For a Dim Sum Dinner: State Bird Provisions
Hmm, does State Bird Provisions count as affordable? It depends on your appetite. The dim-sum style service makes it a great, interactive date spot (if you can get a reservation.)
[Photograph: Maggie Hoffman]
Veal-sweetbread polpette with blackened fig ($6)
Roast pork is ground up with beef, bread, pecorino, and parsley for the base of the meatball, with sweetbreads folded in; served with figs "we cook really hard in black butter—like brown butter, but until it goes black—with lots of black pepper and balsamic." I loved the dark richness those blackened figs brought, and quite liked the meatballs, but wouldn't have noticed the sweetbread in them; they contributed richness more than a discernible flavor. (But great meatballs nonetheless.)
Albacore tuna crudo and quinoa with bonito-rosemary aioli ($6)
Albacore tuna ("from our local waters") served raw, with quinoa both tender in the base of the salad and fried to a crunch for texture on top. A bonito rosemary aioli and dashi-poached chrysanthemum top it off—tuna through a Mediterranean slant and a Japanese one.
Chili spiced yuba, cucumber, parsley-almond ($5)
One of my favorite dishes, simply due to the novelty of the sort of Southern Italian take on tofu skin; "It's tofu meets Calabria," says Brioza. The marinade starts with fermented chilies, with tomato, fennel, coriander, lemon, and garlic; that's tossed with cucumber and handfuls of mint, in which the yuba, from Hodo Soy in Berkeley, "just marinates all day until the mint and cucumbers break down." A parsley-almond pesto adds a bright Mediterranean crunch.
Pork belly with tofu and kimchi ($9)
"It's our take on a pork belly jjigae," says Brioza. Tender, fatty pork belly and tofu with "kimchi we make and fermented wax beans."
Pork pate flatbread
An orange-fennel buttermilk cracker topped first with a tomato confit and marinated chanterelles. The pork? "I spice and slow-cook pork butt with more pork fat and a ton of spices overnight, and then grind it all; it's kind of like a pork rillette."
King salmon deviled egg salad ($8)
"We cure the salmon in a light gravlax style and grind it, flavor it with shallots, chives, and horseradish oil," while the egg is drizzled in a sauce of mayonnaise, lemon, and buttermilk; it's topped with pickled peppers dehydrated and sprinkled over the top. "Essentially, we're deviling the egg, with all the ingredients there... you chop it up, eat it all together."
Eggplant ‘fries’, sungolds and pimenton ($6)
One of the simpler dishes but one of the most memorable: crisply fried eggplant wedges with a pimentón aioli and a sungold tomato relish. "Think of a dill pickle, that sort of classic brine—we dill pickle green tomatoes" and make a salsa with sherry vinegar, olive oil, basil, and pickled red onions.
Steak tartare with pickled onions and roasted shishitos ($8)
Prather Ranch steak chopped up with a "mustardy vinaigrette," with pickled onions and roasted shishitos, a red pepper puree underneath.
Sweet corn and garlic chive “shortstack” with mt. tam ($7)
It's a sourdough pancake batter that's also leavened with baking powder. They're packed with plump corn kernels, griddled with clarified butter to give 'em superior golden-brown edges, and then layered with the triple-cream Mt. Tam cheese from Cowgirl Creamery. A corn puree finishes off the plate. I love State Bird's small-plates approach to a menu, but if a bigger version of these guys ever appeared on a brunch menu, I'd annihilate them.
Local boquerones, yeasted-sesame pancake, creme fraiche ($8)
An airy, brioche-like yeasted pancake "with lots of egg yolk and butter," encrusted in sesame seeds and "cooked slowly on the griddle as it rises." On top perch California white anchovies that they pickle, "our version of boquerones"—briny, sweet, and delicate. You can see why they have a pancake section.
Whipped haas avocado with seafood ‘salsa’ ($9)
A cold "salsa" of seafood with a fresh, lively heat over whipped avocado was one of the most memorable dishes. "We steam mussels and clams; we poach shrimp and scallops with lemon, salt, jalapeño, garlic, ginger, cilantro, and mint, and then we let them cool in that liquid and throw everything together." The tomatoes are local Early Girl tomatoes, which Brioza actually canned—"We like the texture and the flavor better"; a roasted jalapeño yogurt finishes it off.
Garlic bread with burrata ($8)
What's better than burrata on bread? Burrata on fried bread. Brioza makes a sourdough dough a day or two beforehand, "which improves the flavor," before layering it with a sweet garlic puree, "pulling it, brushing on the garlic, folding it, brushing it, and then frying it." That's later broiled, "heaped with a big ol' spoonful of burrata."
CA state bird with provisions ($8)
The restaurant's signature dish: buttermilk-marinated quail, whose crust combines oil-toasted bread crumbs and pepita crumbs as well as spiced flour ("I wanted a lot of texture in the dredging"). It sits over a bed of "sweet and sour onions," stewed in butter, lemon, and rosemary for several hours "until they just melt." The crisp fried quail is remarkable, but it really says something that the onions might be even better. Part of the fun of State Bird is that unexpected elements can really carry a dish.
Salmon, mandarin, hazelnut-garum brown butter ($11)
Salmon crusted with toasted rice powder with a brown butter garum (fish sauce), various spices and aromatics, and mandarins and toasted hazelnuts to top. I loved the rich-pungent garum brown butter and how it clung to the herbs and greens, but found that there wasn't enough of it to fully flavor the dish; the last number of bites of salmon just tasted like unadorned salmon.
Glazed pork ribs with swiss chard, togarashi ($10)
Fabulous, remarkably juicy ribs we could've eaten ten times this portion of. "I cook them old-school, like your mom would, seasoned up with salt and pepper, wrapped in foil with garlic and rosemary, and I use Meyer lemon, and then I let them just steam in that package." It's glazed with its own juices, reduced, and the chard is cooked in those juices on the plancha. Togarashi tops it off.
Plum jam ‘ice cream’ sandwich, cocoa nib macaron ($8)
The "ice cream" is made as a semifreddo, with damson plum jam folded in; it's sandwiched by a cocoa powder macaron-style crust with cocoa nibs sprinkled around it. "With the macaron crust, it's also gluten-free."
Cheesecake japonaise, apple confit, gooseberries ($8)
"We fold a cheesecake batter in with a meringue, so it's super airy and fluffy," Brioza tells us. A slow-cooked apple confit is spooned over, gooseberries and sesame seeds to finish.