Following a smash hit like State Bird Provisions is no small task. There's the anticipatory press. The reservation stalkers. The months of speculation that can can lead to a hype machine that kills a restaurant's chances before it ever opens its doors.
But The Progress, the sophomore project from State Bird's Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski, suffers no such fate. The glowing, two-level restaurant, specializing in a family style format, has all the indicators of figuratively going platinum, just like its predecessor. The space itself is worth noting: It's spacious but intimate, casual but refined, and warm with glowing woods and golden light.
One might be so lucky as to walk in and snag a spot at the well-appointed bar. Cocktails make a welcome appearance on The Progress's drink menu (where you'll also find an excellent selection of wine and beer). The 10-drink list showcases classics with a subtle twist, like a Manhattan ($12) made with black butter bourbon, as well as newer creations cheekily deemed The Progressives. We fell hard for the Wild Cat ($12), a remarkably balanced refresher featuring rhum agricole, falernum, lemon, orange, house-made grenadine and absinthe.
State Bird was always noteworthy for its untraditional, dim sum cart-centered dining format. The Progress does away with some of that freneticism by opting for a menu that allows you, as a table, to select six dishes to share ($65 a person; additional dishes can be added for $10). The resulting atmosphere is a touch more mellow and conversation friendly; the goal here is to create a comprehensive album of a meal, rather than focusing on one-off singles. But the food maintains the dynamic energy of State Bird's best small plates.
Shaved romanesco salad
Narrowing down your six can be daunting: The 19-item menu (which includes desserts) is well curated, but each dish sounds as exciting as the next. Thankfully, servers are deeply knowledgeable about the dishes and happy to provide guidance.
No matter your final selections, each meal starts with a plate of snacks bursting with contrasting flavors and textures. Ours included dainty crostini painted with squab pâté; crisp-fried salt and pepper mussels resting on a dollop of blood orange aïoli; potato croquettes on smoky romesco; snappy, fresh radishes; and cheesy crackers (made in-house), topped with a sweet and bracing apple salad.
The menu's most memorable dishes continued with a through line of delicious, surprising contrasts. A salad of romanesco, shaved paper-thin and tossed with fresh herbs, was lent salty, crisp richness in the form of sliced pig-ear fries. Despite the decidedly porky flavor profile, the overall effect was cool and refreshing, as every luscious fatty-crisp morsel was shot through with flavors of cilantro and mint. Similarly, a stunning dish of lamb tartare was most transcendent when representing the sum of all of its parts. The silky, raw meat, tossed with everything from toasted sesame seeds to shaved hen-egg bottarga, especially shone due to the subtle heat of sambal chile oil and the funky crunch of pickled kohlrabi.
Part of the pleasure of the family style format is that the dishes, which are portioned to meet your party's size, tend be a little more sizable than those at State Bird, allowing you more time to taste, and taste again. This was the case with the pecorino roti, a dish that has quickly attained the hit-single status of State Bird's burrata-topped doughnut. Here, the delicate, crisp-edged pancake is brought to your table in an artfully crumpled pile, an inviting bedsheet just begging to be torn asunder. Laced with salty, tangy cheese, it's hearty and delicate simultaneously, and even better when swiping up the black-truffle-laced buttermilk sauce on which it's served (which approximates a decadent, multidimensional adult ranch dressing).
Tempting as it may be to double down on the roti, sampling Brioza's house-made sausages is essential. We tried them in the form of the Treasure Chest, a creamy pork broth soup with fermented sausage, trout quenelles and pumpkin mochi. But better still was a deceptively simple dish of caldo verde featuring lamb merguez, octopus, crispy squid and yellow eye beans. The almost sinfully tender beans, rich with broth, were stars in their own right, but that merguez, laced with cumin and replete with the subtle funk of lamb flavor, has been the tune we haven't gotten out of our heads since.
The Progress is truly the kind of follow-up all artists aspire to. It maintains the style and personality of the debut, while rocking a unique beat that makes it a hit in its own right.
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