In this series, we take a trip to the farmer's market with chefs across the Eater universe to find out what's in season, why they choose what they do, and how they plan to transform the goods into their best dishes. The series is sponsored by Naked® Juice, makers of delicious, all-natural juices.[Photos: Aubrie Pick]
Pancakes topped with sea urchin, meatballs made with sweetbreads, and Earl Grey ice-cream sandwiches are just a few of the dishes diners can expect to consume during a meal at State Bird Provisions, the year-old small-plates restaurant owned by married couple Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski. State Bird has earned numerous accolades, including the 2012 Restaurant of the Year award from Bon Appetit and a James Beard Award longlist nod for Best New Restaurant. While there are menu staples, such as the quail for which the restaurant is named, the menu varies throughout the year and is often dictated by seasonality. With this in mind, Eater journeyed with State Bird sous chefs Stephen Thorlton, Glenn Kang and Mikiko Yui to the Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market, where they shared their grocery list and menu plans.
A lot of the produce for State Bird has been ordered beforehand. Is everything ready for you to pick up when you arrive at the farmer's market?
Glenn Kang: They'll give us a break on prices when we get whole cases of stuff, so it's good to call it in. Also, it ensures that they have it. We come here early because stuff sells out; the chef from Outerlands already bought up all the scallions he wanted from Dirty Girl. So it's nice to call ahead and make sure we get what we want. And it's like, crap, I totally revolve my work around having something at the market, so you've got to stay on top of it.
Stephen, Glenn and Mikiko start at Brokaw Nursery, for oranges and avocados.
Stephen Thorlton: We'll also use [Brokaw Nursery] kiwis. Their kiwis are great.
GK: Before I found out about the Brokaw avocados, I used to think all avocados were the same. But they're so much better.
What makes them better?
ST: The flavor, the texture, the creaminess. The quality, hands down, is just there. And Stuart, [from his time] at Rubicon, has great standing relationships with all these guys, so we don't just buy because of locality. He buys because of building relationships and friendships. They support his restaurant, so he supports their farm. It's pretty neat...we also get a lot of stuff at Dirty Girl. They have really nice stuff. And they're friends.
What are you getting today?
ST: Really awesome scallions. Golden beets. We use a lot of scallions. Onions as well.
What other farmers markets do you go to?
GK: We go to [the Ferry Building] on Saturdays and Chef goes to the Berkeley market on Tuesday. And then on Thursday, we don't always go, but we try to go to the farmer's market in Marin. [Mikiko and I] live in the Tenderloin, so I go to the Civic Center one. All the Asian ingredients are there. But also, it's dirt cheap. It's a little weird, it's a little grimy. There's, like, fish outside and homeless people. But if you can get past that, the stuff is nice.
Mikiko Yui: Nicole and I go to the Thursday market in Marin in the summertime with her son, Jasper. So cute.
What's next on the shopping list?
ST: So, we're not phasing out, but we're kind of backing out on the brussels sprouts. I got in some broccoli di ciccio from this other farm, Mariquita. Every Wednesday and Saturday, we get a pretty big farm delivery from them. You can place the order online and they deliver to the restaurant, which is very convenient. And Stuart and Nicole both have a long-lasting relationship with the farmer. [To Glen and Mikiko.] We should get some small fingerlings.
GK: He wanted to change the lobster to a potato salad.
ST: We could get some of the Yukons or the mixed marbles. What do you think? They're all good. So, Zuckerman's [Farm] is where we get asparagus, which is coming up soon. Next week. It's really early right now, which is so crazy to think. There were actually tomatoes here last week, which were pretty solid. I was like, what is going on?
Do you know before coming to the market what you're going to make with everything, or do you sometimes just get things because they look great and you'll figure out a purpose for them later?
GK: Oftentimes. Even if we have a dish and the ingredients that we need for it, if we see something super-amazing and we think the flavor combination is going to work, then we'll plug in something that's super-beautiful. That happens all the time. But, usually we know what we're looking for. [To Stephen, who has just purchased mint from Marin Roots.] What was that, like, $30?
ST: It actually wasn't bad. It was $18 and he only charged $12.
GK: How much are the scallions?
GK: What? That's the thing, the stuff ain't cheap. Sometimes it's a cheaper price than the commercial stuff, but not generally.
ST: These are more on the higher end. A lot of the fine-dining restaurants, they just want really nice quality. This is who they go to. [Marin Roots] sells quite a bit.
GK: Marin Roots and White Crane, they're so expensive.
They're like Tiffany's?
ST: The Tiffany's of vegetables, I guess you could say. [Laughs.]
GK: It's not necessarily better product, but you see how, like...
ST: There's no dirt on the bottom, it's all manicured, really nicely clipped. Someone takes the time to really put the bunches together. It's not mashed, then tied. Someone takes the time to do this, so that's why the [extra cost for the] labor comes in. We can stop at Knoll Farms. And K&J Orchards. They actually have amazing Asian pears. Stuart has a really great relationship with them. Really friendly people.
What will you use the pears for?
ST: Stuart's really big into fermenting. Pickling. We do kimchi, sauerkraut, fermented pickles, different types of kohlrabi. We'll get napa cabbage from Mariquita farms, and we'll take cabbage, and we have leftover oysters. We'll chop up the oysters, different types of Korean chilies, carrots, onions, ginger, garlic. We use Red Boat fish sauce, a really interesting fish sauce done in Vietnam. It's really starting to kind of make its debut in California and San Francisco. I feel like it's a product we're just starting to see, but it's going to really develop and explode.
How long will everything that you're getting today last?
ST: On Tuesday, we'll hit another farmer's market. We'll get more beets, we'll get more leeks, we'll get different varieties of citrus.
GK: It's tough to order things perfectly to get exactly what we need, but we aim to go through things every three days. At least.
What do you do with the citrus?
GK: We have an awesome dish. It's our pork belly with Thai vinaigrette, [Red Boat] fish sauce, lime juice, and then we shave some aji rocoto chilies and a lot of different citrus cut in different ways. It's really good. The pork belly is so rich and fatty. Mint, cilantro. So good. And citrus isn't going to be around for so much longer, so it's good to get it while you can.
We venture over to Acme Bread for loaves of their New York rye.
What's the rye for?
ST: We have this dish on the menu, it's a cauliflower and beet viennoise. We roast the beets, and then we bread the cauliflower in a horseradish rye crumb and give it a little pan-sear in oil. We top the cauliflower and beets with horseradish ale cream, and garnish it with spicy mustard, a beet mustard condiment, and fresh-grated horseradish on top. It's one of our vegetarian items on the menu.
After purchasing bread, we head over to Bella Villa for dried fruit.
ST: These [dried pluots] are great. They're a little chewy, but they're awesome.
What's the plan with these?
ST: We have a confit of duck that we do, and we season it with this Kawati spice blend. We kind of crisp [the duck] up and then we have a little bit of French crepe. We serve it with these plums, or pluots rather, that cook out, and we make a plum sauce. Kind of like a play on Peking duck. We do a bit of sautéed wood ear mushrooms, then it's garnished with pea shoots. Really fresh, clean. But these guys are great. Mikiko also uses a lot of the other dried fruits for the ice-cream sandwich that they're doing.
MY: We poach [figs, plums, prunes and apricots] in Earl Grey and riesling, and that's the filling. And we're doing Earl Grey sauvignon. We call it winter fruits, it's dried fruits, but it sounds nice. And then macaroon is used as a cookie dough.
And the figs?
GK: These are for the sweetbread meatball. It's a pork-based meatball, and we load it up with a ton of fried sweetbreads. It's awesome. And underneath we do a dollop of brown-butter fig jam—fig, raisin, a lot of port, a lot of red wine vinegar—and then some pickled vegetables. It's been on our menu for a while; it's so ridiculous, it's great. But these are some of the things we do to use stuff that's not necessarily in season. We'll use dried stuff, we'll freeze a bunch of fruit juices, and things like this. It's nice to be able to use things when you want them. It's not plum season yet, but we use these excellent dried plums and it comes out beautifully.
Do you see a lot of people and chefs you know when you go shopping here?
GK: I just ran into a guy that came into the restaurant yesterday. He was coming in from New York and he's like a bio-tech guy who's in the city all the time. But yeah, we build personal relationships. I see people on the street all the time who come in.
ST: So that guy came into the restaurant, and you're seeing him now at the farmer's market.
The way State Bird is set up, with an exposed kitchen and people eating right in front of you, is very personalized. When you see people's reactions, is there more pressure to not mess up?
GK: It's hard. I think we have a lot of poise in the kitchen, but it's something we sort of learn.
ST: In the beginning, it was a little more difficult, because we didn't know, it just kind of all fell into place and all developed.
GK: At first, that bar area didn't exist. And then, a couple months later, there was a standing bar with five people. And people are like, all right, I'll stand. The only people who were willing to stand were serious foodies.
ST: But they love it. It's great to see.
GK: And now we have 10 seats, and it's really under the spotlight.
How many seats are there total in the restaurant?
GK: Ten at the bar, and we can accommodate people in what we call our sweet spot: a little standing bar, for the diehards that are willing to stand. The people who stand in the sweet spot, by the end of the meal they're like, "Ah, man, next time we come back, we want to stand here. We don't even want to sit in the dining room."
MY: It's like this secret no one knows.
ST: At first the sweet spot was kind of undeveloped, where chefs and people in the industry would come in and they didn't mind standing, so they would end up standing at the side of the counter. We'd feed them a little bit, then they'd step out. Now, it's evolved into this kind of monster where people will take anything they can get. Stuart will even seat people at the end of the house where food comes out, so it really messes things up because the food can't go in the dining room. [Laughs.]
GK: Yeah, he likes a little bit of crazy. Controlled chaos.
ST: Sometimes it's really not controlled.
GK: Sometimes you get some customers at the bar that are really into each other or are not such foodies, and that's fine. But if everything is clicking and the customers are into it and having a good time and they love to eat, it's a lot of fun for everyone.
ST: Everyone's laughing together. The cooks laugh, we're having a good time in the kitchen, and the guests, they see that. "Wow, you guys really love what you do." They remind us, and we stop for a second and think, yeah, this is pretty amazing to have this opportunity. And I love working with Glenn, I love working with Mikiko. I feel like we've all really grown. We know every little thing about each other. Way too much. Too much info. I know so much dirt on you [two], you wouldn't even know.