Reveling In Modern Cal-Indian Cuisine at Campton Place
Naan formed into rolls as fluffy as classic Parker House ones and hiding a center of ricotta. Cauliflower florets garnished with ethereal turmeric foam. And familiar-tasting cumin-scented potatoes and peas, but uncannily presented in a flower pot spewing wisps of dry ice.
That’s the unique, incredibly elegant cuisine served at Michelin-starred Campton Place in San Francisco by Chef Srijith Gopinathan. French techniques are applied to traditional Indian flavors with inspired Bay Area flourishes to create food that evokes time and place.
That’s what I found when I was invited in as a guest a few weeks ago. It had been a few years since I last dined at the restaurant. The food has grown more personal with Gopinathan really showcasing his native India and adopted city of San Francisco in memorable ways.
My husband and I checked into our complimentary room at the Taj Campton Place Hotel.
We took a jaunt around Union Square, which our room overlooked, to work off a few calories before dinner. For Bay Area folks who long for a staycation, this is a hard-to-beat locale.
We were greeted with a welcome gift of a copper tiffin in our room. The pretty, three-tiered container held a bevy of treats, including a poached Bartlett pear filled with spiced mousse; sweet-tart sunshine-y mango mini tartlets; and bon bons.
For dinner, the restaurant offers two tasting menus each night: the Spice Route, and a vegetarian version. Wine pairings are $98 each.
The dining room is a handsome space with a dramatic blown-glass chandelier in the center, and a wall of roomy booths, as well as tables spaced well apart so that you can actually hold a conversation.
Dinner began with glasses of non-vintage Champagne from Gosset, the oldest producer in Champagne.
That was soon followed by a nouveau naan, filled with ricotta and offered with a swipe of avocado butter for extra richness.
“Picnic in Golden Gate Park” brought a large wooden tray set before each of us. With its bed of smooth river stones, it was reminiscent of the foot bridges in the Japanese Tea Garden in the park, which the chef lives not too far from.
Inside were the makings for the most stylish picnic ever: a crisp potato chip with sturgeon caviar, a vegetable rice puff, a lychee crusted with crushed pappadam, a taro-skin samosa with mint aioli, a peppery squash blossom fritter, and a fresh peach used as a cup to hold lime-peach soda that had a note of cumin.
Next, a signature dish that has been on the menu for years, but has gotten more refined over time: the Flower Pot. It’s a real flower pot that holds parfait-like layers of potatoes, peas, yogurt and fried quinoa. A server pours water over the dry ice the pot sits on, creating a dreamy, misty, forest landscape. You dig all the way to the bottom to get a bit of everything, the creamy with the crunchy.
My husband and I added an extra dish of seared foie gras, which we split. Thick plum sauce cut its richness with sweetness balanced with a good dose of tartness. Ginger gastrique added a peppery, throaty warmth. It was served alongside another warm roll, this one crowned with toasted hazelnuts and chives that was a little bite of heaven.
Butter-poached lobster was arranged just so alongside a bright marigold quenelle of sago pudding flavored with green mango and coconut. It was a beautiful dish, though, the lobster was a little chewier than other butter-poached ones I’ve had in the past.
Crisp cauliflower carried a hit of spiciness at the very end. But like all the dishes, there wasn’t anything to blow out your palate. Instead, chili peppers are used judiciously. The floret was accompanied by rice and quinoa, cooked until as creamy and thick as rice pudding.
In the next dish of seared black bass, tamarind is traditionally used. But here, green apple sauce stands in for it alongside precise tiny cubes of the fresh, juicy fruit. You don’t often imagine apple with fish, but its bright, vivid tartness wakes up the dish.
For the last savory course, you get a choice between quail and lamb. Since there were two of us, we each ordered one so we could try both. I love the mild gaminess of quail, which was paired with the last the season peaches, chanterelles, leafy greens, and a raita foam to add a cooling touch. It was a dish that captured summer giving way to fall.
The rosy rack of lamb was dusted in Indian five-spice and came with fragrant basmati rice. A bright rosemary spice yogurt added a bit of East meets West.
Pluot sorbet served with a ball of frozen yogurt and toasted coconut shards paved the way for dessert, providing proved a refreshing, fruity sweet intermezzo.
With dessert, you choose between two, so we each ordered one. Slow-roasted pear was hidden underneath delicate tuilles that resembled autumn leaves. Crunchy walnuts added more touches of fall, while tamarind syrup jazzed everything up with measured fruity pucker.
Small scoops of roasted white chocolate ice cream encircled the other dessert of near-chewy, cardamom-semolina halva. A bit of smokiness was added with peaches charred in the tandoori.
The final bites were blackberry macarons, pistachio fudge, and hazelnut chocolates.
But of course, tomorrow brought another day. Breakfast is served in the same dining room, which was nearly full when we sat down to enjoy it.
Selections lean to American standards for the most part, though there are a few dishes that have Indian influences, such as the Masala omelet with green chiles ($17).
My husband opted for the corned beef hash with poached eggs ($17). With big chunks of beef, you could tell from the first bite that this was corned beef made in-house, tossed with potatoes and bell peppers.
My malted waffle ($16) was crisp and fluffy. It was garnished with roasted pear. It was served with two small containers of melted, clarified butter, and vanilla-sweetened whipped cream. I liked that the cream was modest in portion and served on the side, rather than the waffle being smothered in gobs of it.
From breakfast on through dinner, Campton Place offers a refined experience to remember.