Summary: Good but unimaginative Californian food in a fun atmosphere at this San Francisco establishment.
Boulevard must be doing something right. On a Wednesday night in the middle of March 2005, this Embarcadero restaurant was buzzing with activity; every table was filled, no sooner a party would leave than another would be seated, and the place was blazing with energy and joviality. And it's no wonder, the space is lovely, the food is good and the service is friendly. It must be a sign, then, of how jaded or picky I am that I wasn't actually satisfied with the experience. I liked it, I had a good time, but I don't think I'd hurry to go back.
Designed by Paul Kuleto, Boulevard's interior conveys amenable elegance and buoyant comfort. Its wood paneled walls give it a old-world clubby atmosphere, tamed down and brought alive by Belle Epoque posters and furnishings. A semi-open kitchen and lunch counter make it seem inclusive and provides an alternative for those without reservations. The friendly and semi-exuberant service ("is everything faaaabulous?") contributes to the gaiety of the atmosphere.
The brief dinner menu was somewhat different from the one online. It showcases California cuisine with an emphasis on ingredients. Several dishes featured the same meat prepared two ways, which would be more interesting if that hadn't become sort of a trend in Bay Area restaurants. Appetizers are priced in the high teens to low twenties, entrees in the high twenties to high thirties and desserts are ten fifty.
I started, of course, with the Foie Gras X 2 ($22.50). The dish featured a chunk of seared foie gras in a berry jam and a small slice of foie gras terrine in a tart citrus jam. It was served with two slices of brioche-like toast, a small salad and two crispy, sweet piroulines. Boulevard is famous for its foie gras, and it was indeed very good, extremely velvety and delicious. I liked the accompanying fruit jam, and while the combination wasn't extraordinary, I am not sure there is much that can be done to improve on such a basic dish. I would have appreciated a larger chunk, however. It was about four-bites worth, but that wasn't enough.
I loved the silky, buttery texture of the foie gras terrine but its mild taste didn't win me over. It was completely overtaken by the tartness of its accompanying jam, and even by itself it had too subtle a flavor to compete with the others in the dish. The mixed green salad was OK, but nothing more than that, and I did really like the piroulines, probably the most original part of the whole appetizer.
Mike got the seared scallops ($17.75) which came with a lobster pasta and caviar. The were nicely seared and good, but not as goods as those we'd hat at Neumanali a few months back for 2/3rds of the price. They lacked the buttery texture and almost sweet taste. Mike did enjoy the large pieces of lobster in the pasta but was not happy with the caviar. Its size and the size of the other items made it difficult to eat them together, and eaten by themselves the fish eggs left him with an extremely salty aftertaste.
A final complaint was that both appetizers were pretty small. They would have been fine as part of a 4 or 5 course meal - an option not available at Boulevard - or even if an amuse buche had been available, but as it was they seemed lacking and overpriced.
The menu included a couple of seafood entrees, a squab, a pork, a lamb and a steak (vegetarians, this is not the restaurant for you). I was tempted by the pork, but Mike beat me to the punch, I was not in a mood for red meat and I don't usually order fish at restaurants, so that left the squab ($31). It was seared, served with au jus on a bed of creamed spinach risotto. I'm often hesitant to order the squab because I have yet to find one that awes me, and this was no different. It was nicely cooked; it had been perfectly seasoned and it was crispy and tasty - but it was just like a myriad of other squabs I've had at restaurants in the Bay Area. There was nothing special about it, and perhaps there just can't be anything special about squab, but I had wanted something more. The accompanying risotto was unimpressive, once again I was reminded of the wonderful risotto at Neumanali, a restaurant that has nowhere near the cache, the ambiance or the quality of service of Boulevard, but that still manages to serve better food (though it can't match Boulevard on service and ambiance).
Mike's pork chop and pork riblets ($28.75) were a mixed bag. The pork loin chop was good but unremarkable but the slowly roasted pork riblets were quite nice, so tender and flavorful I would have guessed they were braised. Mike liked the taste and contrasting texture of the green beans and almonds.
Mike was quite happy with the size of his entree, but I felt mine was on the small side - perhaps because I didn't bother finishing the risotto.
The dessert menu included an apple trio, a cheesecake, a carrot cake and a couple of chocolate concoctions. I went for the Chocolate Tasting which included a warm chocolate fondant cake, a chocolate mascarpone panna cotta and a chocolate sorbet. Mike decided on the Valhrona Manjari chocolate which came with black and white Russian Ice Cream.
It was hard to know where to start eating the Chocolate Tasting. The chocolate sorbet was quite melted, so it seemed the logical choice, but its strong, bittersweet flavor made it difficult to taste the tamer flavors of the other sweets. The sorbet had a wonderful creamy texture and was quite good, though I usually prefer nuts or other things to break the monotony of the chocolate. But if you are a pure chocolate lover, you'll love it. The panna cotta laid on a thin, sweet brownie which was quite good by itself. The panna cotta, however, was very subtly flavored and after the ice cream, I could barely taste it. I loved the airy, creamy texture, but it also grew boring. The chocolate cake was good, though a little too dry for my taste. It was served with a delicious syrup and a spoonful of a sweetened cream. It was good, but not great. In all, I wished this desert had included something beyond chocolate. I love chocolate as much as the next person, but it became monotonous towards the end.
Mike's dessert included some chocolate ice cream that tasted exactly like mine but also white Russian ice cream - this was refreshing and delicious. The chocolate itself consisted of a dense mousse shaped into bars and both of us found it too sour for our taste. Mike ate it, though. By the end of dessert, we couldn't eat anything else but I think more because of the over-indulgent nature of dessert than because we were really full.
Boulevard has a great wine list which includes many half bottles and wines by the glass. Since I'm nursing, I'm not generally in the mood for alcohol so Mike decided on a glass of the Bordeaux ($16). He found it a bit too sour, but it did have a nice, oaky finish. I don't think he'd order it again, though. I had a couple of cokes at $3 each, which were fine. The bread and butter that came at the beginning of the meal were unremarkable; the bread was tasty but too crusty for my taste.
Dinner came to $180 after tax and tip. We felt it was a little bit too expensive for what it was, while we both liked the food for that amount of money I want to see a bit more creativity and boldness. There were no flavors in that meal that I hadn't encountered before, often times with a smaller price tag. Mike noted that Boulevard is noted for comfort food and not for pushing the culinary envelope so perhaps my expectations for dinner were somewhat misplaced. That said, we did have a great time and I'm glad Mike took me there for our twelfth anniversary.
1 Mission St
San Francisco, Ca
415 543 6084