I have sauntered by State Bird Provisions (SBP) nearly 100 times before, whether passing by on my Japantown Tour, heading to the Kabuki Theater, or catching a show at The Fillmore Auditorium. Until recently, I never had the audacity to line up around 4:45pm and wait until the restaurant opened at 5:30 to have a really early dinner. Though revered since its opening, SBP’s popularity exploded when Bon Appetit Magazine rated it as the Best New Restaurant in America in 2012. No matter the day of the week, the time of year, or the dreariness of the weather, there is always a line at this hip eatery. There is a reservation system and in theory it is possible to book a table up to 60 days in advance. However, after persistently trying to book a reservation for over a year, literally for any time of day on any day, I had no success. I guess it did not surprise me when I later found out that a bunch of techies hacked the reservation system and made it impossible to grab a coveted seat.
So why is this place so hard to get a table at? After all, there are more restaurants in San Francisco per capita than any other city in the United States. Working in food tourism, I can attest to the fact that people plan their trips to San Francisco around their meals, and they book reservations for where they plan to eat out at months in advance. Secondly, food is a favorite pastime of those who live in SF. It is impossible to be in a room of people from SF without food coming up as a topic of conversation. So when people want to get together to meet their friends, oftentimes they go out to grab a bite. Thirdly, people in SF love to wait in lines. Check out my friend’s blog if you do not believe me.
Food politics aside, if you are so lucky to snag a table in the newly-expanded Provisions, you are in for a treat. SBP cooks “California cuisine”, meaning that they do their best to source local and organic ingredients. The servers keep those dining engaged throughout the meal because they walk around with carts or holding trays of those delectable, small-plated dishes. The one ingredient that always makes it onto the seasonal, rotating menu is the quail, which the restaurant appropriately takes its name after. Quails are ground-dwelling birds that bounce their plume of feathers that stick out forward from the top of their heads when walking around. In many ways, it seems wrong to eat the adorable state bird, but people in SF have no reservations in the name of tasty food. Smaller than a hen, but gamey like a duck, the chefs find versatile uses for the quail’s tender and dark meat. With a group of four people, we were able to taste many of the dishes that wove through the aisles.
Everything on the menu was prepared with finesse, great forethought, and had a well-balanced array of flavors. While I thoroughly enjoyed everything, a few dishes naturally stood out more than others. They always have a list of savory pancakes on their menu. My favorite dish was the smoked sturgeon “everything” pancake with a beet and horseradish condiment. I also loved the fried nori (seaweed) cracker with fresh sashimi on top. Almost too full for dessert, we shared a guava tres leches cake with chèvre crème fraîche and rhubarb & pistachio compote which oozed on top. With so many small plates of incredible food being whirled around, it is easy to say “yes” to everything which may make you remorseful when enumerating the plates collected for the final bill. All in all, this place does live up to the hype and is well worth checking out if you ever feel so ambitious.