There are plenty of reasons to love Quince, the produce-driven “Californian cuisine” institution that has been one of the Bay Area’s most enduring favorites since its opening in 2003. Quince earned its first Michelin star as part of the inaugural San Francisco Bay Area Michelin Guide in 2007, and over the last 11 years has not only managed to maintain that star, but also move up the ranks to become one of the few San Francisco restaurants to earn three stars, in addition to several James Beard awards. But beyond the food—which is, as these accolades would suggest, sublime—Quince is known for a unique approach to its tablescapes, maintaining a library of well over 400 plates across some 50 styles.
Owner Lindsay Tusk says that she and her husband chef Michael Tusk’s starting point for their most interesting serving-ware is travel. For Western ceramics, Spain and France tend to have the most interesting makers, but globally, Japan takes the cake. Ancient Japanese ceramic traditions are alive and well. There is an emphasis on texture and materiality that is hard to find elsewhere, and many artisans have extremely limited production runs that make each plate all the more exclusive. As Lindsay put it, “Some of these places only fire up the kiln once a year.” Many of the plates purchased by Quince are exclusive designs and micro-run productions from such craftspeople.
Lindsay has a lot to say about her and Michael’s obsessive approach to collecting plates: “The plate lends itself to the narrative of what any dish is trying to express, at best; but at a minimum, you have to consider the negative and positive space, and color, and materiality of the plate. Whether something is better presented on wood, bone china, ceramic, stone—we put a lot of consideration into materiality and texture.”
Some of the greatest hits from Quince’s plate collection (which we’ve photographed for this story) include: a vintage lobster plate from the 1970s; delicate blue plates from Jengoro, a Japanese artisan lineage dating back to the 8th century; Kimura Glass Co. barware, known for ultra-thin etched glasses dating back to 1910; a golden glass plate from iconic Barcelona glazier Luesma & Vega; and a series of “mushroom plates” hand-painted by French interior designer Alberto Pinto.
Hunting for such rare, extraordinary plates has been part of Lindsay and Michael’s M.O. since the beginning of Quince. “The first thing we do when we travel anywhere is look at ceramic associations that local ceramicists would be a part of,” she says. “After some quick research, we might arrange a visit to their studio to get a sense about their approach and style. Often we will get inspired and then come back to the restaurant and be inspired by those conversations.” For example, it was after a visit to one Japanese glassblower and witnessing his oversized, terrarium-like bowls that Lindsay and Michael decided to poach fresh fish tableside, leaving the bowls on the table for a dramatic presentation. Plates at Quince are not just inert vessels—they are part of the experience.
But for all the travels, custom orders, and research into the most hard-to-find and exclusive plates out there, there is still one type of plate that Lindsay says she and Michael have not been able to find: a glass or crystal salad bowl to hold lettuces, with narrow openings in the bottom so the salad dressing could trickle through. “The idea would be for someone to eat the salad, remove the bowl, then there would be an underliner that would catch the vinaigrette, and that would be a sort of soup as a second service after the salad.” Again—the composition of the plate would not be simply pretty to look at, but also change the way you experience the cuisine.
At a restaurant which places so much stock in its plate collection, there comes the inevitable question: what happens when one breaks? “It’s heartbreaking, it’s absolutely devastating,” says Lindsay. “Obviously it’s an expense, but also just think of the effort we put in to selecting and curating the plates… The production of some of these things is extremely limited. And if that plate breaks, the kitchen might not be able to produce the dish that lives on that plate, because the plate can be so integral to the understanding and conception of the dish.”
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