Monday, February 16, 2009

Boulevard, San Francisco CA

After an early breakfast at Tartine and plenty of time driving around viewing the city, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Academy of Sciences the goal was a visit to California’s oldest restaurant for some lunch around 2:00 – little did we know that President’s day is actually a day off for those at Tadich Grill and most of downtown. A little disappointed I fired up the GPS to figure out something close and low-and-behold was greeted by another Northern California landmark – Boulevard. Having read glowing revies of Nancy Oakes both as a chef and a person, I’d actually considered dinner at Boulevard for that evening, but why wait, especially given the number of restaurants closed in SF on Mondays!

Arriving at Boulevard around 2:05 the restaurant was still approximately half full but our lack of reservations was not an issue at all. A courteous valet took the car and led us through the doors into the marvelous stone-clad room with its beautifully wide open kitchen and prep area, long scenic bar, and smells that piqued both my interest and my appetite. After approximately 3 minutes we were seated and our wonderfully helpful (if not a bit pretentious) waiter, Joe W presented us with menus and suggestions for wine – an option we declined, instead opting for iced tea and water. By the time Joe’s assistant returned with water and tea our minds were made up, orders were placed, and I made a quick trip (down the stairs, where many old awards hang) to the restroom where, oddly, a picture of a nude lady hangs. By the time I returned, a wonderful block of superb sourdough with wonderful salted butter was present and I proceeded to overindulge without regret.

For our meal options, my mother selected a main while my aunt chose an appetizer and a main and I selected two appetizers to serve as my main. Course one of the meal consisted of my aunt’s Dungeness Crab Cake with Bouillabaisse and Saffron Aioli and my eared Monterey Calamari with Pan Seared Artichoke Hearts and Puree, crispy tentacles, olive-red pepper relish. Both dishes were presented nicely by Joe and described in great detail with the bouillabaisse actually added to the crabcake tableside - a nice touch. Incredibly fresh and decent in portion, both dishes were true palate pleasers and on par with what one would expect in a place like Boulevard. Though she was first hesitant about the crab because she worried the bouillabaisse would be too fishy, my aunt loved her dish and while I generally prefer a little less spice in my dish, the pepper with my calamari was actually quite subdued by the olive and the crispy tentacles provided and interesting contrast to the smooth cephalopods.

For our mains, my mother selected the Organic Free Range Chicken Breast with Black Truffles, Baked Crespelle with Wild Mushroom Ragu, Ricotta, Sauteed Broccoli di Ciccio and Rich Chicken Jus while my aunt opted for the Kobe Beef Burger on Brioche Bun with White Cheddar, Crispy Fries, and Condiments. As I do not eat beef I cannot comment on the burger, but my aunt claims it was the best burger she has ever tasted and stated she didn’t even need to chew as the buttery brioche and beef melted on her tongue. In reference to the fries, I can say that these were a stunning example of how to make a potato, though not on par with those of Michael Mina or Thomas Keller, quite better than Michael Symon’s at Lola.

With regard to the chicken, let’s just say that if I had the money to purchase free-range local birds every day at home I’d be a much happier man and if all Broccoli tasted like this I wouldn’t have so many patients telling me they did not like salad. Without overstating I can say this was the best piece of foul I’d ever had (better than Trotters or Ducasse) until my subsequent meal at The French Laundry and I would strongly recommend the crispy coated yet perfectly moist bird to anyone who truly appreciates fine cooking technique and wonderful quality ingredients. The truffles in this dish, like in the chicken at Le Cirque were mostly for show.

For my main, I allowed my love of eggs to be indulged and selected the Slow Cooked Organic Farm Egg with Soft Polenta and Roasted Garlic, Quercia Acorn Prosciutto and Shaved Himalayan Truffles. Ham, eggs, garlic, and mushrooms simply never tasted so good – like the best savory breakfast you can imagine. Perfectly poached, the egg’s rich and smooth yolk contrasted sharply with the salty ham while the textured polenta and heavy hints of garlic were brought into focus by a surprisingly fresh and large portion (for the price) of Truffles. While I’m not the sort who praises truffles simply because they are rare or pricey, their effect on eggs is something I truly love and this dish was no exception.

Somewhat full, yet well informed that dessert at Boulevard should not be missed each of us selected an option with each being an absolute winner. The first choice, my mother’s First of Season Strawberry Shortcake with Brown Sugar Biscuit, Whipped Creme Fraiche, Strawberrries, and Meyer Lemon Sorbet was the worst of the three…and yet it was spectacular. A crispy biscuit with hints of sugar and cinnamon was sliced in two and layered with mildly sweet crème fraiche and flawless berries while a small pile of fresh Lemon Sorbet sat down-wind and contrasted from the sweet/warm shortcake with its sour/icy potency.

The second option, my aunt’s Butterscotch Cream Pie with Chocolate Painted Hazelnut Cookie Crust, Butterscotch Pudding, Chantilly Cream was a fantastic option and while incredibly sweet, somehow balanced surprisingly well with the light and airy cream to form a s’mores-esque mouth-feel. The presentation was fantastic, but for myself something this sweet would’ve needed coffee which I neglected to get.

My choice, the famous “Black & White” consisting of a Gianduja Cupcake with Chocolate & Meringue Kisses, Tainori Chocolate Pave with White Chocolate Foam, Araguani Chocolate Sorbet and Valhrona White chocolate Ice Cream was out of this world – and that description doesn’t even include the best item on the dish – a white chocolate macaroon absolutely stuffed with dark chocolate gnache. With the myriad textures, flavors, temperatures, and degrees of chocolate it is truly impossible to describe this dish without experiencing it and in my opinion any chocolate lover who has not experienced it could be missing out on the best “study of chocolate” dessert out there.

All told, the total bill for lunch came out to less than $40pp and while this price is indeed steep, I felt that it was a bargain given the quantity and quality of food served. Having read about the snooty service of others who visited, I must say that aside from an overall air of pretense, we did not experience any snooty behavior despite being dressed in jeans and street clothes and all-in-all the meal, food, and service was wonderful. A beautiful restaurant with great food in a nice setting, a Michelin Star, open for lunch, open on Mondays, and wonderful eggs with even better chocolate? Can’t beat that.

1 comment:

Rich said...

this is quite the lunch... and they certainly didn't stint on the truffles!