Sunday, March 23, 2014

State Bird Provisions - San Francisco, Ca.

State Bird Provisions on UrbanspoonAs we closed what had been quite an eventful year of cases with well over 120 fine establishments investigated in 2013 (with only a small handful of those opined on thus far here on these pages) I can attest that we have seen both the heights and the depths of the hospitality trade and have done so in locales all across these fine United States.

To be frank, many of our visits involved high levels of anticipation and (for the most part - per Newton's First Law) that anticipation has been met in equal force by the delivery of exemplary service, exquisite taste, welcoming comfort, and festive ambiance…not to mention the ubiquitous yet altogether necessary (and desperately appreciated) containment of costs in the end.
Quickly designed orders laid in wait -
before a street side window no less!


Rare has it been, thus far, where Watson and I have been utterly disappointed by any visit for it is my predilection to always try to see the good in most culinary efforts and to acknowledge the difficulty in assembling the many harmonious pieces needed to conduct a stellar epicurean operation. Not easy machinations these!

I say, show me the tremendous effort required and attention to detail to the last and I will  envision the Herculean struggle rendered and call it out forthwith - and will do so in spades!

When confronted periodically, however, with those merely mundane efforts, which may be quite satisfactory for that perfunctory outing (which we both attempt to avoid whenever possible-life is too short I say), as well as those visits ephemerally described as 'poor', reviews are simply squelched here altogether with a terse 'avoid' and we rightly move on - all the while continuing to maintain our generally good food disposition. 

[Tho let it not be said that we would  shirk our responsibilities in any way if an establishment represented a danger to those in the general populace with their offerings - a loquacious cease and desist would certainly be issued hence although I have only done so once!]
Hand Pulled Garlic Burratta - $8

Now rarest of all is that visit which immediately separates itself from all others, where the singular morsel placement into one's mouth transports that gifted recipient to a higher gastronomic plane of existence, where the ability to triangulate, cross-reference, and compare that experience is simply rendered moot as there IS no comparison to anything else ever auditioned…..it has simply not been done before and therefore no comparison exists! The flavors, the tastes, the simplicity of the dishes, the nuance, all working together - they quickly ameliorate a transcendental gap so large that it astonishes any participant at once to it's size.


Here make no mistake, State Bird Provisions is such a place.

It was way back in December of 2013, with a singular weeks' worth of travel taking me on grueling cases from Toronto, Rochester, Denver, and then finally San Francisco before a final stop in Sonoma, CA (on an undercover assignment at Infineon Racetrack), I knew that I would need to rely on some well placed and trusted associates for help in order to attempt a successful San Francisco sojourn. 

Calling on an old friend, The Esteemed High Princess Abigail, formerly of the Harbor of Palm, and her most resilient and trusted partner The Honorable Lady Ferris, the gambit at first appeared to be a simple one……... secure a reservation at State Bird Provisions two months in advance and allow us to reminisce with one another in glory and in peace. Given the time allotted, surely we would find our place. Oh, how foolish we were at first!

Initial attempts at securing reservations were for naught as the digital reply from the usual suspects of web reservations services was a terse: 
'There are no reservations available at this time'

which was immediately curious for the blatant fact of the matter was that we hadn't yet entered any dates or times at all! This was  tangentially very reminiscent of the late NY Mayor Ed Koch's street signs erected in NYC in yesteryear: 


'Don't even THINK of parking here!'

So imagine my surprise when day-of-visit reservations to State Bird Provisions were successfully secured by Lady Ferris tho only by physically arriving at the front door at 4 PM, 1 hour prior to opening, to secure one of the coveted and apparently clandestinely available 'open' tables on a first come first served basis. (And even at the 4:00 pm hour a line was already 30 minutes in the making.)

Lobster Salsa Salad $14
State Bird Provisions, SBP herewith, can be found at 1529 Fillmore St., and it seems only fitting then that this single most legendary dining experience of our professional purview would be in such close proximity to the legendary 'Fillmore West Music Hall' located not 50 meters away on the corner of Fillmore and Geary streets (a remnant of the great 'Fillmore West' of legend with such fantastical happenings as 'The Allman Brothers, Live at Fillmore West, as well as hundreds of shows produced by the musical legend Bill Graham whose historical musical effects can still be sorted, sifted, and ultimately purchased directly at www.wolfgangsvault.com.)

The Fillmore District (or the 'Western Addition' - that area 'West' of downtown San Francisco that was 'Added to' in the 1800's) is an area rife with history and ambiance and possesses an aura in local eutony of 'groovy feelings' - and is a spectacularly fine choice for the domicile of such an outstanding eclectic hashery.

SO it was that on a brisk and rainy Friday night I headed directly to  Fillmore and Geary from SFO where Her Highness, having already arrived, met me at the door and squired me to our table and the awaiting Lady Ferris. The throng of other prospective diners forlornly lining the foyer also caught my attention for they waited, standing with mouths agape, for the unheard of 'no-show' or the sudden availability of even a lone counter seat. 

Smoked Trout Creamed Beets, $7
Unlike some of my previous investigative reports, this one will not spend any time on the confines of the enclave itself - the layout and seating, the lighting, the wall decor, no none of that. For whatever benefits these areas bestow, and they were indeed intriguing, they are surely side shows to the grand festival that awaits you and for which you will need to keep your wits about you….the food experience itself!

With a nod towards my previous acknowledgement, remember that when comparing entire establishments and offerings it is sometimes only natural to take the benefactions of one and compare it's taste and execution to a similar minded serving from another, weighing the benefits and attributes of each and notching a mental vote on where one might stack up against another.

In a fine Italian restaurant for example, a fellow investigator I know from Scotland Yard has been known to compare the dessert of a well made tiramisu and render an entire opinion based on that single selection. Another constable uses Hungarian Goulash as a barometer on all Eastern European quarters….. and in each case what is thus attempted is the firm and verifiable establishment of a comparative baseline, a launching pad from which to offer a verdict.

Tastes that all arrived before our first order was delivered!
Yet it is this very attempt that makes SBP exemplary for it is unpretentiously beyond compare. There are no offerings in all my years that can be placed alongside those proffered here for balance and rendering. These dishes are seemingly concocted from the minds of a gastronomic Salvador Dali, one whose final product might conjure up the same fanciful and fantastic imaginings with equally outlandish and surrealistic taste results.

And as MOST of our adventures begin, yet particularly in this case, the call for adult beverages was immediately in order. My ordinarily robust thirst for mead was however quickly confronted with a mere triumvirate of draught beers! Three! With two of these choices being an Allagash Stout and a Port Brewing Wipeout IPA....both choices not ordinarily found in my bailiwick. So with an additional peripheral glance at the following verbiage on the menu: "All wines and beers are carefully chosen for their balance and versatility to accompany the ever-changing menu..." I threw myself into the final selection: The Linden Street, Urban People's Common Lager. Being more accustomed to the inner working minds and travails of the working man made this choice almost serendipitous.

Her Highness Abigail chose the clean and elegant Abbaye St. Hilaire, Le Prieur Rose which would surely allow for the enjoyment of the soon to ensue lengthy dialogue. Lady Ferris, perhaps maintaining her demure disposition opted for a Tascante Sparkling Wine with it's delightful and diminutive  effervescence.

Cucumber Tapioca with Red Trout Caviar-$??
The fairly small and  (initially!) limited menu is at first distracting with its 'Is this all there is?' wonderment. But no matter... it's pedigree allowed us to grant it the necessary space and we presumed to make do with what we have been given.

With our now properly sated thirst we thus turned our full attention to this folded, half page menu printed on a thick page of kraft-type papier which propounded only three small yet seemingly delectable categories and their brief observances (said observances listed here only for no descriptions are provided in print...)

Pancakes - those small starter dishes, either wrapped in or involving a dough of some kind, which can then be eaten by hand or cut and shared; 

Commandables - more substantial 'small' plates, with some served in both small and somewhat larger offerings, which I naively assumed were 'entrees' (the Common Lager beginning to work the magic of the Urban People no doubt) and then

Desserts - which I mistakenly examined only cursorily but upon closer review presented mixtures and textures described in a way that gave the appearance as to be from another solar system entirely!

With a seemingly thorough (and as it turns out naive) grasp of the menu and believing our orders of a Sourdough Pancake and an order of Pork Spare Ribs would allow for some mental breathing room and some much needed catchup time with my esteemed guests, it soon became apparent that this diminutive matrix of dishes falsely lulled us into a relaxed mental state for it was at this very moment that ALL of our faculties were most required!


Soon arriving table-side (completely unannounced mind you!) began a semi-frequent procession of hip, effusive, and attentive waitpersons introducing the much more difficult variable of special 'non-menu' dishes drummed up by the kitchen and brought dim sum style and sold then and there table side.

Pork Spare Ribs with shichimi togarashi
glazed in their own juices with sautéed kale and green onions - $10
It was in this way that a scrumptious looking Lobster Salsa Salad ($14) pronouncedly found it's way onto our table, followed fairly quickly by a bevy of Raw Oysters with Spicy Kohlrabi Kraut and Sesame ($3 ea), as well as an altogether unrecognizable dish of 'Smoked Trout Creamed Beets' ($7) long before our originally ordered Sourdough and Spare Ribs were anywhere near arriving. 

This, yes, THIS is where the challenge truly begins for with no printed guide to aid in our discovery, and a slowly relaxing memory due to both extensive travel and the welcome and steady intake of alcohol, the three of us were soon enraptured in the swirling tastes and aromas delivered.....and most happily so!

And it was with that first bite, that first delectable taste of the Lobster Salsa Salad, that a sudden bolt of lightning coursed thru the synapses of my culinary mind and upon turning to exclaim such an event to my beautiful guests I was confronted by the same mirror- like site in their eyes as if to say 'Am I truly tasting what I am tasting or am I just dreaming?'

These first few morsels, pulling us into another realm, were then deliciously savored over with a slowness that belied the extraordinary measure of frenzy taking place on the palate.

Charred Octopus w/ Tomato-Chickpea Salsa
and Pork Belly and Grape Salad w/ Mint Sprigs
The next dish to 'suddenly' arrive was taken as a lark, a bet on the come if you will based simply on the results of those first initial Lobster Salsa bites', imagining our conjoined mindset as "If the first dish was THIS astounding, what else do they have here and how quickly can we get it to this table"!

So irregardless that 'Cucumber Tapioca with Red Trout Caviar' was not precisely what one might have envisioned as an otherworldly second taste, there it was placed serenely before us awaiting our judgement.

But with one small yet beguiling tidbit it was as if the burning fuse to a gastronomic rocket had been lit. The visible orbs swirled, the mind melted, the taste buds began to dance and while maintaining one's sense the whole dish was quickly pushed across the table to my guests for corroboration of this heady indulgence...... with the resulting glances all but confirming that something indeed special was taking place - and one we would not soon forget!

Then finally(!) arriving table side (in under 10 minutes mind you) were our original two 'testing' choices. The 'burratta', as it was described upon delivery, was astounding in it's presentation as well as in its taste yet it was not listed on the menu as a 'burratta' but as 'Sourdough with sauerkraut, pecorino, and ricotta cheese with a light lemon drizzle and peppercorn'. So again, it is imperative to keep your faculties clear or definitively risk losing your way in this swirl of flavor!


Another surprise awaiting delivery
to the next unsuspecting guests!
And yet still the menagerie continued! Miss Abigail secured a delightfully diminutive Pork Belly and Grape Salad with Mint Sprigs that demonstrably soared in it's deliciousness,  with it's delivery accompanied by a crucible of Charred Octopus with a Tomato-Chickpea Salsa that, while not appealing to the palates of my delightful guests, was exceedingly well received by this investigator and deemed both scrumptious and worthy of a second helping!

The mirth of the evening was in high swing and our original pangs were pleasantly lessened with each subsequent and ultimately vanishing nibble and yet there was something viscerally amiss, something that had Lady Ferris nearly flummoxed into a twitter. 

What was it I wondered?

 After a careful study of the surroundings along with the nearly frantic twitching of The Lady it became apparent to me that the true desire of this nervous Nellie was the anticipation of the lusciously described desserts on the menu, for which she had apparently been pining for since she arrived at 4 PM!

Truth be told it was Princess Abigail, who no doubt had witnessed such a display before, who had tipped me off to the longing glances of her friend towards the sugary concoctions. Quickly looking to remedy this anxiety, we all agreed to 'share' our dessert choices (the Princess and myself already heady over the primary amalgamation of food sensations) leaving the choices to Lady Ferris - and she did not disappoint.

Soon bestowed to the table (and somewhat demurely ignored by myself and the Princess) Lady Ferris was soon in a swan song over a Bittersweet chocolate ganache tart with brown sugar-oat crust with olive oil and creme fraiche ($8), her glucosian pleasure evident by the joy on her face and slackening tension in her frame.



Perhaps it was the variety of tastes, the dizzying choices with even more bewildering deliveries, or perhaps the effervescence of reconnecting again with old friends after so much time. Whatever the cause, it was enough to keep a photo from being taken of the final dessert of spiced quince granita with ginger tapioca, grapes, and mint ($8), which, while regretful to not have captured such a delicacy was made an almost non-event by the visual explosion awaiting us in the parking garage.




This behemoth of a vehicle caused one to question whether the vertiginous aura felt was indeed factual or an image proceeding from an overwhelmed sense of satisfaction...... either way, there was no questioning the delight of both automotive and gastronomic for this was an event for the ages and one that should we look forward to again for the menu, as misleadingly small as it is, is updated thru the seasons and those items I've just described may already be semi-retired for newer more unbelievable tastings!

GO QUICKLY! This game is surely afoot and should be caught!