“Spring pot.” Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Potato and paneer fritters. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Slow-cooked lamb rack. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Mango dessert. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
The booths in the dining room. Photo courtesy Campton Place.
The dining room. Photo courtesy Campton Place.
With tablecloths rapidly disappearing (kind of like good manners) and people trying to wear jeans everywhere, fine dining continues to become an endangered species. But I say thank God we have plenty of special occasions to celebrate in our lives that make us book a reservation at “fancy” restaurants. While we have sleek high-end places serving modern tasting menus (like Benu, Saison, Sons & Daughters), we still have some classic places with old-school style and service, and Campton Place is one of them. Yes, it’s the kind of place that will give you a pillowed stool for your purse. There’s also a Champagne cart, and with Master Sommelier Richard Dean making the selections, you really should consider a flute.
But it also has a little surprise for you. I have had some remarkable dining experiences here (I will never forget my meal by Daniel Humm, with wine pairings by John Regan), and over the past year I had a couple rather fetching meals at the hands of chef Srijith Gopinathan, who has really come into his own over the past few years (he started as chef at the restaurant in 2008).
Anyone who has been reading tablehopper for a while knows how much I adore Indian cuisine, specifically Southern Indian food, which I completely attribute to the once-in-a-lifetime trip my sister and I took to Southern India a few years ago. Our minds were blown.
Chef Sri is from Trivandrum, Kerala, in Southern India, and while you can come to Campton Place and experience his five-course Market Menu (it spans California, French, and Mediterranean influences), the reason I want you to go is his Spice Route menu (both menus are $95).
Back in the spring, my meal started on a fresh note with a frothy mint and English pea coulis with marinated quinoa, followed by bite-size potato and paneer fritters presented on a dark rock with spiced yogurt, and then my palate was sparked again with a spiced ice, with notes of ginger, lime, and extra-virgin olive oil (it was also in the prettiest sherbet-y colors).
And then it was time for what I called the molecular houseplant: a small ceramic plant pot is nestled on a dish with rocks and moss, with waves of smoke spilling out from dry ice. Your table suddenly becomes a little garden scene, the pot filled with an edible springtime medley of poori stuffed with quinoa and edamame, tamarind chutney, chaas-honey yogurt foam, and baby vegetables (including radish) and sorrel on top. It’s like going to Sloat Garden Center and eating a plant pot in a dream sequence (or on an acid trip).
The Spice Route menu continued to rock the spice cabinet, with saffron-infused Dungeness crab in the “potli” (pouch), Malabar chutney broth with the dorade, an oh-so-tender lamb rack that came with soft, spiced pine nuts (it ends up they were pressure cooked—so good, and clever), and a flavor-packed raita mousse wafer (we called it “the host”) with tomato and the spicy kick of serrano.
Your tour concludes with a palate refresher, and then a light finale of mango crémeux with a coconut tuile, kheer ice, a pudding sorbet, crisp bits of basmati, tamarind jam, and jaggery—such an elegant Indian dessert. Oh yes, and they won’t let you leave without some mignardise, and the final touch, a cool Bulgari hand towel. You’ll smell like a pasha.
Sri changes the menu with the seasons, so the current end-of-summer menu is a different story, but if you love Indian flavors and would like to experience them in a fine dining context, this menu should be considered for your next “special occasion” adventure. Request one of the intimate booths if you can, and be sure to allow for a few hours for the whole evening to play out. It’s a Union Square hotel restaurant (a swanky Taj property), so of course there will be some tourists who just happened to stumble in—personally, I enjoy watching the dining room staff, many whom have been there for years. You’re in good hands.