CONFESSIONS OF A                                                                  
A San Francisco Girl's Down and Dirty Adventures in the Culinary Playground

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Doo Dah, Doo Dah (Campton Place -- San Francisco, CA)

***1/1/06: Chef Daniel Humm has now left the restaurant so this review is moot. Would it be weird if I started crying at his feet while begging him to come back?***

"I made reservations for us at Campton Place for my birthday," I told Jon. "Which one is that?" he asked. "You know, the one with the good bathrooms."

Whenever I have any downtown bizniz, and I find myself needing to go pee, I pop into the Campton Place hotel to relieve myself. Sooooo much better than a store or parking garage bathroom. They have floor to ceiling stall doors and hand lotion and pretty towels. Until recently, I had only experienced their bathrooms. Now, I have experienced their food. If you can believe this, it's better than the bathrooms.

Campton Place has changed chefs relatively frequently over the past few years. The current chef, Daniel Humm, has been getting lots o' buzz. So I wanted to check out his cookin'.

Campton Place serves every meal of the day since they are in a hotel. I really wish I didn't know that, because now I want to go there all the time.

The dining room is beautiful. It's cozy and intimate and simple. When we were there, they had beautiful flower arrangements all around the place. But they didn't overshadow the loveliest feature of all which was...


I couldn't believe it. They have a champagne cart. A cart just for champagne. And it's marble to keep the buckets cold. And they have four kinds, including Dom Perignon by the glass (That is some rare shit, folks. No one ever serves Dom by the glass). We passed on the Dom, though. Jon had some Billecart-Salmon Rose and I had Veuve Cliquot. And it tasted better than ever, probably because I was so excited about the cart. But honestly, something about the way they keep it chilled made it bubblicious. So the night was off to a good start.

We decided on the tasting menu -- it went a little sumpin' like this:

2 half bottles of wine: a Gewurztraminer and a Pinot Noir. And Jon had some Sauternes with his foie gras.

Amuse bouche: lots of little bits (about 8) including boudin noir, an oyster and a salmon mille feuille.

Olive oil sorbet with marinated crispy anchovy. This was so, so, so good. The anchovy's salt counterbalanced the sorbet like they were always meant to be together.

Cappuchino of sea urchin with dungeness crab and cauliflower mousse. This was foamy and salty and comforting. I wanted to climb into it.

Iranian Osetra Caviar two ways: in a vichyssoise and a ragout of seafood. If I had to choose between them, I couldn't do it if my life depended on it.

Feuillete of Nantucket Bay Scallops with Champagne Buerre Blanc. For me, this was like being home (except much fancier). I could almost taste my childhood (the good parts, I mean) in these scallops.

Next Jon had Foie Gras with Port Wine reduction, raisins and hazlenuts. Now if you've been following, Jon and I despise raisins down to the tips of our toes. He ate every bite. I guess Chef Humm knows raisin voo doo. I had a piece of salmon that was so purty and delicate. I ate it all, despite my better judgment as I knew there was a lot more food to come.

Then, I got squash chowder with Maine lobster and Gewurztarminer. It's like they knew it was for me! I used all my strength to prevent myself from picking up the bowl to lick it when I was finished. Jon got a parsnip soup with sweetbreads and white truffle oil. Again, it was like he got his soup soulmate. If the meal had ended there, we would have paid full price because those soups rocked our worlds.

But nooooooo...there was more in store for us. Our first time ever with (scary music here) FROG'S LEGS. Mine were sauteed with leeks and truffles, Jon's were deep fried and looked like lollipops. As soon as I took a bite, I started laughing. Jon wanted to know why. You ready? Here it comes....It tastes like chicken. But it was good, and we liked them a lot. You've got to throw props to a chef who uses an entire course on frogs legs.

A word about the Chef here. This man rules. His food is not only tasty, it's INTERESTING. There are all kinds of unique and playful elements to the menu. And on top of that, he's just a lovely guy. He came out about 3 times during our meal and was so gracious. Had a conversation with each and every table. And he was really interested in how the diners' experience was. And he smiled. And I love him.

OK, back to the food:

I got "Suzuki" sea bass while Jon had the most gorgeous pork chop. They cut the chop tableside and grated some truffles over it. Jon was so happy, I thought he was going to cry. Both dishes were great (yeah, I know isn't this getting boring?).

Then we got some cheese. Lots o' cheese. That night there was a focus on sheep's milk cheeses. Fine by me. Baaaa. Their cheeses are supplied by Andante Dairy which imports cheeses and makes some great ones of their own. And these were all tasty, as were the accompaniments.

At this point, I was ready to go out and buy some maternity pants so I could get through the rest of the meal. But I powered through.

We had curry infused pineapple sorbet with coconut foam. Hurrah! If you like pina coladas...

Then came a quark souffle with huckleberries and basil sorbet for me. Yum. What is quark? I had no idea. But it's defined as "fresh cheese". OK. Who cares? It's good. Jon ended up with a bartlett pear mousse between thin sheets of Valrohna chocolate. We were so happy. And so glad we were done.

Except we weren't. Then came "Symphony of Chocolate and Caramel" with Maldon Sea Salt. And plates that said Happy Birthday in chocolate. At this point, I couldn't see straight because of my food coma, but I ate it anyway. And it was GREAT.

We also got petit fours with our check. These were good, but I don't remember what they were because I was preoccupied with figuring out how I was going to make it home without busting the button off my pants. I do remember they didn't suck.

Service was professional but not stuffy, and some of the most well-paced that I've experienced anywhere. The sommelier, John Ragan, was particularly fantastic. Yay for him!

Campton Place is one of the few fine dining experiences within city limits that has exceeded my expectations. The weird thing is that it's not as well known as a lot of other fine dining establishments here in SF, but it is, in my opinion, the best. So if any of you are looking for a restaurant in which to propose/apologize/admit your affair/tell your part-time lover you are pregnant/eat your last meal, this is it. You won't regret it.

Oh yeah, and the bread was great, too.


"To eat is a necessity, to eat intelligently is an art."
-- La Rochefoucauld


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You nailed this one. Completely under-rated. Gorgeous room. But it should be noted that this place is very French in its pacing. If you are in a hurry this is not the place to go. You essentially have the table for the night and are expected to stick around. I have never had so many "free" courses in a meal either. It's as if you get the tasting menu whether you order it or not.Exactly why this place is not listed routinely in the local top five lists is a mystery.

7/21/2005 9:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where is Daniel Humm cooking today

2/02/2006 3:34 PM  
Blogger Joy said...

Eleven Madison Park in NYC is where my loverboy has gone.

2/02/2006 3:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful room. Good service. But don't ever make the mistake of eating Thanksgiving dinner there. The portions wouldn't satiate an anorexic sparrow. Pleasant conversation is almost impossible because the staff stands over your shoulder and tries to whisk them away if you stop eating for more than a few seconds. I'm sure management is on their collective backs to turn those tables. Two people with a medium priced wine will set you back at least $220. Not to mention that the food is barely ordinary.

Next year we'll be dining in.

8/20/2006 11:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice review.

I'll be coming out next year (either spring or early summer) for my annual SF vacation so I'll be checking CP out. Not sure who Humm's replacement will be yet.

I had dinner at EMP this past Saturday. Though the restaurant received a rating of two stars by Frank "I-wouldn't-know-the-difference-between-chopped-liver-and-foie-gras" Bruni in February 2005, I firmly believe it's three-star worthy and above (at least with Humm in place as chef de cuisine). His experience in California elevates and modernizes the food at EMP while simultaneously remaining true to his roots. A return visit to experience Humm's tasting menu is definitely in the works.

12/11/2006 3:33 PM  

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