I’d meant to visit State Bird Provisions for years, but I’m not in San Francisco too often and reservations are hard to get. So when I booked a return appearance at The Green Arcade to promote Soviet Stamps, I made a reservation right after finding a flight. I’d know Stu and Nicole in Chicago. I even briefly worked with Nicole at Red Hen Bread. I’d hear about their restaurant from time to time and make a mental note, then forget about it.
On the flight west I started J.A. Baker’s The Peregrine. It’s another bird-themed thing I’ve heard about forever and finally got to. I don’t care about birds one way or another, nor for nature as such, but the way Baker writes about obsessively observing, following, and trying to understand this one animal is not like anything I’ve read before. Few writers could make sitting in a windswept, gray countryside for months sounds so exciting.
Deborah met me at the airport, then we went for lunch and a walk. San Francisco has transformed in recent years from a fabled counter-culture mecca to a creepy tech-bro dystopian nightmare. We walked the loop of Sales Force Park—an elevated, artificial green space above a bus depot. Fountains bubbled to announce arriving buses as young tech drones strolled about on their lunch breaks. It reminded me of the near-future of Her; everything is tasteful and muted, a melding of technological and seemingly artisanal, but all slightly off. It’s as if a computer rendering program generated all the ingredients of a place people might spend leisure time in, then combined it all and 3D-printed it into reality.
We arrived at the bookstore a little after 6pm, greeted Ben, then left to get coffee. The place he recommended was closed so we looked up another place a few blocks away. When we asked the girl at the counter for coffee, she didn’t seem to know exactly what were asking for. Looking at the menu, we realized the place was some sort of space-age teahouse. At the very bottom-right there was something coffee-based. It came cold but the girl said it could be warmed up. There were many different kitchen implements and devices behind the counter. It looked more like an experimental test-kitchen than a cafe. The name was Urban Renewal or Urban Waste or something. We left with our coffee-adjacent concoctions and walked back to the bookshop.
Ben was nervous about nobody showing up, but a bunch of his friends filtered in and we had a fun, rambling conversation about my book and our long friendship. It makes things easy when you know a guy over thirty years. Patrick, the owner, asked where we were eating and when Deborah said State Bird he seemed jealous. We said our goodbyes and walked the half hour to the restaurant.
I didn’t know what I was expecting but it wasn’t the lively, hectic scene we walked into. State Bird is an endless dance of staff bringing by small plates dim sum style. Each thing is either a combination of ingredients I would’ve never thought of, or a rejiggering of some staple in an elevated, refined style. But there’s no pretension in presentation. It’s a fun place to be in a way fine-dining often isn’t. I guess I expected it to be more serious. Stu stopped by and chatted a few minutes. It’s nice to see someone I knew long ago doing so well. He sent out a bunch of free plates. We were treated like VIPs. Between the amazing food, the good conversation, and a bottle of something called Vranac from the former Yugoslavia, it was a memorable meal.
The next day I hung out with Ben for awhile, then headed to the airport. The flight back made a brief layover in Las Vegas. I deplaned and bought a corndog from Nathan’s, for reasons I can’t reconstruct. it must’ve been the blinking, flashing one-armed bandits lining the airport hallways that spurred that questionable choice.
Back on the plane, my new neighbor was a bruiser of a woman who took up all the airspace at shoulder height, so I spent the three-hour flight in a half-twisted lean into the aisle. Nevertheless I read a bunch more of The Peregrine, which took me far away from crummy, human-filled sardine silo to which I was confined.
Great art will do that. Even if it’s about birds. Which, as I’d mentioned before, I don’t give a flying fuck about.