Whenever I have conversations with people about restaurants they love or want to try in San Francisco, State Bird Provisions always seems to come up. While the city has no shortage of highly rated dining options, I think State Bird comes across as one of the more accessible Michelin starred options in the area. I also think the fact that it’s pretty difficult to get a reservation adds to the hype, which ends up perpetuating the reservation difficulties. It’s a vicious cycle. 😛
Anyway, when my cousin told me she got a table for a random Wednesday evening, you can bet I jumped on board. I never say no to food. Or almost never.
Duck liver mousse. I honestly don’t remember what’s on the right.
State Bird serves their food dim sum style – taking each dish (called “provisions”) offered around from table to table using carts and trays. Unlike dim sum, the servers will thoroughly explain each dish when they bring it to your table. There are usually nine different offerings and three seafood for twelve dishes in total.
If you’re on the fence about any dish they bring around, know that they wont re-fire a dish until enough people ask for it again.
Peach, basil and white balsamic. Octopus. Ricotta and Beef Tongue Pancakes.
In addition to the provisons, they offer a menu of pancakes and toast (each order is meant as a single serving/bite) and commandables (meant to share). The most infamous of the commandables being the state bird with provisions (obv), which is offerd in both whole and half portions. The quail (state bird, if you didn’t get that :P) is served a little differently each time depending on what’s in season. Actually, the whole menu varies based on what’s in season. If you couldn’t tell, stone fruit was abundant while we were there. It made its way into everything!
Cart. Salmon Tartare. Oysters.
Speaking of the seasonal, ever-changing menu, State Bird’s style is very fresh and tends to highlight the raw, clean flavors of the ingredients. If you happen to have a dietary restriction, I’d recommend letting the servers know as soon as you arrive, if not as soon as you make your reservation. They do ask and with good reason. While we were there the couple next to us only took one or two items off the trays (in stark contrast to my cousin and me, who took everything). After a while, their main server noticed they had pretty much nothing on their table, after which they confessed that one of them didn’t eat any raw ingredients. The server was then able to direct them to items on the Pancakes and Commandables menu that would work for them or could be altered to remove the fresh garnishes. The lesson: always make sure the restaurant is aware of any possible dietary restrictions you or your party may have. I’ve found that restaurants of this caliber tend to be very accommodating. If you’re going to go through the effort to make a reservation at a Michelin starred restaurant (or wait in line!), I assume you want to eat the food, right? 😉
Beef. State Bird with Provisions. Fish. “Soup dumpling”.
Our favorite dishes of the night:
- Oysters – The toppings vary slightly each time. Our toppings added a bit of tang and crunch,which was a nice combo with the fresh, sweet oyster.
- Charred Octopus – So perfectly cooked and flavorful. This was at the top of both our lists.
- Beef Tongue & Horseradish Buckwheat Pancake – From the Pancakes menu (obv). The tongue was so tender and was perfectly proportioned with the pancake. Plus, I love horseradish.
- Salmon Tartare – While it doesn’t look like much, this may have been our favorite savory dish of the night, which was surprising for me since salmon is not a favorite of mine. The yuzu was just the perfect amount of sweetness and acidity, and the quinoa added a fun, crunchy texture.
- Lemon Ice Cream Sandwich – My favorite thing of the night! The lemon was the perfect balanceof tart and sweet, and the cookie part of the sandwich was made of soft yet chewy macarons. Such an awesome combination!
Pork belly. Maitake fried rice. Pearl couscous with house cured ham. Bacon custard.
Things that were misses:
Honestly, I kind of hate to write this section, but since our experience was very “this is awesome! this is…not awesome” I thought I should point out what disappointed us.
- Soup Dumplings – These were okay in flavor, but they weren’t soup dumplings. They were dumplings in soup. Not the same! (I notice that their current menu online has something called “dumplings in broth”, but our server definitely said “soup dumplings” when showing us these).
- Bacon Custart – I was so excited about this one, and it was so meh. The custard itself was very bland and barely flavored, so it almost had the feeling of eating unsalted, milky bacon fat. Not appealing.
- Burrata – Super disappointing, since I love burrata, but I felt the “garlic bread” servedwith the burrata was just too overwhelming for the delicate cheese. It just tasted like a soft, dense, garlic knot with cream, which might not be a bad thing if that’s what you want. I wanted to taste the burrata’s flavor and texture a bit more.
- Peach Granita – This one was borderline for me. The granita itself was really refreshing, andthe tapioca was a fun texture contrast. The problem was the smoked tea gelee. It was super strong and tasted just like liquid smoke turned into jello. If we ever got a bite of the granita with the gelee, the smoke overwhelmed the whole bite.
Overall, it was a fun experience, and I’m glad I finally got to try this place! While I did find the food hit or miss (some really great dishes mixed in with some just-okay ones), I thought the servers were all amazingly friendly and helpful. They were joking and cheering us all with our ridiculously overflowing table of food. Two girls ordering all the provisions plus a few extras off the menu? I didn’t realize how intense our table looked until the servers started telling us we were killing it. Then I looked around and saw how full our table was compared to everyone else’s. For the record, we did kill it. 😛
Anyway, I loved State Bird’s casual vibe, and the vintage schoolhouse thing they have going on. It was such a fun atmosphere – great for a group get together or a casual date. Not what I would call a romantic spot.
Lemon Ice Cream Sandwiches. Peach Granita.
- There is no sign outside State Bird. Look for the white door with the three circle windows pictured above to know you’re at the right spot.
- No reservations? A limited number of tables are reserved for walk-ins. Line up at least an hour before opening to try to snag one of these.
- Have a reservation? Don’t let the line outside the door scare you. If you’re there for the first seating, just stand near the door away from the queue. They’ll allow those with reservations to enter before those waiting for a walk-in table
- There’s no parking lot or valet, but there is plenty of street parking around! The meters will tell you if they’re active, so be sure to deposit money if needed!
Our food for two.
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