Next door to a "little" phenomenon known as State Bird Provisions, its long-awaited sister restaurant, The Progress (named after the theater originally in this location in 1911), opened Tuesday. Married team Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski secured this space first, and the concept has been on the books for over two years. In the meantime, State Bird beat it to the punch in 2012 and the rest is history, as it fast became one of the hottest restaurants in the country, as well as one of the most revolutionary with its unique dim sum-style format. Likewise, the moment The Progress reservations went online, the restaurant booked up for weeks. But the sleek, wood-lined space is bigger than State Bird, and there's a bar (open at 5 PM) that's first come, first served — and, yes, you can order food at the bar, though you'll eat it standing up unless you snag one of three cozy little tables lining the front window. There's also a back mezzanine with an eight-seat chef's table, a front mezzanine with two tables and a custom wood-fired grill in the kitchen.
State Bird comparisons aside, The Progress is a more refined, tasting-menu-only offshoot where Stuart and Nicole's innovative cooking will feel familiar to fans, while the format allows for lingering (even if during opening week, dishes rushed out a bit too quickly for two people to keep up with). The imaginative menu, with boxes you check off next to selected dishes, is $65 per person, and the owners are still testing out the number of family-style courses the whole table must choose (it was eight on Tuesday, six on Wednesday — for what it's worth, we vote for more vs. less). Service is warm, the wine list and cocktails delight and the house pottery is handmade. The chef de cuisine is John Becker (who came from Boulevard and Prospect in SF, and cooked in New York with masterful chefs like Alain Ducasse and Michael White at Ai Fiori) and the dishes will be ever-evolving, as they are at State Bird. Thanks to Brioza and Krasinski's unique vision, The Progress is already an original. Check out the tasting menu in the slide show below.
Hours: Bar opens at 5 PM, the restaurant at 5:30-10 PM Sunday-Thursday, 5:30-11 PM Friday-Saturday.
1525 Fillmore St.; 415-673-1294
The dinner begins with a shared plate of four fascinating bites eaten with toothpick spears. You know you're in for a treat when the meal kicks off with juicy, housemade lap cheong sausage over toasted, crumbled peanuts, or squid-ink crackers to scoop up a smoked trout salad.
A stellar course is dubbed "Treasure Chest," holding a base of fermented Thai sausage, shrimp trout quenelles, tofu-pumpkin rice dumplings and delicious Santa Barbara prawn heads, lightly fried. Poured over this is a creamy (from pork fat and pig parts), complex pork broth, completing a gratifying, layered dish.
Bar manager Bryan Hamann (ex Monsieur Benjamin, Starbelly, RN74) turns out lovely cocktails ($11-$12) from the front bar. Our favorite so far is The Concession, a playful rum-based drink infused with popcorn, which imparts a subtly butteriness and melds seamlessly with cherry-cola syrup and dry vermouth.
Shaved cauliflower intermingles with lightly fried pig parts, from pig's ears to tender, juicy strips of belly. The dish unfolds with Vietnamese flavors of fish sauce, cilantro, mint, basil and chile flakes for transporting results. Courtesy of wine director/GM Jason Alexander (ex Cyrus, Gary Danko), the wine list is well-equipped for any pairing, certainly those with subtle heat, like the cauliflower dish.
Choices include small, under-the-radar California producers, like Zeitgeist's 2013 Trousseau Gris ($14 for 150 ml/$35 for 375 ml) from the Russian River, or European beauties like a 2012 Samuel Billaud Chardonnay from Chablis, France ($14/$35). On the red side, you might try an earthy Le Rocher des Violettes Malbec/Côt from the Loire Valley ($12/$30). Expertise abounds on the floor — we were delighted to see Betsy Ross (formerly of Aveline and Jardinière) and Marie-Louise Friedland (Quince and Lazy Bear) also bringing their wine savvy to diners.
Recalling a dreamy roti dish Brioza served at State Bird this year, The Progress' salty roti dish is draped naturally on the plate, the Indian bread laced with shaved, smoked cured egg, sprigs of rosemary and pickled and raw slivers of sunchokes. It's finished with a house buttermilk ranch dressing.
Dramatically perched, this aromatic, spiced squab is sliced and served with an array of leaves acting as lettuce cups and a bracingly excellent salted chile paste.
Another notable cocktail is the bright, smoky Mezzanine, combining mezcal, housemade banana liqueur, lime and allspice with a nocino (walnut liqueur) rinse.
Dried duck strips are luscious and fatty, contrasted with smoked (and sweet) prune romesco, almonds and crispy, fried potato balls. Sheer comfort.
Spicy Dungeness crab cavatelli is the most filling dish, its pasta made with ricotta for extra fluffiness, and graced with yellow-eyed beans and bread crumbs, plus spicy chile paste. It's just right paired with a German Riesling.
Krasinski and fellow pastry chef Mikiko Yui are crafting lighter desserts in duos, such as a soothing persimmon sorbet (made in their ice cream machine) over fresh persimmon, drizzled in star anise lime caramel. In the accompanying bowl is a ginger coconut floating island marked by candied citrus, the floating island being a take on the classic île flottante French dessert, a mound of meringue "floating" in a sea of crème anglaise.