Foie gras torchon with rum-brown sugar gelée, candied pineapple, jalapeño, whole wheat toast.
Beef tongue carpaccio, fried oysters, horseradish aioli, and pumpernickel crumble.
Mixed roast of goat, with artichokes, butter beans, and black garbanzo-black garlic sauce.
Bird of paradise fizz.
Egg sandwich with pork belly, fried egg, English muffin, pepper jelly, home fries.
The booth side of the dining room; photo by Mariko Reed.
The Folsom Street side of the dining room; photo by Mariko Reed.
Update: Chef Ravi Kapur has departed; Chris L’Hommedieu is now chef.
Chef Ravi Kapur is obsessed with ingredients. Sure, there are many chefs in this town who are, but he’s definitely one who I see posting pictures on Twitter and Facebook the most. Beets, crab, duck neck, goat legs, strawberries… It certainly helps that during Kapur’s eight years working his way up the ranks at Boulevard he was right across the street from the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. But I have a feeling that even if his kitchen was in the Outer Sunset, he’d still be wheeling his overflowing cart through the market each week.
You’ll have the same enthusiastic reaction to ingredients (I see that camera in your hand) as Kapur’s beautifully plated dishes start coming out of the kitchen at ~PROSPECT~, the sprawling restaurant in the Infinity building from Boulevard partners Nancy Oakes, Pam Mazzola, and Kathy King (Kapur is executive chef-partner).
The menu here is in a constant state of flux, driven by the seasons and the chef’s whims and constant menu refinements and tweakings, so each visit will reveal something new. The appetizers are my favorite domain on the menu—it’s where I feel Kapur lets his creativity fly, and his love of (and background) eating different ethnic foods really emerges. Crisp and flavorful pig trotters ($14.50) come with a wavy ribbon of pig’s head (think coppa di testa), and the roasted peanuts, fried shallot, chile vinaigrette, and ginger-lime aioli made me think I was eating a four-star version of a dish at Lers Ros (although it was definitely dialed down on the heat scale—far from “Thai spicy”).
Meanwhile, the silky, seared black cod dish ($16.50) features a light Thai red curry sauce (given extra depth since it’s made with lobster shells), a sweet shrimp fritter encased in a shiso leaf with a crisp tempura exterior, plus some lime relish and snap peas. The dish has it all: texture, acidity, mad flavor. I’m pleased this one hasn’t budged off the menu—Kapur says it’s one of those dishes that is a good intro to the Prospect style. Agreed.
But before you think it sounds so pinkie-up, I also dug the high-low balance of Dungeness crab ($17) and caviar earlier this year, dressed down with ranch dressing and spiced onion rings that are the color of curly fries (now served with golden beets and Maine lobster, $16).
On the decadent side, there’s my reigning champion dish, the foie gras torchon ($19). Hello, pet. Now, as someone who dines out a fair amount (cough), I really don’t order foie that much anymore. It’s a deluxe ingredient, and not one I necessarily need in my life a whole lot. But bless the chefs who love their foie preparations—Kapur sent this out one night while I was dining at the restaurant, and I’m glad he did because I wouldn’t have ordered it. (I completely understand why this dish has been in the top ten on the home page of Deep Dishing for weeks.)
It’s quite spectacular, entailing a five-day process. The torchon is supremely smooth, the fluffy peanut butter of your dreams, and came with a whiskey gelée that made the dish pop, along with cara caras, candied mandarinquats, and cocoa nibs, a brill flavor component. Now the foie is served with rum gelée and pineapple cooked with jalapeño (a nod to Kapur’s Hawaiian background), and little sprigs of miner’s lettuce. I was really loving the buttery pumpernickel toast the dish originally came with, but the set has changed to whole wheat toast.
The pumpernickel has actually done a little do-si-do on over to the corned beef tongue carpaccio ($14), served with fried oysters that are soaked in buttermilk, a few dollops of horseradish aioli, and a pumpernickel crumble. The mache, watercress, and thinly sliced gherkins and radish keep the richness in check, while the flavors also make you think all you need is a little yellow mustard and some deli dude yelling “number nine, corned beef is up!” to turn this thing into a dream sandwich moment. (Do I get an Andes mint in my doggie bag?)
I know, this is a lot of time on the appetizers, but bear with me, there are 11 on there. And to be perfectly frank, they really speak to me more than the mains when reading the menu. Here was my brain on one visit: “Scallops, sea bass, rib-eye, chicken…hmmm. I am not really feeling a pull to fully commit to any of these. Am I a jaded diner? Let’s ponder this.” And with the entrées ranging from $28-$34, part of me just wanted two beautifully composed appetizers instead. I could eat two of those beef tongue carpaccio plates and die a happy woman.
But commit I did. I was happy to learn my mixed roast of lamb ($30) had to be subbed with goat that evening. Bring it on. It was a beautiful dish, with five cuts in all, plus baby artichokes cooked sous vide, braised butter beans with mint and olio nuovo, and a rich sauce of black garbanzos and black garlic. With one bite of the honey and harissa on the belly piece, and the osso buco sauce on the shoulder (although this sauce is going on hiatus for spring), and I was suddenly very pleased I had an entire plate to savor with all those flavors. Kapur is doing delicious things with goat, check it out—and it’s all butchered in house.
My friend’s Liberty duck ($29) was stunning, with glazed baby turnips and the tickle of pickled grapes. And it was one hell of a bird—meaty, rosy, with the fat perfectly rendered… Lesson learned. I guess that’s the trick to the entrées here—they’re much more than the sum of their menu descriptors.
Now, not everything is flawless in Prospect land, although you sense the entire staff is paying very close attention to everything in an attempt to attain complete and total perfection here. In a word: driven. But, all the intensive plating means a couple dishes have come not quite hot enough to the table, the desserts I’ve tried haven’t really moved me, and I’ve been served a few off items (oops, oxidized wine), but these things happen. The staff is lightning quick to replace or fix anything—the sense of hospitality is acute here. Service is definitely of the Boulevard school: polished, on the formal side, and most of all, gracious.
So, as you’ve gathered from the prices, this is not a neighborhood joint. It’s a sweeping restaurant, with 120 seats in the dining room, huge floor-to-ceiling windows onto Folsom Street, an expansive private dining room, and a kitchen that is the envy of many in town (except maybe Sho over at Yoshi’s). The glassware, flatware, and linens are all modern and feel good to touch. The group hired Brand + Allen Architects to design the restaurant; and while the room is comfortable—with big (coveted) booths, the luxury of space between the tables, and some unique art and beautiful chandeliers—I find the room to be really, uh, brown. This project had some big dollars behind it, and I guess I was hoping for a bit more utz utz-splash-boom-meow. There are some very cool elements, and the layout is well-conceived, but the monochromatic palette is just a bit too safe for this color-loving lady. Color quibbles aside, it’s sophisticated and draws a well-heeled (and expensive handbag-toting) crowd who likes to go out on the town, so we’ll just let the guests up the color and flash quotient.
It bears mentioning that I had a really enjoyable time dining at the bar one night—it’s where you can have bar director Brooke Arthur and her talented team whip up some fantastic cocktails on the fly for you (I am still hankering for the version of a cherry cobbler she did for me, with saffron-cardamom bitters and Seville orange), and the vibe is definitely a lot more relaxed. You’ll note a few concoctions on the list name check cocktail creators who don’t work there, like the Solstice by John Deragon (rye, Amaro Nonino, Dubonnet Rouge, apple brandy, and pomegranate, $12) and the Bitter Giuseppe ($10.50) by Stephen Cole, which I need to figure out how to make at home.
Note there is some communal table action in the area between the bar and dining room, perfect for when you “just want to swing by.” Happy hour (4pm-5:30pm) ends too early for my usual schedule, but I’ve heard it draws quite the crowd who can punch the clock and take advantage of the $5 snacks, wines, and drinks.
Winos can choose from four on tap (I love being able to order a 500ml size), and for such a spiffy place, you’ll be able to find some affordable wines by the glass (or feel free to pony up for the $22 glass of Paradigm cabernet sauvignon). The staff, trained by wine director Amy Currens, suggests some spot-on pairings if you want to go that route, which one night included an oloroso (I’m always pleased to have a sherry arrive at the table).
One way to get a taste of the Prospect experience is to come for Sunday brunch, which is currently one of the best in town. The popular egg “sandwich” ($13.50) comes with pork belly, a custardy fried egg, a dense housemade English muffin, pepper jelly, and home fries—nope, not for the light eater. The chilaquiles ($13.50) are also hearty—and my idea of hangover heaven—with housemade chorizo, an ample serving of avocado, ranchero sauce, and scrambled eggs. The corn skillet cakes and maple syrup kind of hide at the bottom of the menu, but now you know to look for them ($8). (I want a recipe so I can make those buggers at home, so good.) You should also get sides of the ricotta donuts ($8), so fluffy and cakey (they also appear on the evening dessert menu).
There are some excellent eye openers here, like the bird of paradise fizz ($11) that had sublime texture—the non-alcoholic pear sour ($6) also has the same egg white magic. Brunch has an easygoing vibe: light streams in the large windows, the crowd dials down to mostly thirty-somethings, and there’s some soul playing—but service is still pretty dang precise. Because that’s how they do things here.