The Boulevard, the typical San Francisco restaurant located on the waterfront of the Embarcadero, recently reopened with a glamorous new look thanks to renowned designer Ken Fulk from AD 100. It has been a waterfront establishment for decades, ever since the talented chef Nancy Oakes opened the first door in 1993 In the last many years, and especially before the pandemic, its demographic was on the older side. The business lunch crowd and upscale dinners had dominated most of the clientele.
After closing the door last year and getting a facelift, the back is and more magnificent than ever before. Located in the historic Audiffred building, the restaurant is unique in form and design and offers diners stunning views of the sparkling Bay Bridge. Eye-catching patterns; textiles; a fancy peacock motif; royal blue and emerald green velvet; and luxury, pearl lamps are just some of the eye-catching design that make the Boulevard dining area and bar / lounge special.
The dining room offers a menu consisting of either three or four dishes. The starters range from some what plant-based dishes like the Spanish squid and Monterey calamari with seaweed noodles, golden mushrooms and hearts of palm al limone to more familiar dishes like beef tartare with winter truffle, artichoke, pickled ramps and aioli.
The main courses are more traditional and include a Berkshire pork chop with rye whiskey and honey glazed pears, parsnips and sage, pearl barley, conifers and wild rice and a lamb chop with ginger and green chili potatoes, carrot “mushroom” red orach, golden cherry relish and ground.
Of course, Chef Nancy’s seasonal menu is constantly changing based on not only
what is fresh but what she is inspired by. She has said she would like to see more plant-centered offerings on the menu, despite the fact that the original Boulevard crowd does not necessarily go to the restaurant for that type of cuisine.
The menu also features seafood dishes that currently include the northern halibut with almond cauliflower fritters & cauliflower mushrooms with caulilini and lobster hollandaise and sea mussels with “mussels casino” potatoes, watercress aioli, bacon and parsley breadcrumbs.
We chatted with the esteemed chef Nancy Oakes about her restaurant, its history, where it is headed and what awaits the new year. Here’s what she had to say.
Boulevard is a typical San Francisco restaurant. Talk about its history, the building and its prime location, which makes it stand out from other well-established restaurants in the city.
It has an architectural advantage. It’s right by the Embarcadero waterfront, it stands out. It really caught my attention in the 60s. It has a good framework, which is an advantage. I did not expand to a lot of different restaurants, as many chefs have done. Staying here and being able to retain employees also gives you stability. People can expect to come back and have a similar experience to the last. Which is rare these days, you go back to a place and things change.
It closed during the pandemic, and now it’s back. Talk about its new design, the inspiration behind it, and what you hope this reopening will bring to the restaurant’s heritage.
I am at a point in my career where throwing the towel in the ring was definitely an option for a top pandemic. When we first heard about the pandemic, we thought it would only take three to six months. Then it would work out. As it pulled out, we realized that we would not just be able to reopen as business as usual.
I had assumed a new partner prior to the pandemic, and he had used Ken Fulk, who was also a longtime friend of mine, to design his offices. So we brought Fulk in to give the restaurant a fresh look. We have many diners who are children of the people who used to visit the restaurant and we wanted to create interest in the younger, new demographic. I wanted the newer design to still have the restaurant’s original bone structure, despite the fresh look.
How has it developed since its first opening in 1993? What is in store now as it progresses after reopening?
One of the questions I am most often asked is, ‘what is your signature right?’ and well, I do not have one. It’s because I’m restless and always curious. So you have to keep reporting yourself. One of the great gifts of this career is that I get to hire and work with younger people. So you need to keep them interested, in addition to yourself.
America eats differently than it used to. Part of the reason for that is the Food Network and the food shows, which opened up for adventurous dining for the whole country. You have to constantly adjust, otherwise you get timeout. Unless you’re like the House of Prime Rib, which has its specialty that it does well and it sticks to it.
What is the inspiration behind the menu?
We try to make plant-based food more towards the middle of the plate. It has actually been somewhat challenging. Making it as compelling as things that have always been popular, like the Berkshire Porkchop, is hard. Unless your audience is already expecting it. I want people to be able to come and enjoy a meal that is not necessarily focused on a massive piece of protein. It’s challenging because it’s what many people expect, especially from the Boulevard.
What awaits in 2022?
I’m worried about whether our industry will survive. There was a whole generation of chefs like me who fell in love with cooking and decided to pursue a career in the culinary profession. We were and are engaged in the art of eating and better, interesting food. I do not think it’s out there that much anymore.
I think there are a lot of people now who want to be stars in food TV, famous in the food world … but I’m not sure if there’s a committed group of chefs who are as willing to give renounce so much of their life and routine in the name of their food. It is difficult to hire in this profession. I do not look very hungry for what I did before. So I’m wondering what’s going to happen. It may be that we’re just in a phase of limbo, but we’ll see.
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