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Feb 23, 2014 12:36 PM

State Bird Provision [San Francisco]

It appears that there's more written on this Board about not being able to get into State Bird Provision than about eating there (makes sense, if you can't get in…).

We snagged a 10:30 pm res. and spent the early part of the evening, trying to stave off hunger and put ourselves in a "continental dining" frame of mind (my husband repaired to his office to catch up on work; and I holed up at the Castro for the Mary Poppins Sing-a-Long).

That I didn't warm to the cork-board-wall aesthetic of SPB when I arrived is surely a function of age (as is often the case at SF/Oakland restaurants these days, we at once bring up the median age and bring down the hipster factor). Noise level, a similar narrative (not deafening, but we were grateful when it started to clear out after 11 pm). The art in the uni-sex toilet made made me smile.

Very nice, professional hosts and servers. And a lot of them. Making it a bit of a puzzle that there were periods where it was hard to catch anyone's eye and overly long intervals with dirty plates left uncleared.

I was set to adore the food at this, the toughest reservation in town. After all, I love dim sum--what's more exciting than carts tooling about with new treats to sample.

But as a friend who's been longing to try SBP just reminded me--dim sum notwithstanding, I'm not a small-plates gal. I prefer a meal that's more coherent, balanced, sparer. At SPB, I felt like I'd been at a fancy cocktail party, where I'd sampled delicious, rich morsels, but couldn't properly savor any one, as the parade of wonderful tastes kept coming; and we stopped sampling sometime after we were over-full.

Some of the dishes were, indeed, delicious. I loved the perfectly fried signature State Bird (quail) w/ Provisions (a brilliant complementary melange of saucy onions), the lovely guinea hen dumpling in deletable broth, and the complex mix in the ice cream sandwich (a chocolate nib macaron cookie and creamy ice cream and pecans and plum fudge sauce).

I liked a lot, but was less enamored of the red trout (half a minute less on the fire, it would have been a home run), salmon tartare (my husband thought it was a highlight; and I had the sense it would have been great by itself, but was too delicate/subtle, after the hearty dishes we'd eaten prior), pork belly (nicely done, but not so special--I wished we'd instead chosen the duck liver from that tray), faro with mushrooms (started out raving about it, esp. the smokey mushrooms--and a relief to have a veg--but by the last bite, I was less in love with the mushy texture of the grain).

I'm sure I'm forgetting dishes. We passed on some that are apparently fantastic--house-made chips with creme fraiche horseradish sauce and roe--because they came by on the cart late in the meal, when the allure of a plate with double-digit fat grams was past.

Our tab seemed reasonable for a small-plates meal with drinks (a bit over $100 for two of us).

Was going to say we'll be back, but not so fast--but then realized--reservations being what they are--that's true of most everyone.

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    1. I had a wonderful meal there within 6 months of their first opening but a recent dinner after their re-opening fell flat. The state bird was still excellent, but everything else was not remarkable. The fried bread with burrata, which was amazing the first time around, was lukewarm during the second visit. The gaps in service were a little strange, especially since there were a few times when several servers seemed to be checking in on our table all at once.

      1. A friend once said SB is a great place for people with ADD but a place they wouldn't take their parents visiting from out of town to and I think it's really true. It's not a great place if you have a certain timetable or you like to have a large entree.

        3 Replies
        1. re: tjinsf

          Fwiw, I took my mother on her last visit and it was one of her favorite places we ate at. She loved being able to taste multiple items and not being restricted to one large entree.

          She was also very impressed with the service.

          But, as always, your parents may vary.

          1. re: absc

            Your mother sounds far hipper than my parents or my friend's were.

            1. re: tjinsf

              Not hip at all. Just the sort to complain about portions being "too large."

        2. The menu changes frequently, and elements of a staple dish might change from night to night, but here are some comments on dishes currently on the menu that were also there throughout the summer.

          Favorite items, enjoyed on 2-3 visits (thanks to
          sourdough, sauerkraut, pecorino & ricotta pancake : nice tang, from sauerkraut and the dough, and sheepy saltiness

          Smoked trout-avocado ‘chip & dip’ : fattiness of the avocado, and the smoothness of the trout, delivers a subtle smokiness. Yes, there's nothing groundbreaking about this dish, but it's well executed and something I'd stop in to get after 10pm if a seat were open.

          CA state bird with provisions : never oily, always crunchy, well spiced, with tender meat. Pepitas add crunch and nuttiness to the breading mixture.

          garlic bread with burrata : spice mix works great with the burrata. Here's a recipe:

          Didn't like the first time:

          guanciale chawanmushi : guanciale flavor too powerful for the chawanmushi, which was too runny

          don watson’s lamb with cumin, squid, shishitos & dates (they used grapes when we went. Excellent quality lamb. Dates might harmonize the ingredients better than grapes, but I'd take a traditional Chinese cumin lamb or a North African lamb stew over State Bird's gravy-ish dish any day)