Francesca Salcido, Nathan Smith, and Daniel Gutierrez conceived the taco-truck equivalent of high concept with 51st State, mapping out a seasonally changing menu that takes inspiration from American regional cooking. The trio set their sights higher than almost any other mobile eatery in town, save Spencer on the Go and Hapa SF, committing to a wider range of cooking techniques than rolling kitchens usually attempt.
Do the food-biz novices pull it off? Sort of.Their fried, cornmeal-crusted quail (inspiration: pan-South) reveal an ever-so-pale pinky gray in the semi-boneless flesh (leg joints only). The meat is soft, the flavor falls along the middle of the white-dark poultry continuum, and the cheese-glazed grits that come with don't suck. Spiced maple syrup is meat to serve as sauce ("Our version of chicken and waffles," Gutierrez tells a wavering customer), but it overpowers the mild-mannered little birds ― better to splatter them with a few drops of house-made (er, truck-made) hot sauce.
Granted, quail might seem too pinkie-cocked for lunch downtown, when obliteration of hunger for less than $10 is its own virtue. Like a new car, 51st State needs some breaking in.
51st State Parks Mon. and Weds. at Steuart and Howard Streets; Tues. and Thurs. at Drumm and Washington; and Fri. at Green and Front. Follow on Twitter for updates.