Just when you thought the small city of San Francisco couldn’t handle another majorly high-end restaurant, along comes Birdsong, a spot in SoMa that’s doing fine dining to the tune of Saison, Atelier Crenn, Benu, and Chicago’s Alinea.
At least, those are all the restaurants where Birdsong chef Chris Bleidorn has sharpened his knives.
And of course the toque has hand selected a team with equal pedigree: partner Aarti Shetty hails from Benu, Monsieur Benjamin, and In Situ; chef de cuisine Brian Limoges has done time at Quince and Atelier Crenn.
Do we have your attention yet?
Taking over the old AQ space, Birdsong is all about heritage cooking, where Bleidorn plays with many elements of nature throughout his 14-course affair. The menu blends together the flavors of the Pacific Northwest and the chef’s East Coast upbringing, and it leaves no part of the protein unused. (If tasting menus aren’t your thing, a la carte options will be available soon.)
As the restaurant’s name suggests (it’s a reference to the role of birds in helping to foster greater ecosystems), you can expect dishes that feel of the earth: morel mushroom–wrapped lamb; a trio of trout courses (a nod to Alaska) that make use of all parts of the fish. Various breads accompany dinner here, accenting plates of fruits, shellfish, and meat. The cooking techniques are intricate and exquisite, finessing fundamental techniques like open fire, fermentation, smoke, and dry-aging.
Essences of nature intertwine throughout the decor: Imagine wandering into a small culinary oasis in a temperate rainforest and being served an exceptional meal completely foraged from its surroundings. It could happen—at least, it does here.
Birdsong is located near Mission and Seventh Streets in SoMa.
With the help of design firm Saint, Birdsong keeps things elegant and natural. Felled ash and Douglas fir trees create glowing flooring; the cabinets and tables match but are accented with pops of teal. The open kitchen is center stage, put together by Alec Bauer of Kitchen Restaurant + Bar Specialists, and is surrounded by an L-shaped chef’s counter where you can get up close to the cooking action.
To start, expect to dive right into the coastal food themes with a seafood cocktail of raw Pacific scallop liver, salted and cured in a light persimmon vinegar.
When devising the menu, Bleidorn also focused on reinventing certain memorable childhood dishes as upscale small bites, like this tweezer-sized take on bacon and eggs. A thin slice of pork belly is wrapped around caviar, a bit of egg yolk jam, and a touch of crème fraiche, then topped with chives. You’ll want another.
The next three courses all revolve around trout, with Bleidorn inventing different, thoughtful approaches to using the whole fish throughout. First up, a melt-in-your-mouth piece that’s been cured, smoked, and warmed in cedar for a light, woodsy flavor.
Part two of the trout trio centers around the skin, with two crunchy squares sandwiching a mound of small, plump roe and a dollop of horseradish mayonnaise. Hopefully by now you’ve also noticed the stylish serveware—Bleidorn collaborated with ceramic company KwangJuYo to develop custom dishes with seamless edges and a coloring reminiscent of fresh farm eggs, another subtle nod to nature.
The finale of the trout dishes is a custard made with dried bonesand paired with soft trout belly meat and artful slices of radish.
Another moment from Bleidorn’s past: a twist on New England clam chowder, his favorite soup growing up in Boston. Here traditional chowder ingredients such as lardo, celery, and smoked potatoes are used alongside geoduck clams from Washington, and covered tableside in a broth of clam and buttermilk. Soak up the last of the broth with a parker house roll glazed with pork fat and a sprinkling of pine salt.
One of the dishes that most connects with the Pacific Northwest vibes was a rich morsel of Sonoma lamb, stuffed into an earthy morel mushroom and topped with crumbles of green almonds. Note the allium charcoal sauce that flavors the dish, representative of the tastes and experience of foraging after a wild fire.
Bleidorn builds his next two courses on another hearty protein: wild boar. The first is a heartwarming dish of cultured broth with fine ribbons of boar meat, grilled brassicas, and grains.
Following the soup, expect a palm-sized serving of barbecued boar, sprinkled with shavings of pine needles, elderberries, and ramps for a flavor that truly channels the forest.
At last, dessert. If French toast and crème brûlée had a baby, this would be the result. An exceptional brioche bread custard is topped with sugar and caramelized, and then paired with a refreshing spoonful of toasted milk ice cream.