When you live in a city with a big Chinese community like San Francisco, it is very likely you have tried dim sum. I often thought about why they didn’t serve dim sum with drinks in the evening, in the same way how Japanese izakaya, or Spanish tapas works. But apparently, something has been made very close to the idea. At one of the most essential restaurants in San Francisco, State Bird Provisions, they have been offering small but creative dishes served on dim sum trays and carts for diners to select from since 2012.
Helmed by husband-wife duo, Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski, the 2013 James Beard Award-winning restaurant has been a trend-setter in the Bay Area. They have adopted the old school dim sum service to showcase the best of the local produce and the world cuisines in such a fun and exciting way, which has achieved them the cult-like status among food lovers. With the success, they opened The Progress and The Workshop in the same building and continue to be innovative. As part of our foodie adventure, Areta (@foodgressing) and I were excited to check out the quirky spot, along with our foodie and photographer friend Will (@wdwphoto), an SF local.
The recently remodelled dining area was welcoming with the warm light fixtures. And it warmed my heart, even more, when I spotted the dim sum trays and carts, run by the server through the dining room. The trays are definitely more old-school. Before the carts were invented to save more manpower and to run the food more efficiently, using the trays is the only way to serve dim sum, which you could barely find nowadays even in China.
Feeling like we should try EVERY single dish, I grabbed something from very the first tray that came to our table, which was some garden greens served with a poached egg ($3). Dipping the leafy raw greens in runny egg yolk seemed a little odd way but somehow it worked. This is healthier and more exciting than eating your greens with mayo. Like a lot of the SF eateries, they are quite keen on featuring the seasonal local produce. The vegetables were beautifully prepared in the beet salad ($3), with beet served both raw and cooked for a fun contrast, and the grilled asparagus ($3), covered in a luscious but slightly nutty sauce.
Meat lovers wouldn’t be disappointed here. The pub fare like the chicken wings with a doenjang inspired sauce, the blistered octopus with jerk spices and habanero, and the Chinese-inspired pork ribs with black bean sauce and black garlic, all exhibited big bold flavours. And finally the pork belly and fruit salad impressed me with that crispy skin and the aroma from different herbs.
The hog island sweetwater oyster ($3 each) definitely deserves being presented on its own cart. By the way, they only have 3 food carts running in the dining room while most of the other dishes are served on the trays. The oyster was topped with kohlrabi kraut, the “it” locally grown vegetable at the moment, which later I found out from my little cousin who lives in the city. It is not unfamiliar to me. We refer it as “gai-lan head” in Cantonese for its round chubby stem and it is indeed a close family member to gai-lan and broccoli. The slightly pickled and finely sliced kohlrabi was delicate but firmer and crunchier than cucumber, bring a nice contrast to the soft and succulent little gems of oyster goodness.
For the dim sum-like dishes, the quinoa porridge ($10) doesn’t look exactly like the regular Cantonese congee, with a tasty broth extra creaminess from the ramen egg yolk, and the guinea hen dumpling ($3), surprisingly soft and delicate.
Diners can also order from the menu for the bigger plates. We chose one of each from their “Toast & Pancakes” and “Commandables” sections. While the red trout with toasted hazelnut-mandarin orange-garum vinaigrette ($23) was impressive with the perfectly cooked fish and nicely balanced flavours, the poppyseed buckwheat-beef tongue pastrami pancakes ($12) rocked our world with incredible colours, flavours and textures – definitely the highlight of the evening.
The dessert dishes we had gave us a glimpse of chef Nicole Krasinski‘s creativity. As the in-season huckleberry-pomegranate granita ($12) )was refreshing, the passion curd “ice cream” sandwich ($10) provided us with a sense of eccentric fun. It’s worth mentioning that the desserts can be ordered in half order, and we just did that because we were so full from ordering so many “dim sum” plates.
We used the same wine pairing strategy and picked a bottle of sparkling wine. Just to remember, dry bubbles always go with anything! And our Domaine de Vodanis Vouvray Brut ($49) was crisp and slightly citrusy, a palate refresher before having a bite on a new dish.
We had a lot of much fun here at State Bird Provisions. The dim sum style service rocked and it was a real treat. When there are folks who have to research and find out exactly what they want before visiting a new restaurant, this seems to be something much more exciting. After all a true shouldn’t be afraid to try anything. Keeping an open mind, I ended up liking everything I ate today. The only regret I have is that we didn’t’ get to taste the state bird, aka the quail dish. But I will come back here for it and hopefully more great surprises.
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State Bird Provisions
1529 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94115, USA
415-795-1272 or statebirdsf.com