Chef Stuart Brioza of The Progress Strikes With the Oven Hot

Stuart Brioza_Credit Ed Anderson
Stuart Brioza_Credit Ed Anderson

hat’s your next step after your first restaurant is honored as the country’s Best New Restaurant by the James Beard Foundation? If you’re chef Stuart Brioza and his pastry chef wife Nicole Krasinski, you open a sequel right next door—a year and a half later. At least that’s what it appears the couple did. The Progress, the mature sibling to the small-plate phenomenon State Bird Provisions, debuted Dec. 16 in the Western Addition and immediately became San Francisco’s hautest new eatery. The Progress is a James Beard award semifinalist for Best New Restaurant 2015; State Bird earned the married owners a nod for Best Chef: West. Finalists will announced March 24. For both of his dining establishments, Brioza uses a tremendous amount of local ingredients and patronizes various nearby farms. Even the décor at The Progress is local—from the ceramic plates and wood tables to blown glass lights to the planters and the concrete bar. He used recycled denim insulation, which is sustainable and eco-friendly, inside the walls to keep the decibel level acceptable at the restaurant that a century ago was The Progress Theater. The environmentally-minded chef gave Haute Living a tour of his new space.

Is it true that The Progress was supposed to open before State Bird?

State Bird was never meant to happen. Four and a half years ago we looked at this space and I fell in love. It needed to go through a change of use. We had never owned a restaurant, so we were a bit naïve. It took quite a bit longer than we thought it would. There would have been no way with our first restaurant that we would have been able to finance something of this magnitude and do it justice. [In the meantime, we opened] State Bird, which was a total anomaly. It took off and opened the doors wide open for us. We realized that and said, “Let’s do something really magical here too that speaks to the city, the history of the building and our philosophies of cooking.”

How do diners “chose their own adventure” with your menu, and how many dishes do you get?

As the diner, you do all of the work; we just cook it for you. We’re not creating a set menu or anything like that. The idea was scalable family style. As diners, we all go out and share each other’s food and order a bunch of dishes. It was like, “How do you do that for two people? How do you do that for four people? Six people—and make sure that there’s enough for everybody. Every table orders six dishes—and you can always add more to the mix.”

How often will you change the menu?

For us, it’s less about change and more about exploration. Last night we put a lamb merguez with fried squid on the menu: it was really wonderful. The food has to be sharable. You can’t have the potatoes here and this here. It should be a dish that you can take a spoon, drag it through and get everything at once. It doesn’t have to be as simplistic as say, a pasta dish. 

Do State Bird and The Progress share any of the same dishes?

There’s a little bit of cross pollination for sure, but I’m trying to weed them out. We had a fried rice dish on the menu here that was amazing, but I do a fried rice dish next door. When you open a restaurant, what’s more important is that you’re really serving solid food that you can count on and then you start developing its identity. We’re far from that here. I don’t think State Bird had its own identity for at least a year.

What kind of vibe have you tried to create here?

We want this to be a very San Francisco experience, and when I think of San Francisco, I think casual. People are not so interested in the pomp and circumstance; they’re more interested in the feeling and how they connect with the restaurant. We don’t want it to be like a temple of gastronomy. We want it to be a place of conviviality with thoughtful food, people and ambiance.