Written by Meaghan Clark, Photos by Kingmond Young
I’m the first to admit I’m a bona fide foodie. I like my restaurants sealed with a “hot” or “new” label, and have waited in line for cruffins, snapped Instagram photos of side-street tacos, and stayed up late to secure OpenTable reservations for State Bird Provisions (to no avail).
So when an opportunity came around to try a decades-old restaurant in the heart of Union Square, I was skeptical. There’s no line around the corner and the place had a small digital footprint.
I deserve to be slapped.
For anyone with Bay Area connections, ask about Campton Place. With its rich history, the restaurant has opened the kitchen door for many of the Bay’s renowned chefs like St. Helena’s Todd Humphries and James Beard award winner Bradley Ogden.
The beauty behind the restaurant, located within Taj Campton Place, is that it defines fine dining in a way that “hot” places like Al’s Place and Petit Crenn only wish they could replicate. I’m talking about a wait staff that refills your water at just the right time without making you feel like they’re hovering, or tossing your cloth napkin aside when you’ve stepped to the restroom to get you a new one. Each little detail that accompanies your visit to Campton Place is refreshing and “new” in the sense that we don’t see this kind of service anymore…and I haven’t even begun to describe the food.
Without hesitation, we decided to take on the Spice Route menu, a six-course display of some of executive chef Srijith Gopinathan’s signature creations. It was ambitious, yes, but when else do you get the chance to spoon tamarind chutney out of a terra cotta pot that’s sitting on a bed of acorns and pinecones whilst dry ice delivers a mist of “San Francisco fog”? The spice pot alone is enough to venture away from your social circle; it’s a dish you aren’t likely to come across on your latest hunt for what Thrillist calls “the best” macaroni and cheese in the city.
Surprisingly, the audience wasn’t as stuffy as I’d expected on a Wednesday night. And while I’m not the first to describe the lackluster décor often associated with hotel-based restaurants (the Chronicle called is “fusty” last year), and a restroom hidden within the lobby alongside overstuffed lounge chairs and a giant crystal chandelier, I came here for the cuisine.
Of course, it was truly the food that stood out. Celebrating a second Michelin star this year, Campton Place would be nothing without the visionary talents of executive chef Srijith Gopinathan, who joined the culinary powerhouse in 2010. Upon his arrival, the Southern Indian native earned the restaurant its first Michelin star, which he’s followed up with one every year since then.
The beauty behind Srijith’s menu isn’t just the continued excellence, but the expectation that there’s constant innovation – like his incorporation of seasonal ingredients. As an SF foodie I’m used to enjoying changing menus and daily dishes, but for an institution like Campton Place – and signature dishes like the spice pot that have been on the menu for years – I was pleasantly surprised to see that the menu still keeps diners on their toes. This winter, everyone has squash on the menu but Srijith’s addition of Indian spices to a ladle of squash puree complimented the rest of the menu while adding a touch of modernism.
Without hesitation I can claim that I’ve never tasted a better pairing than the one I did at Campton Place – the cod and Riesling were like peanut butter and jelly; for once I finally understood what it meant to taste a complementary pairing. The cod exploded with flavor after a sip of my wine, a varietal I usually don’t enjoy for its sweetness but made my taste buds explode with happiness after just one sip/bite.
I could parade about the variety of each specific dish, but it’s all been documented before. Campton Place should still be where the foodies, bloggers, and PR stars go, and not because it’s new or hot or because the latest listicle from some newbie online publication tells you to go there.
The beauty behind great San Franciscan cuisine is that it has a history, and Campton Place is one of those places that has kept history alive. For more information, visit www.camptonplacesf.com.