With State Bird Provisions’ earned Michelin star, stratospheric popularity, menu of unique dishes, and reviews proclaiming it to be “the most innovative restaurant” in the country, a sequel to the successful restaurant was a surety. Nearly two months ago and three years since the opening of State Bird Provisions, chefs Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski launched its sequel named The Progress. Located beside State Bird Provisions, the new restaurant promises a fine dining culinary adventure with a different menu format than its older sister restaurant. With a penchant towards bold creative menus, we recently set out to explore this new establishment and identify whether it can rise above the coattails of its more popular sibling.
Interior / Exterior / Ambiance
[maxgallery name=”the-progress-san-francisco-interior-exterior”]With a stark entrance and opaque textured glass, The Progress keeps most of its energy behind the front door. Inside, customers are greeted with a long slender room flanked by a front bar, middle dining area, and rear open kitchen. Bare concrete walls, wood planked accents, and limited decorative fixtures produce a simple interior with industrial, marine, and rustic elements. Above the bar and kitchen, two sets of stairs lead to additional second floor seating. On a Friday night the interior was alive with activity, as abundant amount of staff prepared drinks, cooked foods, and waited tables to an equally abundant and energetic crowd.
[maxgallery name=”the-progress-restaurant-review-menu”]Once we chose our cocktail from the drinks menu, our server placed a prix fixe menu and pencil on our table. “Do you have an à la carte menu where we could pick items individually?” we curiously asked our server. “For our dining area, we actually have only one option tonight.” He humbly stated. “Choose any six plates for $65 per person. We’ll worry about dessert later.” $65 doesn’t sound like much. Dessert doesn’t seem to be apart of the prix fixe so we’ll skip it in our initial six selections. We thought to ourselves. Later, we would realize $65 per person meant ultimately a rather expensive $22 per plate ($130 for two people divided by six dishes). And dessert? We felt slightly misled as dessert could have been included in our previous selections.
As he walked away, we began to read over the restaurant’s menu, which happened to look more like the notes of a brain storming session involving knowledgable chefs than a final honed menu. Most plates were described without name but with the list of their containing ingredients, which hinted to the chef’s own struggles trying to identify what they had created. There were separations between groups of items but no labels on what each group represented. Were these appetizers or entrees? We wondered. Terminology such as calling an ingredient “Mt. Tam” did not help in aiding our understanding. Regardless of our misgivings, we checked six items with our pencil and handed the menu over to our prompt and studious waiter.
Wild Cat Cocktail (rhum agricole, falernum, lemon, orange, house grenadine, absinthe)
[maxgallery name=”the-progress-san-francisco-cocktail-wild-cat”]Colored in flamingo orange, the chilled wild cat cocktail arrived in a coupe glass. A silky texture and immediate spiced flavors teased our tongues but a somewhat sour and mild finish canceled our expectations for a well rounded drink. The drink’s sourness and overall lack of flavor depth was attributed to high levels of citrus based juices, imbalance of distilled liquors, and too many mismatched ingredients.
[maxgallery name=”the-progress-san-francisco-amuse-bouche”]Presented in an automobile tire-sized dish, the complimentary Amuse Bouch offered four samplings reflecting variety and inelegant originality. Maybe the chef knows something we do not. We told ourselves as we eyed the house jerky topped with crushed nuts. The jerky was tender but the ingredient pairing using nuts seemed fairly clumsy. Evaluating the sampling from the perspective that an Amuse Bouche is meant to showoff the chef’s talents, the other three samplings, which included fried tempura mussels and sliced radishes, highlighted the chef’s willingness to try and prepare a variety of diverse ingredients.
Yuzu and olio nuovo, marinated raw tuna, watermelon radish
[maxgallery name=”the-progress-san-francisco-raw-tuna”]There was not much of a discernible flavor emanating from the tuna’s mentioned marinade, but we enjoyed the fish’s sushi grade softness all the same. The rest of the ingredients, which included shaved radishes, white sauce, and a medley of green leafy sprigs, may not have been interesting but did add to the lightness of the dish and adequately complemented the tuna’s delicate texture.
Curry chicken ‘karaage’
[maxgallery name=”the-progress-san-francisco-chicken-karaage”]Hidden below thin strips of vegetable garnish and puffed rice, cubes of battered chicken glistened with moisture and oil suggesting they were freshly pulled from the fryer. With fatty richness and layers of skin, fat, and meat, the chunks of chicken resembled and tasted similar to pork belly. The chicken was flavorful and moist but over-salted and gave lingering greasiness in the mouth. Rather than small amounts of garnish, more thoughtful side accompaniments (steamed homemade buns perhaps?) would have helped justify the cost of the dish, absorb some of the oils, and provide a more interesting method to enjoy the chicken.
Porcini and Mt. Tam Dumpling with Nettle Salsa Verde
[maxgallery name=”the-progress-san-francisco-dumpling-nettle-salsa”] The dumpling plate consisted of green nettle salsa topped by two pan fried dumplings wrapped in relatively thick dough holding a mixture of chopped porcini mushroom and melted Mt Tam cheese. There was actually nothing significantly wrong with the dish, provided we were eating in an ordinary restaurant such as a local Dim sum. But we were not. We were in a considerably more expensive restaurant and expected the dishes to reflect a high level of passion, creativity, and attention to detail. Such qualities, unfortunately, were missing in this small portioned average dish.
Lamb merguez with yellow eye beans, octopus and crispy squid
[maxgallery name=”the-progress-san-francisco-octopus-squid”]Dish creativity is a highly desired quality provided that the end result reflects thoughtfulness, focus, and ingredient cohesion. Consisting of a medley of lamb sausage, seared octopus, tempura style squid, mint leaves, celery, and coriander sprigs, the lamb merguez was an undefined collection of ingredients that resembled a salad. We enjoyed the octopus’s tenderness and squid’s light crisp batter, but the lamb merguez was significantly dry and overall the dish seemed lost and uninspired.
Treasure Chest of fermented sausage, trout quenelles and pumpkin-rice dumpling in a ‘creamy’ pork broth
[maxgallery name=”the-progress-san-francisco-treasure-chest”]The Treasure Chest seemingly had all the makings of a hardy bowl of soup. Set at the bottom of rustic wide rimmed bowl, the soup presented well with sizable chunks of sausage, trout quenelles, pumpkin rice dumplings, and a medley of root vegetables half submersed in a creamy pork broth. Appreciation for the homemade quenelles and dumplings proved difficult however, as their flavors were largely masked by the broth’s strong pork flavor and salt intensity. A lighter and thinner broth would have allowed the delicate fresh flavors of the trout quenelles to be better showcased. In addition, the slight dryness, saltiness, and chewy casings of the sausage further detracted from the overall dish.
Grilled BN ranch beef with mustard-miso sauce
[maxgallery name=”the-progress-san-francisco-bn-ranch-beef”]The beef plate arrived as four tenderloin cutlets doused in a crunchy mustard-miso sauce and topped with a hastily placed arrangement of wispy greens. Exhibiting a vinegary off-flavor and incorporating out-of-place breadcrumbs, the mustard-miso sauce detracted rather than enhanced the under seasoned beef fillets. Unfavorable chewy beef texture, which may have been mitigated by marination or aging, further marred the experience and ultimately left the dish half eaten.
Bitter cocoa sorbet, lemon curd floating island, slivered walnuts
[maxgallery name=”the-progress-san-francisco-dessert-bitter-cocoa-lemon-curd”]”How do you recommend eating this dessert?”, we politely asked our server as he presented a dish of lemon curd topped with whipped meringue and a separate bowl of rich chocolate sorbet. “Just have fun with it!”, he happily responded. We enjoyed his positive light response but found the pairing of rich chocolate sorbet with a light delicate curd rather awkward.
Individually, the lemon curd tasted fresh and light while the sorbet exhibited deep yet balanced cocoa flavors. Unfortunately, since the cocoa lingered on the palate, it was difficult to enjoy the delicate curd and meringue qualities once the sorbet was sampled. Perhaps, instead of the sorbet, a fresh biscuit or similar item would have better complemented the lemon curd.
Lowdown [usr 2.5]
[maxgallery name=”the-progress-restaurant-review-final-bill”]The Progress seemed to have the right recipe for success. Young smart staff. Check. Fillmore Street location next to popular State Bird Provisions. Check. Hip ambiance. Check. Daringness in ingredient and menu selections. Check. Creativity, artistry, and direction. Umm, not exactly. Our dining experience reflected effort but not focused effort. There seemed to be a mad rush to offer variety and change in the menu without enough thought into whether the end result would represent flavor cohesion and ingredient harmony. Many of the dishes displayed amateur ingredient combinations, poor accompaniments, missing attention to detail, and lack of focus.
We also think that the pricing scheme where by each participant pays a flat $65 for six shared plates is difficult to manage, hard to keep consistent, and lacking in value to the patron. Quantifying the amount of food per plate for different number of people is subjective to the individual cook especially when customers choose varying proportions of meat based entrees, lighter appetizer style dishes, and desserts.
With the final bill cresting near $200 including tip, our two person dining experience felt not worth the price. Passion is an important aspect for the finest restaurants. The passion to create a focused dish that represents more than the sum of its parts is a creative skillful art. As we have in the past, we would gladly pay a premium for that passion. And since our search for passion in each dish always came up empty, we felt somewhat cheated out of our money on a restaurant struggling to understand its purpose.