Chef Kim Alter’s restaurant Nightbird opened its doors in Hayes Valley at the end of August, but it’s already ruffling some feathers (in a good way), earning three stars from SF Chronicle critic Michael Bauer in his Sunday review.
In a world of subway tiles and Edison bulbs, Bauer’s first impression is of a refined, serene space that recalls the interior of Quince’s first location in 2003. And after two years of hard work to complete construction, that praise is surely welcome, though Bauer’s next move was predictably to criticize the noise level (he gave it a BOMB rating), saying “With all the hard surfaces, the 37-seat dining room is as loud as any warehouse restaurant.”
Regardless, Bauer got down with the personal feeling of the restaurant, influenced by the fixed price menu ($125) and Alter’s attention to each dish leaving the kitchen. Bauer admired the constantly changing menu, though he declared a quail egg topped with brown butter aioli and caviar on a bed of fried leeks, a “dish so good it will likely become a signature.”
Though Bauer’s review was generally complimentary, a few criticisms made it past the goal post, including an awkward sports analogy comparing the elements of a dish to “five great basketball players who don’t work as a team.” Assuming that means the components didn’t play well together, Bauer felt that overall “each course is intricately conceived, featuring interesting combinations and techniques.”
Ever-changing bread service, including warm Parkerhouse rolls “swaddled” in burlap, and a beautiful course of mignardises sealed the deal for the critic. Bauer also noted that while service is “not yet as polished as it could be,” Alter’s immense talent includes knowing to bring in a front-of-house consultant at opening. “It seems apparent that once the crew settles in, Nightbird will soar.”
Ultimately Bauer concludes that “Alter is immensely talented, but it feels as if she may be intellectualizing rather than personalizing some combinations,” and “When she connects, as she did with some dishes, it is truly magical.”
Three stars for food, service and atmosphere.