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Lunch @ Campton Place

July 12, 2007

Campton PlaceI had a rather unexpected lunch today at the restaurant at the Campton Place Hotel in the Union Square neighborhood. I say unexpected because it came after a two hour meeting which was dominated by calls to lower the expenditures on a large restaurant project I’m involved with, so to then go out for an expensive lunch at one of San Francisco’s top spots seemed a bit incongruous. The client was paying however, and who am I to turn down an opportunity like that? The hotel is run by the Taj Hotel group, and has long been an icon in San Francisco.

The last time I ate at Campton Place was while meeting with two headhunters who were working on my behalf at the time, and I had a rather stupendous burger in the bar. The time before that I was staging in the kitchen while Daniel Humm was still the chef. I was interviewing for a chef job then, and although I sampled much of what was on his menu at the time, it was while standing up in the kitchen between turns. Not exactly a high-class dining experience, but I wasn’t complaining…Senor Humm is a fantastic cook. He’s no longer running the operation at Campton Place since leaving for Eleven Madison Park in New York City some time ago, and the new chef, Peter Rudolph, has been a bit quiet since taking over.

I can attest, however, that his being under the radar since Humm’s departure should not be taken for a lack of chops. We had a superb lunch.

We started off with an amuse bouche of Dungeness Crab Agnolotti in a very delicate pea puree with just a touch of mint. Warm, soft and beautifully seasoned, I would have gladly had fifteen or twenty of them. What followed for me was White Asparagus with Roasted Chiogga Beets, Mackerel Sashimi and a teeny-tiny quenelle of mint sorbet. Poured tableside was a fine and light beet broth. My two dining companions had the Pea Soup with Chanterelles and the Star Route Farms salad, both of which were well received. The presentations were charming too. Exacting but not painstakingly so.

Main courses consisted of a Seared Tai Snapper with Maitake mushrooms, a halibut dish with an as yet not to be remembered set-up, and for me the slow roasted Black Cod with Pork Belly and Hijiki. My fish was cooked exactly perfectly…which is no small feat actually, considering the subtelties of slow roasting fish. Slightly too warm and the fish begins to caramelize and dry out, slightly too cool in the oven and it dries out before finishing the cooking process. Not one single fleck of albumen had risen to the service, and between the lush richness of the pork belly and the modest application of an unnamed buttery emulsion, the fish was, in a word, divine.

We skipped dessert, though I should add that my double macchiato was so foamy I don’t think I missed it at all. We had to get Beard Papa’s cream puffs on the way home anyway, as is a common occurence when we’re in the city for meetings, so we weren’t too worried about the dessert. Our neighbors had what appeared to be a collection of rather nicely appointed desserts in front of them, and I’ll take their word for it that they were probably quite good.

An unexpected and delicious surprise, I’ve long known that Campton Place was a serious place for people who were serious about food, and it was nice to finally dine there…in the dining room that is.

Be forewarned…it’s not inexpensive. Our pre-tip lunch tab was $130 for 3 people with no dessert and no wine. Sorry to say, dinner is quite a bit more than that too, but it’s a lovely, spacious room with a lot going for it.

Campton Place Hotel
340 Stockton Street,
San Francisco, California, 94108
415.781.5555

Open daily for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, Brunch on Sundays.

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