Recent Comments

    Boulevard: A Class Act

    By David Landis–The Gay Gourmet–

    “Food breaks down the barriers with people if we allow and nurture that.”
    —Chef Nancy Oakes, Boulevard

    The minute you walk through the revolving door into Boulevard, Chef Nancy Oakes’ mainstay of haute American cuisine, you feel transported. You could be in Provence, but with a modern touch and a spectacular view of San Francisco’s Bay Bridge.
    Opened in 1993 in the historic French mansard-roofed Audiffred Building on San Francisco’s waterfront, Boulevard exudes class, sophistication, and smells that make you want to try everything on the menu. The design, by Pat Kuleto, still feels contemporary but with a warmth and style that draw diners into its embrace.

    One of The Gay Gourmet’s favorite haunts, Boulevard delights partly because the quality of food and the level of service are always consistently first-class. It’s not just the dining experience that inspires; Boulevard also has plenty of international accolades, including two James Beard awards and the Filiale des Etats-Unis in France.

    Boulevard is the kind of establishment where you’re as comfortable celebrating a special birthday or closing a business deal over lunch—or renting the Belle Epoque-style downstairs L’Avenue room for a private event. In fact, I’ve done all of the above, with great success.

    According to acclaimed Chef Nancy Oakes (who, prior to Boulevard, owned the equally popular L’Avenue in the avenues), Boulevard’s success is due to “keeping a team together. Being a good employer should be a part of the culture of any restaurant. You find great people and hopefully they want to stay with you—and you can get a lot done that way and move forward.”

    How does she source such quality products? “It takes experience,” says Oakes. “We have great producers and distributors in the Bay Area, among the best in the U.S., possibly worldwide. That’s the fun part. There also is value in being a regular customer; it’s all about relationships.”

    With Boulevard, what is she trying to achieve? “When we opened, Boulevard was a challenge, a big jump up in size from L’Avenue. There was a core of people at L’Avenue for five years and we all opened Boulevard. That helped. I think it’s one of Pat Kuleto’s best designs. It’s large, but he created a room that is cozy and warm; the mosaics and blown glass create an ambience that makes the dining experience special. Everyone looks good in his lighting. And, the outside of the building matches the inside of the building.”

    Chef Nancy Oaks, Boulevard

    “I am trying to provide what I was raised to expect,” says Oakes, “a relaxing environment where you can talk with and enjoy the people with whom you’re dining. Food breaks down the barriers with people if we allow and nurture that. In this day and age where people are into their phones, it’s important to spend time with each other.”

    “When it comes to the food that I’ve created,” continues Oakes, “I tend to rely on the classics of Italian and French, but I’m curious. It should always be delicious. For instance, I don’t think the pork chop has ever been off the menu. It’s Berkshire pork and doesn’t need a lot of gussying up or brining.” (The accompanying house-made spaetzle is to die for.)

    At a recent lunch, we began with a glass of The Gay Gourmet’s personal favorite, the Billecart-Salmon French rose champagne. For starters, we sampled a seasonal Dungeness crab, celery root, avocado, and grapefruit salad—a perfect blend of clean, fresh flavors. As a second course, we tried the white and yellow cheddar soufflé—light and elegant—topped with shaved winter truffles and parmesan sauce. To complement the meal, we chose Louis Michel & Fils’ French Chablis (dry, with hints of minerality) with one of the freshest king salmon offerings on the planet.

    The accompaniments for the fish included miniature potato pancakes (reminiscent of the ones The Gay Gourmet’s mother used to make), melted leeks, arrowhead cabbage and a morel mushroom/sherry beurre blanc sauce. Absolutely divine. Even the bread is special: dark and crusty levain sourdough, with butter that is perfectly fresh (butter that goes bad in restaurants is a particular peeve of mine—that should never happen!). Since my husband grew up in Montana, we finished with a side of huckleberry buttermilk ice cream. The presentation, in a clear glass bowl with a biscuit “spoon” dipped in chocolate, was a delight.

    We heard through the grapevine that Boulevard might be having challenges with its lease (like many San Francisco restaurants these days), but it looks like at least for the short term, Boulevard will continue to be around. “We’re working things out with our landlord and hopefully, we’ll get a longer-term lease,” says Oakes.
    What’s next for Chef Nancy? “I’m working with chef Anna Weinberg and designer Ken Fulk to re-open Tosca Café in North Beach hopefully in April. I want to hold onto the part of San Francisco in which I grew up. Tosca was an interesting cross section of high society meets the beatniks. In the 60s, we went there to create the person we wanted to become. We’ll have simple Italian offerings, but I’ll be creative with it. I want to address things that we lost, like the old Vanessi’s restaurant, which I loved. I’ve hired a great chef with passion who’s going to keep me in line! People don’t want to see Tosca changed. We’ll work hard to keep it as it is.”

    And what’s next in food trends? “I’m fascinated with the idea that your health is tied to what you eat,” states Oakes. “When you have the opportunity to incorporate things that are healthy, I try to get them on the plate. We all feel better when we eat well. For instance, we all know that sugar is not good for us in the quantity we consume. In England, some innovators have developed a sweetener from the fiber of plants. It doesn’t have a weird taste and it’s not chemical. I’m doing a project with these folks and we’ll be launching a dessert at Boulevard with zero glycemic impact.”

    Oakes summarizes, “We can take care of ourselves and still enjoy food.”

    In short, if you have only one chance to visit a special San Francisco restaurant that captures the essence of all that is attractive about dining in this very competitive restaurant city, it should be Boulevard.

    Boulevard is located at 1 Mission Street in San Francisco, with dinners every night and lunch Monday through Friday. For information, phone 415-543-6084 or visit the website ( www.boulevardrestaurant.com ). Reservations are available through Open Table.

    A Tasty Extra Morsel

    Rather than just profiling restaurants, I thought I’d also provide some added bonuses for foodies every so often. This month’s extra tip? A great read from prolific author Alexander McCall Smith (who wrote all those Ladies’ Detective Agency books) called The Second Worst Restaurant in France ( https://bit.ly/2PqxCYu ). It’s a breezy and fun read about a food writer-philosopher who finds a lackluster French countryside restaurant and helps to turn it into a resounding success. Highly recommended.

    David Landis, aka “The Gay Gourmet,” is a foodie, a freelance writer, and a PR executive. Follow him on Instagram @GayGourmetSF, on Twitter @david_landis, email him at: david@landispr.com or visit him online at: www.gaygourmetsf.com

    Published on February 27, 2020