Boulevard [San Francisco]
I've been to Cotogna three times now and I've left with the same impression each time: the pasta dishes are always perfectly executed, but I haven't really enjoyed any non-pasta dish I've ordered.
Although not directly comparable, I much prefer Acquerello to Cotogna for high-end Italian in SF.
We've had a couple of really outstanding (add discrete) octopus preps at Cotogna which were pasta free, and I've loved three three different sformatos we've tried and the one pizza. Agree that the pasta dishes stand way out. We've never made it past the primi listing to try any secondi. The only dud in three meals was a cauliflower side dish with too many currants.
I haven't been here in several years, tho it used to be a "go to" destination. Last nite, they proved themselves back in the game.
Arrived without a reservation at 6:30, but we quickly got a table in the bar section. We shared several apps, and each was innovative and impeccable:
-Sea Scallops with Brandade Corquettes -- tender, flavorful. With a sprinkle of garlic chips on the side. Server kindly noted that the dish has 3 scallops, and asked if we wanted to augment that with an additional scallop, so we each could have 2.
- Glazed Quail on a bed of wild rice, with king trumpet mushrooms, a few very tasty walnuts and a drizzle of rhubarb sauce.
- I enjoyed sweetbreads circled with mini-sized ravioli filled with spring-time fresh fava beans, and a very delicate japanese mushroom whose name I can't recall.
-For the non-meat eater: Artichoke Soup. with burrata, mint, soem preserved lemon with an amarnth grinissini laying across the bowl.
Oh and dessert --- I'd run back there just for the dark chocolate mousse, with passion fruit sorbet on top of a Valrhona chocolate disc, with housemade marshmellow (which I loved, tho I never eat them).
Service was attentive, 'cept for having to ask to get my water glass refilled.
I really enjoyed the meal, and of course the beautiful space. Even tho former Mayor Willie Brown was seated across from me so I couldn't avoid looking at him...but this isn't a forum for talkin' politics.
Thanks for the report! I just convinced my DH to give them a retry. My BD is coming up so it will be a great time to test them out.
I checked the website but looks like Nancy Oakes is still listed as chef/owner. Curious that they didn't replace Ravi Kapur - you'd think after the publicity of winning the James Beard award that she and Pam Mazzola would have had their pick of resumes for the ExecChef position.
We went on Tuesday, and, other than not bringing everyone's food to the table at the same time (i.e., half the plates came out, the others followed 30 seconds later), it was every bit as good as it's ever been. Portion sizes, which used to be too large, are now just about right.
I tried a bite of the sweetbreads/raviolini appetizer, which was amazing. Very pure flavors. Only complaint I had about the white asparagus appetizer that there was just one stalk, albeit large. Grilled swordfish with smoked potatoes was fantastic, perfectly cooked fish. Of course, having a table at the Embarcadero-side window didn't hurt, either.
We ate at Boulevard and Prospect twice each, 6-8 months apart. I have eaten at Boulevard more than any other restaurant (I used to work nearby), and it was my 'gold standard' for a CA bistro.
But ExeChef Ravi Kapur left in Sept 2011. Our visits to both showed that post-Kapur, both kitchens slid downhill alarmingly. This, despite Pam Mazzur and Nancy Oakes stepping into the kitchens every night.
Boulevard July 2011 vs January 2012:
July 2011: Meal was fabulous. Stuffed squash blossoms exquisite. Roasted zucchini soup – how did they get so much flavor out of such a bland vegetable? Carpaccio was a little overwrought but lovely quality beef. Filet w/goat cheese was delicious, a perfect au jus, salted just right, cooked on point. Desserts were wonderful as always, especially peach-Prosecco sorbet – it was like eating a fresh peace dipped in wine.
Jan 2012 post-Kapur: Foie gras was miniscule, overpriced. The seared lobe wasn't even cleaned properly! The torchon was oversalted. Did like the idea of the fresh unsweetened cranberries – that little hit of acid is perfect against a torchon's richness.
Veal 'schnitzel' was a muddled example of what I call 'the kitchen sink' syndrome, with too many competing flavors. The slaw wasn't arugula as listed but cabbage, very sour. Aioli, capers, and cornichons were smeared together over the bottom of the plate, instead of coming separately as the waiter had described, overwhelming the very nice quality of veal shoulder and sweetbreads.
None of the clean, elegant flavors I've always associated with Boulevard. Other dishes were erratically oversalted: red abalone starter, lamb t-bone's mashed potato side, salmon's spinach slaw.
Desserts didn't even sound appetizing, for the most part. The chocolate bombe was all dark sweet chocolate and sugar-laden filling, with a starchy chestnut gelato – ick.
Prospect Jan 2011 vs Oct 2011
Jan 2011: Everything was perfection: seared calamari-octopus with chorizo, roasted quail, veal chop (I LOVE veal chops and will go anywhere for them), chicken roulade. All the dishes were in perfect balance – not too much of any one ingredient overwhelming the others, everything salted just right but not overly so.
Oct 2011 post-Kapur: Smoked golden tomato soup had great fish (black cod) but the soup was so salty even a few spoonfuls were too much to tolerate. Prawns in risotto were unevenly but heavily salted. Foie gras torchon was salty and grapes were a one-dimensional accompaniment, sweet but flat.
Pork chop was overcooked and chewy, with a terrible whole-grain mustard-mashed potato side. Goat mixed roast was at least 50% fat, almost inedible. I like fat, and I like goat, but this was too much inedible grease. The eggplant sesame puree underneath was intense, but again, one-dimensional and overpowering against the mild goat.
Service was excellent at Prospect, at Boulevard less so. The Jan dinner was the FIRST TIME I have ever known a waiter to describe a dish inaccurately here – and he gave us very good, timely attention all evening. But when I asked about one of the more peculiar-sounding desserts, asking "What exactly is 'caramelized milk chocolate'? It sounds really sweet."
The waiter confessed he had no idea – and that was also a first. At this $$$$ level, the kitchen should be telling/showing the waitstaff the details of every dish on the menu. But that didn't happen, post-Kapur.
Our preference is now Fifth Floor @Hotel Palomar, where Executive Chef David Bazirgan is doing a great job.