This is The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
[Photo: Aubrie Pick]
State Bird Provisions is the very special restaurant marking the return of Rubicon vets Nicole Krasinski and Stuart Brioza to the San Francisco restaurant-scape. Since opening on New Years Eve, its 15 tables have very rarely sat empty. Remarkable, considering the owners aren't just trailblazing a less trafficked stretch of Fillmore Street. They're also serving much of their whimsical NorCal menu from carts inspired by dim sum. Mary Christie—who comes to State Bird by way of Chicago's respected Green Zebra and (now closed) Spring restaurants—is the friendly face at the door, helping diners navigate a totally new style of dining in one of the most packed spots in town to grab dinner.
7:30 p.m. on a Sat. night, what's the wait for a table? Every night is different but an hour to an hour and a half is typical for 7:30 on a Saturday.
Anything I can do to make my wait shorter? Being flexible is your best bet. If you're looking for a table and the wait is long, try dining at our counter or bar space instead. Or if you came looking for a counter spot and those are all filled, try the dining room if a table is available.
What's the longest wait you've ever seen? Our longest wait has been about 2 hours.
As the new hot shot on Fillmore St., you've surely been offered gifts or cash in exchange for reservations or a table. What have people tried? People try negotiating by telling us about a special event they're celebrating. Cash is the most common offering, but we never accept it. One evening, I quoted our wait time at about 45 minutes for a gentleman who checked in for a table. When I asked for his name, he said "can I give you something?" and pulled out his wallet. I objected politely but rather than pulling out cash, he offered a sticker of Bill Murray. It didn't get him a table any faster, but we were all pretty entertained.
Tell us about your favorite customers. We love seeing familiar faces from the neighborhood, but we also enjoy those diners who don't know what to expect. With such a unique service style, it can be a lot of fun to walk people through the experience of trying something that is totally new to them.
Who are your VIPS, and how do you deal with them when there are no tables to give?Frequent diners become our VIPs. We also see many chefs and somms from around the city. Our VIPs tend to be pretty patient because they know that with only 15 tables, we don't have a lot of flexibility. They often prefer dining at our counter space, and are usually happy to wait with a glass of wine until a space opens there.
Where are you eating when you're not at State Bird? It can be tough to get away, but I love the San Francisco dining scene. You'll find me most frequently at Nopa or Nojo.
Were there any reviews or write-ups that led to significant bump in service, or a change in type of clientele? We've been busy since we opened. With every review, our reservation book fills up further in advance. But this also means that we get same-day cancellations from people who might have booked several weeks ahead, so at times is can be easier to book same-day than a week ahead.
At the end of the day, what's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to get your job done? Definitely our staff. I could not do my job without everyone else doing theirs so expertly. Every member of our kitchen and service staff is dedicated, passionate, and very experienced. I know I can rely on them to work together to give the best experience to our guests.
Last but not least, what's the must-order thing on the menu right now? Pancakes! Chef Stuart has created a selection of savory pancakes that are stunningly delicious. And from the dessert menu, definitely try the ice cream sandwich. Chef Nicole varies the flavors regularly and this version is one of my favorites so far.