The Progress Report

Who would have ever imagined kiwi and ricotta would make such a magical dish?

Who would have ever imagined kiwi and ricotta would make such a magical dish?

 

How do you follow-up a smash-hit restaurant that proved a game-changer in the dining world?

If you’re Chef-Owners Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski of the red-hot, James Beard Award-winning State Bird Provisions in San Francisco, you do it with The Progress, which opened next door in December.

The Progress was originally going to be the couple’s first restaurant. But when they realized the extensive renovations the former movie house and century-old building would require, they wisely decided to open the smaller State Bird Provisions first in 2012.

That restaurant brought to bear the age-old concept of dim sum-style service to an eclectic array of global small plates — a concept now copied by others on the heels of State Bird’s success.

An overhead view from the mezzanine.

An overhead view from the mezzanine.

The open kitchen at the back of The Progress.

The open kitchen at the back of The Progress.

Whereas State Bird grabs hold of your attention by parading the majority of its dishes out into the dining room on carts or trays for you to see before you choose what to eat, The Progress is wrapped in a little more mystery and requires a peaceful consensus among your table mates.

When you sit down, you are handed the menu, as well as pencils. That’s because the dishes are served family-style, and your party has to agree on which they will be. Check off the six dishes (at $65 per person) you want, and hand the menu back to your server. You can add an extra dish — such as dessert — for an additional $10 per person.

The three of us — we paid our tab at the end of the meal — sat on the mezzanine level of the soaring, narrow restaurant with its striking shiny, curved ceiling. Texture is everywhere in this restaurant — from the exposed lath walls to the steel columns to the bronze, beehive cell-like floors.

Do take time to check out the bathrooms, too, which are painted with 250 pounds of glitter. It’s like being in your own private disco.

The Sunny Jim.

The Sunny Jim.

The amuse platter.

The amuse platter.

Dinner always starts with a platter-size amuse bouche. This evening, it included fried gnocchi that were nearly molten oozy inside, paper-thin jerk chicken jerky, cured coho salmon, radishes with butter, parmesan-rosemary crackers, and creamy squab liver mousse.

Another great beginning are the cocktails. The Sunny Jim ($11) would make even the darkest night a little brighter with its blend of gin, lemon, vanilla, pineapple, soda and fragrant kaffir lime.

The menu’s descriptions of the dishes are minimalist. So much so, that you might easily bypass something extraordinary just because the short descriptor didn’t grab you. That’s how we felt about the “local kiwi with super-fresh ricotta, almonds & pickled sunchokes.” We all agreed it wasn’t something we would have raced to get just from seeing it on the menu. But a recent review by the Chronicle restaurant reviewer Michael Bauer raved about that dish, so we had to try it.

It was amazing — voluptuous house-made ricotta tasting of sweet milk is a lovely foil for tropical kiwi. Fried crisp bits of rosemary and tart-nutty sunchokes make sure this doesn’t taste like breakfast.

“Shaved romanesco-herbs with pig fries” is a tangle of crunchy greens and romanesco cauliflower showered with fried strands of crisp pig’s ears. If all salads were like this, more Americans would eat them.

You'll end up fighting for the last fried shards of pig's ears.

You’ll end up fighting for the last fried shards of pig’s ears.

A comforting plate of squash wedges.

A comforting plate of squash wedges.

“Black butter butternut squash with caramelized onion and Swiss chard” brought wedges of roasted squash, their sweetness complimented with a lick of umami thanks to the black butter.

“Polpette of rabbit and pork with blood orange and castelvetranos” were thick, juicy slices of sausage enlivened by citrus that we couldn’t get enough of.

Sensational rabbit and pork sausage.

Sensational rabbit and pork sausage.

A different take on roti.

A different take on roti.

“Pecorino roti with black truffle buttermilk” was a much richer version than what you might be used to from Thai or Singaporean restaurants. The golden roti had a crisper texture and a buttery flavor rather than the traditional lighter, multi-layered version.

The "Treasure Chest.'' Wait for it, wait for it...

The “Treasure Chest.” Wait for it, wait for it…

A final flourish -- and now, it's ready to enjoy.

A final flourish — and now, it’s ready to enjoy.

“Treasure Chest” is Brioza’s multi-cultural take on war won ton soup — without the won tons — our server explained. A deep bowl is brought to the table, containing little treasures: pillowy fish quenelles, sausage slices with an unexpected vinegar tang from being fermented, pickled cabbage leaves, and chewy, sweet pumpkin mochi balls. The server arrives to pour a hot pork broth over it all.

It’s like nothing you’ve ever had before. Deeply porky like a good ramen broth, but caressing contents that are totally surprising, almost whimsical in nature. But when put together, it all somehow works.

For dessert, we honed in on the pineapple confit tart with guava-ginger cream and pink peppercorns. Soft, caramelized pineapple is always hard to resist, especially when snuggled in a perfect little pastry round. Fresh chervil leaves over the top added a burst of subtle licorice to the tropical palate.

Pineapple tart.

Pineapple tart.

After sensing our interest, our server also brought a small sample of the bitter cocoa sorbet on the menu. It’s intensely chocolatey with a little pool of caramel at the very bottom for just the merest hit of sweetness. Celery leaves, cocoa nibs and candied buddha’s hand make it all pop with texture, tartness and a whole lot of savoriness.

An almost savory chocolate sorbet.

An almost savory chocolate sorbet.

Of course, the question on everyone’s mind is: So, how does The Progress compare to State Bird Provisions?

It’s quite good. The flavors are again unexpected, though maybe a little more subtle here.

It’s a different animal. But just like its forebearer, it is the hottest ticket in town.

StateBird3

More: My Dinner at State Bird Provisions

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8 comments

  • โ€œShaved romanesco-herbs with pig friesโ€ sounds wonderful! San Francisco really has probably the best cooking (restaurant-wise) in the country. So many inventive things. Really good review — thanks.

  • The Treasure Chest looks tempting. The pig fries, however, are what I’ll be ordering there!

  • Interesting to see you trying some dishes that I didn’t get, so now I know what I missed. I’m thinking maybe we should have ordered the “Treasure Chest”? I agree the menu is not very descriptive, but our server was really good about explaining everything and I think he steered us in the right way for many of the dishes. I’m jealous that you got to sit in the mezzanine. What a cool view. And a note about State Bird Provisions … it says a lot about its popularity that there’s still a line outside every night even though a bigger, fancier, and just as hot new player opens right next door. I’m guessing both places will be around for awhile. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Oh my goodness, I devoured every word of this! The sound of the won ton soup was enough to have me wanting to jump on a plane to San Francisco! ๐Ÿ˜€

  • My husband and I tried to get a walk-in table at State Bird Provisions on the opening night of The Progress. SBP was book up, but the hostess told us about the new restaurant next door and we got seated there right away. Very good food and service. We may have to go back and try it again!

  • I agree I believe that San Francisco has the best restaurants than almost anywhere!

  • Man, these dishes are stunning! My favourite is “Treasure Chest”… looks like it’s full of delicious goodies! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I just tried state bird a few weeks ago for the first time and was absolutely blown away! I need to try The Progress, like yesterday. This post is just making me hungry ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for sharing! I love following another Sf local! xo Lisa
    http://www.strumsimmersip.com/

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