It may seem silly to name a small digestif after such a lofty aspiration as a world without war, but pastry chef Nicole Krasinski's World Peace Peanut Muscovado Milk might be worthy of the title. After tasting it myself, I'm sure I'd drop anything—a gun, a grenade, a bitter prejudice—to try it again.
The peanut milk is a clear favorite for many who eat at State Bird Provisions, one of San Francisco's boldest and most popular restaurant. The eatery, run by Krasinski and her James Beard-decorated husband Stuart Brioza, was named "Best New Restaurant in America" in 2012 by Bon Appétit. A year later, in what was a perfectly San Francisco event, hungry techies allegedly hacked the reservation system to make sure they'd get seats. When famished nerds are hacking your mainframe, you know you're doing something right.
State Bird Provisions occupies an abandoned movie theater in San Francisco's Fillmore neighborhood, and not in the good part.
"It's developing," says Krasinski carefully. But that was part of the couple's reasoning.
"We wanted to be in a neighborhood where we could have an impact and bring in new businesses and life," she says. "We love being on this block. It's very dynamic."
It is fitting that the couple chose to build their restaurant, with all its culinary innovations, in Fillmore, a former jazz haven. Certainly their cooking methods have more than a pinch of improv.
It's a style that's hard to describe. "Fusion" seems too kitschy, "experimental" too avant-garde. "Expertly calibrated" is, perhaps, a good start.
We're talking pork belly citrus salad, smoked trout avocado chip and dip, guinea hen dumplings with aromatic broth, guanciale chawanmushi (Japanese egg custard topped with Italian cured pork cheek) and much more. The Szechuan pepper ice cream sandwich might be the best ice cream sandwich your taste buds ever meet.
But we're here to talk peanut milk. While State Bird's menu is prone to regular revision, the nutty milk has been a staple since the beginning.
It's origin story is simple enough. Before they opened State Bird in 2012, the couple underwent menu R&D through hosting private dinners with friends and industry heads at their house. Krasinski needed something she could create easily in her home kitchen. Inspired by a recipe for a boozy hazelnut milk from Michel Bras she'd heard about ten years prior, she tried the peanut milk.
"It was far and away the most well-received dessert," remembers Krasinski. "People were drinking it and freaking out. Instantly I knew I had to put it on the menu at State Bird."
But what's with the name? "Every person that tried it would say things like, 'Oh man, now I just want to give you a hug' or, 'This makes me feel so good' and, 'This makes me feel so calm now.' [Nut milk] is something in Chinese medicine that actually does have these qualities and gives you a sense of calm or well-being, so we decided that we were going to help promote world peace one cup at a time," laughs the pastry chef.
The restaurant serves its dishes dim Sum-style on carts and trays. "State Bird's all about going hard for an hour and a half and then realizing how full you are," says Krasinski. Not too filling, the peanut milk is a good dessert for overeaters.
The $2 digestif just recently underwent a slight makeover; they're using new peanuts. "It's kind of a big breakthrough," quips Krasinski. She wanted something a little bit more complex. "Skins on, like a small Spanish red peanut. The color's changed a little bit and the flavor is now more peanutty," she explains.
Preparing the peanut milk is pretty simple. The ingredients—peanuts, whole milk, cream, water, vanilla bean, and a little bit of sugar—are boiled for an hour and a half. The chefs cool it, let it sit overnight, and then strain it, blend it, and strain it again. It is served in a two-ounce creamer with a small shot glass that holds a teaspoon of black muscovado—a dark, moist, unrefined sugar.
The World Peace Muscovado Peanut Milk is only served at State Bird Provisions, though they did just start serving a mai tai cocktail that uses the peanut milk at The Progress, the couple's other restaurant next door. It is typically taken as a dessert, but not always.
"Certain customers will come in and just order five shots and just do them all at once," says Krasinski. By my calculations, that's a lot of peace.