There have been many high profile restaurant openings in San Francisco this year, from Chef Corey Lee’s Benu, to Saison, Commonwealth and Prospect just to name a few. Prospect opened on the ground floor of downtown San Francisco’s Infinity Towers condominium on July 2010 from the team that runs the highly successful restaurant Boulevard– Chef Nancy Oakes, Pam Mazzola and Kathy King. Heading the kitchens of Prospect is Boulevard’s former chef de cuisine Ravi Kapur, who brings American regional flavors infused with French and Asian influences much like at Boulevard, but with a more casual style.
Prospect is modern and urbane, done in dark brown tones and sleek wood, from the canopied square bar by the front entrance to the expansive dining room that seats 120. Cylindrical chandeliers float down from the tall ceilings of the dining hall, above the banquettes and tables from where diners can watch the city life through the large windows that run along Folsom Street. On an early autumn weeknight, every seat in the house was full, even the communal table and the bar that seats up to 45. While the crowds never ceased to fill every seat throughout the evening, the courteous and professional staff always stayed on cue with service.
Steve Plotnicki of Opinionated About Dining provided our wines for the evening, beginning with an enchanting 1990 Domaine Ramonet Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot. The chef’s tasting menu began with a Green Goddess salad featuring coarse cuts of Armenian cucumbers, coined Persian cucumbers, buttery avocados and basil, all tossed together in a creamy and refreshing caper vinaigrette with a hint of anchovy.
Yellowtail crudo was enjoyable, a luscious piece of fatty hamachi gently draped over a crispy rice cracker. The airy seaweed cracker gave easily to my bite, releasing a faint hint of wasabi aroma that augmented the richness of white miso aioli dots that decorated the surface of the fish. Shaved radishes and pickled cucumbers brought vigor to the flavors and textures in this yellowtail dish that was architecturally beautiful but structurally flawed for graceful consumption.
Softshell crab, shiitake mushrooms, shishito peppers and shiso wrapped shrimp were deep fried in a tempura batter and served in a yellow curry, miso and coconut milk sauce. Japanese and Thai flavors intermingled in this delicious dish to create a happy marriage of complex yet complementary Asian flavors. Crunchy sugar snap peas, baby shiitake caps and red microshiso garnish were all vibrant, making for a successful tempura curry that Gary from Vealcheeks especially enjoyed.
Pulled pork and gelatinous chunks of pig trotters were stuffed into panko-crusted packets of porcine delight, blanketed by long ribbons of summer squash and accents of capers, pickled celery, dill, mint sprigs and lemon basil. Meaty chunks of Maine lobster were a heavenly adjunct to the pork, and savory lobster aioli served as an incredible accompaniment, but the heavy flavors of the dish needed an extra sprinkling of capers and pickled celery.
The single stand out item of the evening for me was the lamb’s tongue, a slowly braised and quickly seared half of juicy tongue that only needed a gentle push of the fork to cut. The lamb loin wasn’t so impressive, nor was the romesco sauce made with roasted red peppers, almonds and sherry vinaigrette that tried to dominate the meat. Poached Italian butter beans, briny green olives, and hints of purslane, artichokes and parsley were amazing, but none could compete with the intense savor and velvety texture of the tender tongue. None, except for the bottle of 1978 Domaine Robert Arnoux Vosne-Romanée that Steve provided for the evening. A special wine with an aged dark brown tint, aromatic with hints of berries and spices despite a tuft of mold growing on the outer layer of the cork, gliding down my throat with the ease of silk to leave a long finish.
Pastry chef Elise Fineberg, formerly of Citizen Cake and Jardiniere, started us with a refreshing bowl of pink pearl apple granité with blackberries, raspberries and whipped crème fraîche.
The table swooned over Chef Fineberg’s contemporary dessert of goat’s milk shortbread topped with dulce de leche, chocolate ganache and butterscotch, plated with hazelnut vanilla bean ice cream, toasted hazelnuts and root beer honeycomb on a bed of chocolate crumble. The flavors were too rich and sweet for my taste, but I loved the assortment of textures and the playfulness of having these classic American sweets condensed into one beautiful plate.
The expansive industrial space at Prospect was beautiful, the service was impeccable and the vibe was merry. The tasting menu had high notes and low notes, but overall it was well thought out and enjoyable. Chef Ravi Kapur was just as I thought he would be- courteous, down to earth and humble at first, then vivacious and a tad eclectic upon deeper conversation- just like his food at Prospect. Prospect is certainly off to a successful start, but I would like to see more boldness and a bigger splash of adventure and creativity in the flavors, something that would break apart from the delicate tameness that I tasted. To quote my eloquent dining partner Gary of Vealcheeks, our experience at Prospect that evening was ‘more magical in theory than in practice.’
300 Spear Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
Random trivia: Did you know that there is only a 4 day window to eat soft-shell crabs after they molt their hard shells and before they begin to rebuild their shells?