Last night was a city night; a true night on the town with good friends. We were going all out. A double date with the wives at San Francisco's most talked-about and most difficult-to-book new eatery: State Bird Provisions. Our friends had been. We had not. They had lucked out with the reservation and invited us to join them. "OK, but you need to let us take you for drinks first," I declared. "And I know just the place if we're going all out."
I've said it before, I've said it again, and I'm going to state it once more for the record: Jennifer Colliau is a master bartender. She's not fancy, she's not arrogant, and she's not really doing anything weird or out of the box. She makes classic drinks that taste better than anyone else's classic drinks because she's more committed than any other bartender I've ever met. You want a Manhattan? Her Manhattan is better than any Manhattan you could ever make. You want a Gimlet? I guarantee you: you don't even know what's possible with a Gimlet until you try her version. My buddy Luke ordered the "Decanted Mother-in-Law", which came in its own little bottle. According to Jen, the cocktail dates back at least 150 years, but she doesn’t know the original name of the drink. It was inherited by Brooks Baldwin’s grandmother’s mother-in-law, and has since acquired that title in the annuls of cocktaildom. Apparently, decanters of this boozy mixture still sit on countertops in New Orleans, prepared in the morning so as to be ready for guests at a moment’s notice. It's made with bourbon, curacao, and amer with both Angostura and Peychaud's bitters.
We had about eight different drinks with Jen (our friends were just in complete awe) before saying our thanks and heading over to Fillmore for our dinner reservation. If you haven't been to the Interval yet, it's about time you made your way over to Fort Mason.
I'll put this out there as a primer: I'm not really someone who enjoys fancy food that much more than I enjoy something like pizza, or tacos, or a steaming bowl of noodles. However, it's for that reason that I completely fell head-over-heels for State Bird Provisions. I've talked about the modern way forward for booze as of late; a new era of alcohol that combines unpretentious, laid-back fun with supreme quality and execution. That's SBP in a nutshell. It's all California-style cuisine served in small portions, dim-sum style—meaning they bring carts and trays around to your table and you take what you feel like eating. Everyone is friendly, they greet you casually, they're happy to explain things further if you'd like them to, but ultimately they just want you to have a good time. They get an A+ for customer service.
You might think a place this popular would be outrageously expensive, but the prices per plate are often no more than three to five dollars. Much like with Jen's cocktails, there's nothing really new happening with the dishes here, it's just that the flavors explode in your mouth with each bite in a way that no one else's food does. I took a bite of black rice-covered pork with apple sauce and I almost dropped my fork in adulation. Same with the salmon belly, the ridiculous mussels in lemon and sesame, and the best oyster I've ever eaten with seaweed and crunchy quinoa as a topping. You are gonna have to shell out a bit for the wine, but they have magnums of Sancerre and German riesling on the list, which should keep four people busy for at least an hour or two. We did the Sancerre and managed to make it last the entire meal.
I'm also not a big dessert person, but the pecan ice cream sandwiches with peanut-flavored milk made my head spin. The recipes were reminiscent of David Chang's Milk Bar in Manhattan, which is great for West Coast fans like myself who don't want to fly 3,000 miles across the country to taste such delicacies. I left inspired and intoxicated, but never once did I feel stuffed or overfed. I just felt alive and excited about the possibilities for great food and drink in this world. "There are other people out there who fucking get it," I said to my wife as we left. "This place is everything I love about modern dining without any of the lame hang-ups or attitudes that usually go with it." The only problem was figuring out how to get back in!
"How do I get another reservation?" I asked the waitress as we left.
"You have to book via our website at least a month in advance, but every day there are people waiting for the next day's open tables. You have to be very dedicated and get to the webpage early," she replied.
"I'm very familiar with that process," I said with a laugh. State Bird is totally worth the effort required.