I started hearing about State Bird Provisions in 2012 but – as I spent a good part of that year living under rock - did not make the pilgrimage until last spring. It was not until I started chatting with chef/owner Stuart Brioza a few nights ago that I realized he was the same chef Stuart (my dad’s name so it is hard to forget) at Rubicon who garnered quite a bit attention even though the restaurant eventually closed.
State Bird won the 2013 James Beard Award for Best Restaurant so I don’t need to go on about the food as this honor speaks for itself. However, part of what distinguishes a great restaurant from one that just has very good food is the wine program and it is so refreshing to see a place that has an intelligently chosen yet not pretentious list. Credit here is due to Marc Glassberg, formerly of Quince and Gary Danko, for getting it so right.
Smaller list are the way to go and with just about 45 selections, this is a manageable collection, not just for the customers but also for the staff who can help you make a choice without spewing a bunch of bullshit or regurgitating what a wine rep told them to say at a training. At the same time, it is geographically and stylistically diverse yet there is not a gratuitous selection; every single pick goes with the food. Honestly sustainable and organic viticulture is practiced by nearly every producer who graces the list but it is not filled with as many of the usual suspects that are found in a lot of the trendy spots.
Highlights? I had a glass of La Cigarrera Manzanilla ($7) while waiting for my friend, prompting me to make a mental note to drink and write about sherry more in 2014. By the time she arrived, not five minutes later, I was on the 2011 Rippon Vineyards Osteiner ($11), a cross between Riesling and Sylvaner. I’ve had this wine before and it is delightfully odd. It may not be for everyone on its own as it has a slight, grapefruit like bitterness but it is an astonishing match with the Smoked Trout ‘Creamed’ Beets.
Without going into everything I tasted, here’s the word. There are enough wines by the glass so that you can try different things with the variety of dishes. I’d actually recommend this as the BTG offering is in no way inferior to the rest of the list. If you are with a large group and want to get some bottles, you can look forward to the likes of the 2010 Foreau Vouvray, 2010 ($64) or 2007 Pietranera Brunello di Montalcino ($94), and others that range in price from $40 to $220.
What would make State Bird’s wine list even better? I don’t think they need to go heavy on older wines as the cuisine matches the vibrancy of younger wines best however a few mature Rieslings would be a good addition.
Also, while the by the glass pricing is more than fair, some of the bottle mark-ups are on the high side. Restaurants work on tight margins and often rely on alcohol sales for a large part of their revenue. When you are only serving wine and beer it is even tougher so I’m willing to forgive. Also, State Bird Provisions is not an especially pricy joint. I spent a good chunk of change but not as much as I have in other places where I’ve left feeling hungry and underwhelmed.
So, if you have yet to make it to State Bird Provisions and are thinking that it may not be worth the hype, it is. In spite of the long wait and reservation back up, you will find that it is really a modest place. In actuality, I’d come here just to drink if it were not for the food being so fucking phenomenal.
State Bird Provisions
1529 Fillmore Street, SF 94115 (Geary and O’Farrell)
Sun – Thur: 5:30 – 10 p.m.
Fri & Sat: 5:30 – 11 p.m.