It's been a big year for husband-and-wife restaurateurs Nicole Krasinski and Stuart Brioza of State Bird Provisions in San Francisco. The restaurant—named in honor of their first dish, which featured California valley quail, their state bird—was recently named Restaurant of the Year by Bon Appetit, and the already busy establishment saw an immediate spike in popularity. "The reaction was instant," says Stuart. "We sold out reservations for the next 30 days in less than 24 hours!" During a renovation five months ago, Nicole and Stuart added six stools to the counter overlooking the chef's kitchen to accommodate more diners in the 50-seat restaurant. "We also save a couple of tables because we want neighborhood folks to still be able to walk in. It didn't seem fair or right [to not have tables available] for them," Stuart says. There are often 30 to 50 people in line when the restaurant opens each night, a mix of locals and tourists hoping to snag one of the unreserved tables and tastes of the small plates that the waitstaff brings around on trays and carts. The restaurant's nightly menus are based on what's fresh and available at markets throughout the city. "We have a food-savvy clientele," Stuart says. "It's pretty rad that we can support a restaurant based on that." We grabbed a few minutes with these busy chefs to dish about their hot-ticket restaurant, favorite foods, must-have kitchen gadgets and more.
CULTIVATE: What's a typical day at the restaurant like?
STUART: We get started about 8 a.m. We visit three farmer's markets a week, have meat delivered three days a week, and take fish deliveries every day. The kitchen staff arrives mid-day, and we discuss changes to the menu and do some recipe and dish tasting. We do a lot of fun stuff during the day! And then the entire staff is there by 4, we have a family meal, go over reservations, and discuss the night before. Most nights we seat the entire dining room by 6, and it doesn't stop till we close at 10.
NICOLE: We have a really good staff, and everyone does a part—we work hard to balance the schedule so we don't burn out.
Photo by: Freda Banks
CULTIVATE: How did the two of you end up together—and working together?
NICOLE: We met in 2000 when we were in college in California. Stuart moved to New York for culinary school, and I went to Chicago with plans to attend the Art Institute. I took a job at a bakery in Chicago, making bread, and I loved it so much. Stuart moved to Chicago after school—we've been eating and cooking together for a long time!
STUART: The only other job I've ever had is a paper route. Being in business together is working out pretty well.
CULTIVATE: What's your favorite menu item—past or current—at the restaurant?
NICOLE: Cumin lamb with scallions, grapes, and cauliflower.
STUART: A trout dish that's on the menu now, with hazelnut-garum brown butter and mandarin. It's an instant classic—it doesn't taste like classic cooking, but it's exactly what we do best: take flavors that are traditionally combined but worldly, composed with a sense of adventure.
CULTIVATE: What is your no-fail dish to impress guests?
STUART AND NICOLE: Vietnemese chicken and rice soup!
STUART: It's a chicken soup with ginger, garlic and fish sauce. Serve it over cooked rice, and garnish with scallions, cilantro and mint. You can make it in an hour, and it's delicious, one of our favorite things. For dessert, Nicole [a pastry chef] makes these chocolate chip cookies with sea salt or a slab pie. We keep pastry shells ready to go. You just put one in the bottom of a sheet pan, add fresh fruit, cornstarch, sugar, and lemon juice, and put another pastry shell on top. There's nothing better than coming home to one of those—it smells the house up with the best aroma.
Photo by: Freda Banks
CULTIVATE: What's your your can't-live-without-it kitchen gadget?
NICOLE: A microplane grater. Those are pretty universal in our kitchen—everyone has two or three, and we use them like crazy. [Editor's note: We like the Microplane® Elite Paddle Graters from Williams-Sonoma.]
STUART: You can do five different things with it—you don't need all those other dorky tools like a garlic press, ginger grater, box grater for cheese, nutmeg or cinnamon grater or a lemon zester.
CULTIVATE: Your restaurant was formerly a pizzeria. What was most important to you during the initial renovation?
STUART: The kitchen was in the front of the restaurant, so we stuck with that format. You enter it first, and the people who greet you are the cooks and kitchen staff. It was important to us to create a space where people felt like they were in our home, with warm wood and no barrier between the kitchen and our guests. We built the kitchen from the ground up, so all of our equipment is new—but we'd love to add dining room seating, and more shelving would be amazing!
CULTIVATE: Any tips for applying the eclectic look of your restaurant at home? Did you do the design yourselves?
NICOLE: We did the majority of design and sourcing of furniture and fixtures. We picked up furnishings like the barstools at Amsterdam Modern in San Francisco, and we got our carts, tables and trays from Splinter & Slag in Seattle. The look is all about progressive design, living in the space and adding in stages as opposed to moving in with a fixed idea of where things go.
Photo by: Freda Banks
CULTIVATE: Speaking of home, what's your own kitchen like? How would your dream cooking space look?
STUART: We rent a typical San Francisco apartment, so the kitchen is basic, simple and adequate. We have fabricated cupboards and linoleum, but we get good light!
NICOLE: Our 2-year-old runs the house these days.
STUART: I think our dream space would be an indoor/outdoor outfit. Eclectic and a little chaotic, with warm tones. Maybe a wood oven and a wood or tile floor. We like mid-century with a modern sensibility. And wood countertops—I just love the way they age.
CULTIVATE: Where do two chefs go for dinner on a night out?
STUART: Somewhere with delicious, casual food that we don't have to get dressed up for.
NICOLE: Our friends own restaurants and cook amazing food. We love Bar Tartine, Nopa, Outerlands, Pizzetta 211 and Nojo.
CULTIVATE: What was your reaction when you heard that State Bird Provisions had been named Restaurant of the Year?
STUART: We screamed and said, "Oh, yeah!" We knew we were in the top 10 because they'd come to take photos, so we were definitely thinking something cool was going to happen.
NICOLE: We found out when everyone else did—when the announcement went live.
STUART: When we hit number two [while scrolling through the top 10] and hadn't seen our names, we freaked out a bit. We've met a lot of folks from all over the world—it's been quite an amazing ride.