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Thursday, March 8, 2012

State Bird Provisions' Stuart Brioza Talks Dim Sum

Posted By on Thu, Mar 8, 2012 at 11:30 AM

  • State Bird Provisions
  • Stuart Brioza
  • State Bird Provisions
  • Nicole Krasinski

Right before filing this week's review of State Bird Provisions, Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski's new restaurant in the Fillmore, I spoke to Brioza, the restaurant's savory chef (Krasinski is the pastry chef). The couple, both Bay Area natives, worked in Chicago (under David Burke) and northern Michigan before coming back to San Francisco and taking jobs at Rubicon, where they earned national recognition during their four-year tenure.

SFoodie: What have you been up to since Rubicon closed in 2008?

Brioza: We've been together for 14 years, and so we got married just after Rubicon closed. We traveled extensively, and then we found there was a huge demand for private dining. Since we had a pretty good customer base from our Rubicon days, we just kind of rode that for a while. And we had a baby! Two babies, really, with the restaurant.

We signed the lease on the space in September 2010, two weeks after our son was born. We had been looking for 10 months or so. It had been a pizzeria, and was closed down and gutted when we looked at it. It looked much, much different. There was ductwork going over the skylights, and where the big cement wall now is had 80 years and 8 inches of plaster over it. It was a really unattractive space. But you could see the potential. I came in one night with a hammer and started knocking at the wall, and I could tell there was something good in there.

How did you decide upon the dim sum format? 

Yeah, when I worked for David Burke, we had an all-you-can-eat dim sum brunch on Sundays. I thought it was genius. It was an opportunity for cooks to do a lot with their own creativity. For us, the format came about when we were cooking for private parties. Nicole and I would do requests to cook heavy hors d'oeuvres parties instead of sit-down dinners. We would pass around 15 different items for three to four hours of service. Guests loved the quantity of items being passed, and we were having a lot of fun with it.

Do you find dim sum service makes cooking easier or harder?

At first I thought it was easy, and then it got hard. We started really tweaking the format. In the first month, we did five different versions of service, just trying to figure out how much control to give the guest in terms of having some sense of where they're at in their meal. It started off as 30 items [being passed around the room] in the beginning, which was difficult for guests to navigate.

So we started putting out a partial menu of dishes that we weren't going to pass and that could be more substantial. That kind of became a little easier -- if "easy" is the word. Orders come in, and we're also constantly pushing food out. Everyone's on a sort of clock. You just go from [cooking] one dish to the next to the next.

It seems like the format would be great for controlling food costs and reducing waste. You run out of something? You just stop passing it around that night.

That is part of it. What happens when your fish purveyor has only two pounds of something? Cool! Let's do something with it. But also, instead of having a waiter verbally sell a special, we can have a visual special. It gives us the opportunity to experiment more. 

Some of the dishes I put on the menu may not sell because the dish doesn't translate into words. For example, we recently put an asparagus dish (with a curry-radish pickle butter) on the menu, and it was a challenge to sell. Then we plated a few up to test the dish, and the tray came back empty. You eat first with your eyes. And in terms of controlling food waste, it's pretty awesome, for sure. And it's fun-spirited way to run a kitchen. Do we have four of those left? Let's just send them around!

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Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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Jonathan Kauffman


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