The story: Chefs Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski changed the San Francisco dining scene when they opened State Bird Provisions in the Fillmore, offering small plates in a dim sum cart format, and garnering long lines from those hoping to grab the few walk-in seats because they failed to get a coveted reservation. After winning numerous awards and high-profile reviews, Brioza and Krasinski last December opened a sequel next door called The Progress in honor of the Progress Theater that once occupied that spot.
Why I went: The Progress is one of the most anticipated new openings in the last few months, so I had to see for myself if Brioza and Krasinski could repeat their magic with this larger 54-seat restaurant. I recruited my fellow food bloggers Sandy of Foodhoe’s Foraging (and her husband Mr. K) and Brenda of Bites and Bourbon. After trying for weeks, I was able to secure a reservation via OpenTable for last Thursday night.
The vibe: There’s that new restaurant buzz as you enter into the bar and you see all the young, happy diners drinking at the bar or gleefully looking over the menu. The spacious dining room with a mezzanine (for future private events) gives a blend of environment chic with geometric fun. The friendly and professional service makes this more than a casual restaurant but a well-tuned machine. We were able to get a booth on the side, which was well lit and cozy for our little party.
The menu: The Progress’ menu takes away the price variables by offering a six-course family-style dinner for $65 each. You can order any six courses among the 19 listed (including dessert options) but everyone at the table eats the same courses. The kitchen portions the dishes to fit your dining party. The only exception is dessert, where you can break away from the rule and have different desserts for every individual at the table. A pencil is provided for the table to mark the six dishes for the table (you can even skip desserts and order six savory courses), and as of now there’s the flexibility of adding more courses for an additional $10 per course per person. If you’re really interested in an adventure, your table can order everything on the menu as a tasting dinner for $120 per person. Before you decide on your six courses, the servers bring out a plate of small bites as complimentary starters or amuse bouche. As for the main courses the dishes include the same flavors and experimental flair of State Bird Provisions (the two restaurants share a kitchen), but the Progress provides a larger canvas for Brioza’s creations.
The booze: The Progress has a full liquor license, so it offers a complete list of classic cocktails and five specialty cocktails, along with a full wine menu. Knowing dinner was going to cost at least $65 (that’s the nice thing about a fixed price menu), I didn’t want to add to my tab with alcohol. Sandy did start with a beer at the bar, and Brenda tried The Concession ($12) made with popcorn rum and vermouth, and Mr. K brought along a bottle of Pinot Noir (corkage fee is $30).
My favorite dish: We opted to skip dessert so we could order more of the savory dishes, and there were a few standouts, including the shaved romanesco in a herb vinaigrette with “pig fries” and a crudo of halibut with turnips and creme fraiche. The romanesco had a unique freshness from the herbs, a combination I haven’t experienced before, and of course Sandy and Brenda devoured the deep-fried pig fries made of pig ears and pencil-thin slices of pork belly. But my really favorite dish has to be the lamb merguez with yellow eye beans, octopus and crispy squid. The beautiful plate looked like a spring basket filled with enticing flavors and contrasting textures from the firm merguez sausages and the tender octopus slices.
Insider’s tip: The reservations game is just as important here as with State Bird Provisions. The restaurant only allows reservations on Open Table a month in advance at the most, and they quickly book up. The trick is to time your visit to Open Table’s website near midnight a month before the date you want to dine. I found that Open Table’s reservation system is based on the East Coast, which means the next day really starts at 10 p.m. in California (so you don’t have to stay up till midnight to grab the first reservations).
The last bite: The Progress looks like it’s headed to the same frenzied success as State Bird Provisions, but with a larger space and more room on the plate for Brioza to interpret his California modern cuisine. While not every dish is successful (the pecorino “roti” with black truffle buttermilk had an off-putting fragrance from the sour buttermilk), many are satisfying and even dazzling.
The rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: The Progress, 1525 Fillmore St. (at Geary), San Francisco. PH: 415.673.1294. Open for dinner daily from 5:30 to 10 p.m. (till 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday). Reservations, major credit cards accepted. (Fixed six-course dinner for $65 per person.) theprogress-sf.com
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