Nightbird

Dinner – Wednesday, June 30, 2021

A month ago, word that Nightbird was finally reopening piqued my interest. I hadn’t visited since July 2017, when we attended a collaboration dinner between Kim Alter and Johnny Spero to preview his then-upcoming restaurant, Reverie (which, even though I never wrote about my 2019 meal there, is outstanding). I’ll be honest – I don’t recall much from that dinner 4 years ago, but I did remember the potential of both chefs. I also missed out on the much-acclaimed Nightburger residency that ran over the course of the past year, so I was quite looking forward to this meal.

Strawberry beignet, hibiscus powder
Caviar tart, smoked egg yolk, crème fraîche, elderflower

Soft-poached quail egg, brown butter hollandaise, fried leeks
Hard to go wrong with a tried-and-true flavour combination. Perfectly executed, down to the warm egg. My favourite of the small bites.

Kusshi oyster, Santa Barbara uni
Dashi gelee, sea kelp, purslane, brown butter sand

Kombu-cured shima aji
K&J Orchards plums, radish, red-veined sorrel

I have quite a weakness for stone fruit, so these plums in various forms (raw, charred, made into a vinegar!) really floated my boat. The salt on the mackerel was perfectly tuned, balancing the sweetness and acidity of the plum. I believe there was also some sort of aged/fermented kalamansi purée applied to the fish – this was next-level. On the side, the fermented rye sourdough was also excellent with the almost-cheesy cow’s milk butter. A “reflection” of this course followed (but I forgot to take a photo!), which was a wedge of plum topped with shima aji bottarga. Easily a 2-star course and my favourite of the evening.

Maine lobster
Potato, brown butter vadouvan, nasturtium

Binchotan-grilled lobster knuckle, vadouvan crème fraîche

California squab
Summer squash, baby corn, hazelnuts

Beautifully cooked squab – breast and a confit (presumably of its leg). The minerality of the bird was really excellent – so few places show it off these days. On the side, the Parker house roll with fermented yeast butter and marigold proved to be an inspired pairing with the meat. Next to the shima aji, this was the top plate of the dinner.

Five-broth tea, black rice chip

Flannery beef, California porcini
Fermented porcini purée, Malabar spinach, truffle

For me, this dish was all about the porcini (wonderful and deserving to be highlighted) rather than the beef (solid, but uninteresting by comparison). I could’ve easily enjoyed a few more portions of the mushroom!

“Kitchen sink” bread, local honeycomb
Honeycomb from bees raised on San Francisco rooftops (pictured at the start of this post) by Terry Oxford was given a chance to shine next to some nutty, gluten-free bread. Simple, delicious.

Peach terrine and sorbet
Lemon verbena granita, lemon balm

“Black Forest cake”, tonka bean ice cream

Beeswax ice cream, caramelized white chocolate honeycomb
Barr Hill Tom Cat gin

My first taste of Tom Cat gin, a spirit finished with honey and aged for half a year in new oak – wonderful stuff for sipping. Together with the ice cream, the duo just exuded notes of warm, toasty honey.

Mignardises
Reflecting the first few bites of the menu (and seemingly taking a page from Manresa, which has been doing this for ages), the final treats were a lemon tart, strawberry-vanilla beignet, chocolate truffle in an “eggshell” and a (bonus) passionfruit pâte de fruit.

Where some places subtly signal connections between dishes throughout the menu, here it is purposely (and purposefully) in-your-face – I appreciated the intent. A very impressive meal from a restaurant in its fifth day of operation after a long hibernation – Kim Alter and her crew are throwing down. I won’t wait so long to return.

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