In Hayes Valley, Nightbird Soars

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Nightbird's dining room
Nightbird’s dining room

Photo Credit: Marija Vidal At Olio Studio

Restaurants that offer a singular prix fixe menu are all the rage in San Francisco. A recent arrival that you might have missed is Nightbird, a sensational gem in Hayes Valley, opened about a year ago. By now the lovely eatery has perfected its nightly service. Chef and owner Kim Alter is a David Kinch and Daniel Patterson protégé and Nightbird is her first solo project. It took two years to convert the previous space into what it is today, but it was worth the wait. When you walk into Nightbird, it’s as if you’re stepping into Alter’s own home. There is an incredibly cozy vibe to the space. It’s small—only 38 seats—but thanks to the minimal decor, it feels spacious and welcoming. The floors are chestnut-colored wood, the walls are painted in a unique ombre design, white porcelain hanging lamps look like egg shells, and the blue velvet chairs are plush and comfortable. Alter has thought about every detail—even the unisex bathrooms are memorable with sexy gold foil walls and sumptuous scented candles. She even added a tiny eight-chair cocktail bar, the Linden Room, to serve as a waiting space for the restaurant. Bar manager Drew Majoulet’s libations are whimsical, innovative, and potent.

Everything about Nightbird is thoughtful and sophisticated, from the cocktails to the elegant preparation of the food
Everything about Nightbird is thoughtful and sophisticated, from the cocktails to the elegant preparation of the food

Photo Credit: Marija Vidal At Olio Studio

As for Nightbird’s cuisine, the menu features five courses along with delightful surprises between each course. The amuse bouche has become Alter’s signature dish—it’s a quail egg perched in a nest of frizzled crunchy leeks, topped with a generous dollop of brown butter hollandaise and a spoonful of caviar. The bite is served in a tiny wooden bowl and it’s sheer culinary bliss. You instantly want another one, so it does the job of whetting the palate. The first course is a delicate and light fruit salad of compressed melon, basil seeds, and grilled watermelon. Later, the melt-in-your-mouth black cod, which comes wrapped in squash, is so perfectly poached it can be eaten with a spoon. Alter is an all-encompassing chef who excels at pastry. In between the courses, different types of fresh-baked bread are presented to the diner. Hot Parker House rolls are wrapped in a piece of burlap and served with a quenelle of whipped butter. A miniature boule of rye sourdough has a warm, crisp exterior and chewy, yeasty interior. It’s so simple, yet wildly satisfying. Who doesn’t love good bread and butter?

Above: a delicate salad. Below: a precise pork presentation.
Above: a delicate salad. Below: a precise pork presentation.

Photo Credit: Marija Vidal At Olio Studio

There is no shortage of luxurious ingredients. Wild Maine lobster is plated with hearts of palm and first-of-the-season corn. Kobe short ribs are accompanied by edible flowers and porcini mushrooms. Next, a small serving of roasted blueberry and cinnamon sorbet with blueberries is artfully placed on the table. It’s meant to cleanse the palate before the real sweet treat—buttermilk panna cotta with rhubarb and cardamom—arrives. If you’re salivating at the thought of this exact, indulgent menu, we’re sorry to say you might not be able to experience it—Alter changes the menu weekly and sometimes daily to showcase the best of what she finds at local markets. This type of constant evolution is what encourages diners to visit the restaurant often. Rest assured that whatever she makes will be memorable, flavorful and delicious.

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