The ideal culinary couple, chef Stuart Brioza and pastry chef Nicole Krasinski, last cooked for the public at Rubicon until Francis Ford Coppola sold it in 2008.
But their luminous dinners made such an impression, their patrons swept them up for private events. When I ran into Brioza at the farmers market over the years, he seemed in no hurry to return to a restaurant. They traveled, had a baby, did ceramics and fooled around in the kitchen.
Finally one day, Brioza told me they had a project. Not unexpectedly, it sounded wacky, unworkable and uncompromisingly creative. Now we have State Bird Provisions, a complete original and one of the most exciting restaurants to open in San Francisco.
State Bird is a cook’s restaurant, one where whimsical and exquisite small dishes emerge from the open kitchen at the front on carts and trays, like dim sum, unfettered by a menu. The wait staff parade them through a tight, spare dining room, stopping at each table.
As the raw things skim by, take just one tiny dish of pickled anchovies ($2) on coriander cream, a bite for each of you. Take one Drake’s Bay oyster on the half-shell ($2) apiece, garnished with lightly cured daikon pickle, the rare addition that actually complements a raw oyster.
Pace yourself for savory-meets-pastry collaborations such as a pouf of duck liver mousse with warm coins of buttery almond biscuit, teasingly sweet to match the bashful tartness of the paté.
Fabulous flatbreads, scattered with toasted seeds, come with piles of juicy braised oxtail ($9). Look for squid stuffed with carnitas ($7), which, along with accompanying chicories, are flavored with fire from the grill. You never know what will turn up from night to night. You may find none of these.
A few larger dishes must be ordered, such as the namesake state bird itself, the California quail — deep fried and juicy in a tasty crunchy crust, atop a tart confit of onions and lemon balanced by the buttery salt of shaved Parmesan ($8 half; $16 whole). It’s the only dish on the menu every night, and you must have it at least once.
Braised beef cheeks ($18) served in a deep pottery bowl — with whole cooked baby radishes with their greens, in a sauce enriched with bone marrow topped by crinkly fried nettles — is a product of the farmers market, a dish to build a meal on.
When you are too full to look at another passing cart, the gamine touch of Krasinski turns dessert, even if it’s just a shot of peanut muscovado milk ($2), into a digestif.
Two balls of frozen sabayon ($6) — one scented with pear brandy, the other with long pepper — nestle at the bottom of a snifter scattered with pear and bits of shattering chocolate wafer, complex yet refreshing.
This radiant food, so sensually surprising, makes me want to eat here until I’ve tried every single dish imagined by these two artists. I’m thankful that no one, including the cooks themselves, knows how long that will take.
State Bird Provisions
Location: 1529 Fillmore St. (between Geary and O’Farrell streets), S.F.
Contact: (415) 795-1272; www.statebirdsf.com
Hours: 6 to 10 p.m. daily except to 11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays and closed Tuesdays
Price range: $2 to $18
Recommended dishes: Deep-fried quail, carnitas-stuffed squid, beef cheeks with radishes, duck liver mousse with financiers, clamwich, frozen sabayon, peanut muscovado milk
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