State Bird Provisions is the hot new restaurant with a name that doesn’t sound like a restaurant. Still, people have been flocking here partly because of the food by Co-Owner/Chef Stuart Brioza and partly because of its unique food trays and carts simulating a dim sum tea house.
More on the food later. Let’s talk about the concept.
The beautiful restaurant in the Fillmore District was nearly filled when I arrived on a Saturday night with my friends David and Ann, who made the reservations and invited me to join them. The front of the space showcases the long open kitchen, churning out small plates that are then delivered to the tables mostly by servers carrying trays but occasionally pushing a cart.
Chef Brioza prepares roughly a dozen dishes that parade around the room, and the servers make sure you’ve tried every dish, or at least hear about them. A funny thing, though, I found that when the servers hear that you already tried a dish, they move along. When eating dim sum, families often will get two or three servings of their favorites dishes – they never let a favorite dish pass by.
The space doesn’t bustle like a dim sum house, although it’s just as packed. Maybe because most people are busy marveling at the dishes.
The dishes circulating the room are inventive and some elegantly plated. Some of my favorites were a seafood tortilla salad with shrimp and scallops that had something like a cocktail sauce added to it, another was the broccoli with nuts sprinkled on top. Ironically, while the concept is supposed to resemble dim sum, I found it hard to share some of the dishes.
One of them was a lovely casserole of kim chi pork belly with tofu and clams ($9), but it was like a stew. Ideally it’s easier to eat by yourself because how do you share soup unless you have extra bowls at the table.
Other dishes didn’t click for me, like many of the mousse or whipped fish such as the smoked salmon mousse or whipped smoked trout ($7).
Along with dishes that come around the tables, there are a few items on the menu that you can order. David wanted to try the ginger-scallion pancake with Mendocino sea urchin ($12), and I’m never one to pass up on uni. But he didn’t like the strong flavor of the soy-lime sauce used to top the pancake, while I enjoyed it. (I didn’t like the use of raw sprouts, though.)
I also enjoyed the cumin lamb ($14), which on the menu said came with scallions and snap peas, but the greens tasted just like the Chinese ong choy. I loved the strong flavor of the lamb and the crunchy ong choy, but there was too much oily sheen for my taste (as you can see for yourself in the photo at the very top of this post).
Brioza’s wife, Nicole Krasinsky, is the pastry chef and takes care of the dessert menu. But we decided that we would go somewhere else for dessert.
Still, Ann is a fan of chocolate pudding, so David ordered the double chocolate pudding ($5) with gianduja crunch. It came in a little shell, and really looked like an individual serving than something you could share. The pudding was creamy but it overwhelmed by the fresh blackberries and gianduja crunch.
While I enjoyed trying the various dishes, just like dim sum you can run the risk of spending a lot without knowing it. With most of the dishes running between $6 to $9, dinner could get pricey when you try most of the plates. We ended up spending close to $150 (excluding drinks) for three people and we didn’t leave feeling especially full.
The dim sum concept is creating a lot of buzz for State Bird Provisions, and some of the dishes are really worth trying. But the small portions and high prices make repeat trips to this restaurant an expensive proposition.
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
State Bird Provisions, 1529 Fillmore St. (near Geary), San Francisco. PH: 415.795.1272, Open for dinner from 6 p.m. Mon.–Thu., and from 5:30 p.m. from Fri.–Sat. Closed Sunday. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. statebirdsf.com
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