Words by Jennine Jacob
Photos by Bird Dog
“You can just look at a plate and go, ‘Wow, this is beautiful.’ You don’t know if you should put it on the wall. Well screw that, let’s eat off of it.” says chef Robbie Wilson founder of Bird Dog. That’s how we feel here at GLAZE, why have beautiful ceramics if you can’t use it?
At Bird Dog, a two-year-old restaurant in Downtown Palo Alto, California, the ceramics play just as much a part of the dining experience as the food. The restaurant staff along with menu items can tell you about the maker of the plates as well as the price …if you just ask. And many of Bird Dog’s clientele do ask about the ceramics. Wilson says, “If you look in the dining room how many people after they finish their plates, they’ll turn it over to see who made it. We get questions all the time.”
(Plate by Wynne Nobel)
“I have this feeling that people no longer say grace, they take pictures. We’re such a visual society now.”
Bird Dog’s ceramics collection is as eclectic as their food. They have several different ceramicists producing custom work for the restaurant. Wilson describes the food as, “a multicultural pile-up. There will be this Yemenese curry in the roast beef that we grill at the same time it would be very Japanese.” On the menu, you’d truly find an array of different flavors, from wood-grilled avocado to fried chicken with green curry and smoked uni. The presentation goes a long way at Bird Dog, a lot of nurturing and care gets put into every serving as they carefully compose each dish. “We do understand that people eat with their eyes,” says Wilson, “I have this feeling that people no longer say grace, they take pictures. We’re such a visual society now.”
(Plate by Keith Kreeger)
“I think great food is a cooperation between a farmer, fisherman, a rancher and a potter and a chef. And much like the music in the restaurant, everything has to be simpatico.” Wilson says of why he has invested so heavily into ceramics, “So we are going to certainly source our ceramics as much as we source our fish. And we’re not idiots, we know that if we invest in the quality of our plates it’s going to enhance what we do. Our guests feel like they’ve been upgraded to business class just by this plate of food in front of them.”
(Plates by Yuki Yoshimoto)
Wilson uses social media to source potters to work with. Twenty years ago finding so many different potters around the world would take a lot of effort. You would either need to go to the physical location or find potters on the internet through clunky websites. Now with social media platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest, sourcing potters becomes much easier.
Wilson has commissioned most all the handmade ceramics in the restaurant, “I’ll see a plate and immediately go, ‘Man that’s awesome.’ Or I’ll see an element of it, and think I would love that at Bird Dog but maybe it should be [different.] We saw these really cool splatter paint green plate and we have this green salad. So we did this dark green plate with this really dark green splattering, and it just looks amazing.”
Currently, Wilson works with a ceramicist on deliberately chipped plates. Another ceramicist works on creating these fat clay slabs to present raw fish. Each commission is a one-off. Since plates tend to break in restaurants, Wilson will re-order from a ceramicist but never exactly the same thing. As the menu evolves so do the plates in the restaurant so you never have to worry about the place becoming stale or boring.
(Plate by Mary Mar Keenan)
All images courtesy of Bird Dog Palo Alto