San Francisco — It’s not often that the cuisine of Goa — rich and coastal, redolent of coconut milk, tamarind and mango — makes its way onto the menu of a restaurant bestowed with five successive years of Michelin stars.
But chef Srijith Gopinathan, or “Chef Sri,” as his fans like to call him, has elevated this simple regional cuisine to new heights of excellence.
Gopinathan has created a memorable Spice Route Menu for Campton Place Restaurant, Bistro and Bar, situated within the elegant Taj Campton Place hotel in Union Square. The six-course menu changes according to what catches his eye at the market, but a recent visit demonstrated Gopinathan’s assured sense of culinary harmony.
An amuse-bouche included a small cup of herb ice, a light-as-air handmade potato chip with a bold dollop of truffle sauce, and a tiny cannoli made from pappadum, stuffed with a creamy, tangy filling.
Each dish in the well-balanced Spice Route menu features layers of complexity and texture, with unexpected accents — such as Black Cod, in a spiced shallot crust, coconut quinoa and lime chili essence; or a slow-cooked rack of lamb, coated in biryani spices and served alongside a tiny “nest” of Basmati rice garnished with herbs and delicate fried shallots. A course of Maine lobster in a familiar coconut curry sauce is as welcome as a visit from an old friend; while sous-vide dayboat scallop is encased in a “potli” or purse made of crispy bread, served in a traditional Goan shellfish broth with ramps and hearty, bright green fava beans.
Elsewhere on the menu, a single spear of Delta asparagus and moist, luxurious morel mushrooms is served with green garlic, yogurt beignets and mushroom jus in a warmed stoneware bowl; another early course of spring vegetables finds a tangle of bright, tiny carrots, peas and radishes in a medley of grains, roots, blossoms, sorrel “snow” and refreshing cucumber broth. Gopinathan shows off his classic training with a handsome chunk of foie gras, adorned with a crunchy mix of toasted hazelnuts and cocoa nibs, served with a tiny, gem-sized morsel of tandoori-roasted pineapple.
Chef Sri’s most widely snapped and celebrated dish is also worth a try: a whimsical clay “Spice Pot” holding what seems like soil and tiny plants, nestled on a tray of small stones and pinecones along with a small nugget of dry ice. When a server pours water over the dry ice, a wispy fog, evocative of San Francisco, envelopes the pot and adds an air of mystery. But the dish is not a gimmick — the pot contains a deconstructed chaat dish with spicy potatoes and tamarind chutney, a modern yet authentic-tasting take on pani puri garnished with puffed quinoa.
To wrap up the meal, Taj Campton Place has an impressive cheese list, drawing on some of Northern California’s top artisanal producers; but you may want to concentrate on dessert instead. Chef Sri returns to his tandoor for a dish of roasted strawberries with marshmallow fluff, lime ice cream and vanilla crisp; and he offers a satisfying chocolate pave, made with layers of dark and milk chocolate, spring herb ice cream and citrus lace.
The comfortable dining room, decorated in blonde wood with dark brown leather banquettes, features a chandelier of a brilliantly colored glass sculpture at its center.
Gopinathan artfully blends his South Indian upbringing with elements from an education at the Culinary Institute of America and stints at the Taj Exotica in the Maldives and Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, a British restaurant boasting two Michelin stars.
If you are ready to take a deeper plunge, the restaurant offers a larger, nine-course Degustation menu, a three-course Theatre Menu (situated on Union Square, the restaurant is a short walk from several top venues), or a Vegetarian Tasting menu. Master Sommelier Richard Dean (who is only one of 150 active Master Sommeliers worldwide) has assembled a top-class wine list to complement Gopinathan’s artistry. Visit http://www.camptonplacesf.com for the latest menu.