San Franciscans typically regard their city as quaint, Victorian, hilly and close to nature — horizontal, not vertical.
So I was surprised when I walked into Prospect, a big new restaurant on the ground floor of The Infinity, a glass tower that’s part of a massive residential development that will have four high rises, 640 units and will cover two city blocks. I felt like a tourist in my own city.
But not for long. Once I started eating, I knew exactly where I was.
Ravi Kapur celebrates the Bay Area’s beautiful ingredients in sophisticated dishes that match Prospect’s sleek design. He, Nancy Oakes and two other partners from Boulevard have mounted an exciting, food-centric, unmistakably San Franciscan operation in a New York-style space.
At a square bar and lounge at the front, with a communal table and counters, drop-ins sip precisely made cocktails and nibble on crunchy fried softshell crabs ($14) atop corn relish and tart green tomato tartar sauce.
Serious diners sit in a sweeping main room with Mondrian-esque shades that rise on floor-to-ceiling windows that stretch along lower Folsom Street.
A dropped acoustic ceiling keeps the noise level civilized. Big booths and polished wooden tables along banquettes are positioned generously far apart.
The room is smart but casual: Frette napkins, no table cloths, serious glassware, a friendly sommelier who guides by taste, not price, and professional service without a whiff of pretension.
Prospect is big, luxurious, bustling — a 21st-century Stars, a new urban crossroad.
Kapur gently twists and turns current San Francisco dishes to make them look and taste new, performing this magic with impeccable technique.
Tender baby beets look like rubies in a deep, white bowl. Spicy land cress, chips of walnut brittle, shavings of manchego and a lubricating cream ($12), are applied in perfect proportions so that each bite is sweet, hot, salty and savory.
Local yellowtail jack ($14), pounded into a tissue thin round and dabbed with white miso, herbs and bits of pickled cucumber, become a vivacious, Japanese and Italian crudo.
The gelatinous meat from pigs’ trotters, formed into cute little squares, breaded and crisply fried, topped with morsels of lobster and dabs of lobster-scented aioli and interwoven with juicy ribbons of raw zucchini marinated with mint, capers and dill ($15), has become one of my favorite dishes in town.
A hunk of pristine halibut ($27) gets thin, crunchy slices of fried green tomato, yellow tomato hollandaise on top and green zebra tomato sauce below, an exploration of the properties of tomatoes and how they enhance other foods.
A dish coyly named Organic Chicken ($25) turned out to be a fantastic chicken sausage, a golden skinned roulade of the juiciest white meat wrapped around an expressive, dark forcemeat. These two-toned slices meld with cheddar grits, orange cauliflower and tiny chanterelles, all provocatively scented with nutty summer truffles.
Everything tastes gloriously of itself. Kapur has perfect pitch and a modern sensibility that somehow conveys the old-fashioned voluptuousness of home cooking.
Oakes, a self-taught chef who believes in just these values, must have nurtured this in Kapur. She and her deep, professional team have created a hit restaurant that indeed prospects for, and delivers, the best of San Francisco.
Patricia Unterman is the author of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.