Campton Place might be one of the most under-rated restaurants in San Francisco. It’s completely omitted from the California guidebook I own, and isn’t often mentioned by people of my generation as one of the best restaurants in the city, perhaps due to its location in the posh Taj Campton Place hotel and the resulting perceived stuffiness. Yet our dinner here was just about perfect in every aspect and was one of the two best meals I had in the five years I lived in the bay area.
The food is incredible, of course, but that’s just the beginning. The Cal-Indian cuisine is so unique for a fine dining scene filled with French and Italian restaurants, but is still very recognizable to most American palates and isn’t “weird for the sake of being weird.” Servers were perfectly attentive without hovering, and every dish came out beautifully plated. Best of all, the prices are very reasonable for the SF fine dining scene. A meal here is certainly a splurge, but it’s hard to beat the value this place offers, with a six course (that’s really more like ten courses, when you count amuse bouches and small treats in between courses) tasting menu for $102. Many comparable restaurants only offer three or four courses for this price.
We began with round after round of amuse bouches. First up was a plate of modern Indian street food, including a yogurt-filled canoli, chickpea flour noodles, and fried okra. This was quickly followed by a strawberry-tomato soup with fried chickpeas, and finally we were served naan with garlic yogurt sauce. Each plate was equally delicious and creative.
The first course was a tandoori shrimp dish, which my husband loved.
I’m allergic to shrimp, and when I mentioned that, they quickly offered to substitute a dish from the vegetarian tasting menu for me. Many fancy restaurants balk at substitutions, because they want you to have the meal exactly the way the chef envisioned it, so the flexibility was much appreciated. The dish I got was none other than the famous “spice pot,” a yogurt and vegetable mixture topped with toasted lentils and mustard seeds for crunch. The presentation, complete with dry ice (to represent the San Francisco fog) that appears when the waiter “waters” the plant, was incredibly creative and memorable, and the dish was fabulous.
Our second course was Maine lobster with curry, Madras potatoes and peas. I often find lobster’s delicate flavor to be overpowered by strong sauces but the curry was mild enough to let the lobster shine through while still adding wonderful Indian flavor to the dish.
Up next was a slow-cooked halibut with a scallion crust. The slow-cooking method of cooking fish is not my favorite, as it makes the fish a bit gummy for my tastes. Still this was by no means bad, and it was one of my husband’s favorite courses, proving once again how subjective food is and that you can’t possibly please everyone with every dish.
Our fourth course was a tandoori cornish game hen with a squash blossom and carrot jus. I loved this dish and it was a welcome return to the Indian flavors after they were largely absent on the previous dish.
After this course, we were served a palate cleanser of avocado, arugula and apple foam. I’m not typically a big fan of the foam trend that’s so hot right now, but this was refreshing.
Our fifth course, the lamb, surprised me the most. I don’t typically care for lamb (I didn’t even like the version I had at the French Laundry) but this was absolutely incredible. The lamb was tender, flavorful and melted in my mouth. I think it’s the mark of a great chef when your favorite courses are comprised of foods you don’t even like that much.
After the end of our savory courses, we had another palate cleanser of white peach sorbet. It was excellent.
Campton Place doesn’t have a pastry chef and head Chef Srijith Gopinathan handles the desserts as well as everything else. I feared they might be an afterthought, but the opposite was true. The chocolate cremeux had a rich dark flavor and perfect creamy texture, but the smoked ice cream that came with it was even better. My husband doesn’t really like chocolate (crazy, I know) and he had a cheese plate that he really enjoyed.
Because we were celebrating our anniversary, they brought out a special dessert, an incredible white chocolate cheesecake with a creme brulée crust. Finally, there was a tray of excellent mignardises: a lemon caramel, a strawberry macaron, a white chocolate and a mini-brownie.
Fortunately, while Campton Place doesn’t get the popular recognition it deserves, it has earned plenty of attention from those that matter in the restaurant world, and received an incredibly well-deserved second star from Michelin this fall. Prices tend to increase with Michelin stars, so if you’re local, I highly encourage you to go now! This is the perfect place for a special occasion dinner in San Francisco.