

              There were no missteps in service, as is commented on in this thread. Dishes were coming at us constantly, and we ate and fled by about 7:30. At the chef's counter of 6 people, each 2 people get a chef. The spot on the left (house left) looks like the owner, the bearded guy in HHC's photos, the right side is a guy who looks like the owner but is thinner, and the guy in the center is younger and more of an expediter. He was our guy, and didn't know as much - we were taken care of mostly by the owner guy.

              The first flush of dishes are cold dishes that are prepared while the restaurant is closed. We had a rush of maybe 6 dishes in the first 10 minutes. The first was my favorite - Fish Roe with Egg Salad, with a great texture interplay between the salty roe and the homey eggs. The "tuna two ways" was a fairly classic Poke-style. Pate with mad alines was quite good. Lobster in a jar with lentils was excellent. Winter veggies was a bit of a bore.

              We shared a glass of cava, which was unexceptional but a good choice.

              Hot dishes started coming out, and a guy came to take our order, which was from the printed sheet. He said "do you want to order from the menu" and I said No --- he was flustered, said that if we just took from the cart we'd be missing a lot of great dishes. So we ordered: the State Bird (1/2), Red Trout (1/2), Uni with Pancakes, Peking Duck. They came out fairly in a rush about 15 minutes later - I would have preferred some pacing - and were handed right across from the kitchen; good. GF liked the state bird because of the dark gamey leg, I thought it was OK. Red Trout was also good - very solid skin action, nicely sourced, perfectly cooked. Uni with pancakes was fun, the Uni was Monterrey and fresh. The Peking Duck ($20 and far away the most expensive dish) might have been the star of the show, unlike duck I've had in Beijing, the cardamom/cinnamon spice was all the way through the meat; nicely done.

              Somewhere along the line we acquired a glass of Greek wine which they called "interesting" and I'd call overly bitter and watery. The pork belly was too good looking to pass up, and I had wished there was only 2 cubes (substantial cubes!) instead of 4. A pair of oysters, which were unexceptional. Shitake dumplings, which were fragrant, but lacking in flavor. - one each was a nice small bite. Cheese dumplings, which weren't really dumplings - a housemade ricotta baked with spices served in a small iron pot - this was at the very end, we were already stuffed, and the owner-guy on the right pulled them out and ate one himself - said "oh, yeah", looked over at me, and I nodded. They were really good, and we shouldn't have eaten more than one, but there were 6 nestled in the bottom of the pot. Very good.

              Desert, which we REALLY didn't have room for, was a shot of the Peanut Milk (GF really liked, I did too), and then I signed up for the Granita with Lime Curd.

              Total bill before tip : $144 , which we considered a bargain for the amount of eating we did.

              Now, we stuffed ourselves. We went nearly directly home and slept for 12 hours each (it was a long week, too). Anyone worried about not eating enough - HA. Sure, you can eat only one or two dishes - except they bring around something new and put it under your nose and GOOD LUCK not ordering it. I wished I had gone for the Sweetbread Meatball instead of the Pork Belly, but the pork belly was pretty good.

              In retrospect, I _LOVE THE CONCEPT_ and more restaurants should do it.

              However, I wish the food had more taste and/or complexity. A musician would call the dishes "dry" - without extra effects - which is beneficial in letting the ingredient taste through, but less effective in showing innovative technique.

              "More taste" usually means more salt. I know that. Or, use sauces of various sorts. One of the better dishes, the lobster with lentils, had some kind of orange sauce at the top of the jar, which lifted up the lobster and lentils alike - showed some actual cooking. The Lime Curd with the Granita showed promise. Extra bits around the dishes (like the bed of something under the Quail) was unexceptional / tasteless.

              I found myself pining for the original Plum, which had the concept of a casual high-end restaurant, but really delivered with dishes of very high complexity (5+ major tastes, 10+ ingredients). Plum had (maybe still has) really great dishes, I tasted very solid two-taste dishes at SBP.

              We ate so much because - frankly - with this kind of crush and hassle to get in, I doubt we'll be going back. I would love if this place was near my house, and if I could walk in I'd be there a lot of nights.