High Prospects at Prospect in San Francisco

California halibut
California halibut

You know you're dining at a hot new place in San Francisco when on a chilly Sunday evening, it's jam-packed with a well-known socialite at one table and a Euro-fashionista in neon pink fur vest and billboard-screaming sequined jeans at another.

Prospect is not just a place to be seen, though. It's also a place to dine very, very well.

Of course, that's expected when it's a spin-off of one of the most popular and well-regarded restaurants in the city, Boulevard. Executive Chef Ravi Kapur, who worked for eight years under Nancy Oakes at Boulevard, oversees this contemporary space with its soaring windows overlooking Spear Street, bold art canvasses on the wall, and large drum lights suspended from the ceiling. Prospect, a short hop from the Hotel Vitale, has a more casual vibe than Boulevard, and a menu that's a little easier on the pocketbook.

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant.

After we were seated, an special amuse bouche greeted us -- a tiny salad of maitake mushrooms, both shaved and fried tempura-style, garnished with pine nuts and shavings of black truffle. What a way to start the night.

My husband couldn't resist the Green Goddess Salad ($14), which was served nicely chilled. This California dream of a dish was composed of mixed lettuces tossed with creamy avocado, crunchy cucumber, and a lovely assertive caper vinaigrette that made you want to eat every last leaf on the plate.

My starter of black cod ($15.50) was succulent, its silky flesh contrasted with the crunch of a shiso leaf that had been stuffed with chopped shrimp, then deep-fried. Shiitakes and matsutakes rounded out this Asian-inflected dish with a subtle red curry broth.

We also tried a salad of handpicked Dungeness crab ($16), an uptown version of a classic, which dazzled with creamy house-made ranch dressing, fried slivers of torpedo onion, and dollops of Uruguayan caviar.

Kapur's dishes are so well-balanced, and he's a master at texture. Every dish had a range of them. If there was something soft and languid on the plate, there was always something crispy, too, to lend character and definition.

My husband was fairly swooning over the Wagyu Zabuton ($33.50), a well-marbled cut from the center of the chuck roll that's almost rib-eye-like in flavor and texture. The extremely juicy steak got a flourish from toasted nettles, maitake mushrooms, spiced parsnips, and a little mound of farro enriched with tiny pieces of tender, beefy, oxtail.

My California halibut ($28) with celery root mousseline, salsify, and clamshell mushrooms was fabulous and made all the more special by a satsuma hollandaise sauce. Think of the flavor of a creamsicle, only made thicker and creamier with lots of butter, and you get my drift.

Dessert at Prospect is playful and varied. If you just want to nosh on something small, you can. Or you can go to town with something more substantial.

My husband and I shared the ricotta doughnuts ($8), served with huckleberry sauce. The ricotta gives the doughnuts a light, airy texture. For extra whimsy, the doughnuts are rolled in sugar that's mixed with crushed lemon drops for a surprise burst of citrus.

The restaurant also serves the cutest little ice cream sandwiches ever ($8). These two-bite wonders are composed of crisp, deep chocolate-y cookies with a filling of cinnamon swirl ice cream.

The house-made caramel popcorn ($5) may just put all others to shame. Prospect's version is delightfully crunchy, buttery and so fresh tasting. The popped kernels are all separate, too, rather than in big clumps. A touch of salt and cocoa nibs makes this version much more balanced, and not so achingly sweet as so many others. You're sure to be addicted from the first handful.

At Prospect, you never know just who'll you see. But you're sure to leave thoroughly satisfied.

-- Carolyn Jung of FoodGal

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