Boulevard, the quintessential San Francisco restaurant located on the Embarcadero waterfront, recently reopened with a glamorous new look thanks to acclaimed designer Ken Fulk of AD 100. It’s been a waterfront establishment for decades, ever since talented Chef Nancy Oakes first opened its doors in 1993. In the past several years, and particularly prior to the pandemic, its demographic was on the older side. The business lunch crowd and upscale evening diners had dominated most of the clientele.
After shutting its door last year and getting a face lift, its back and more grand than ever. Situated in the historic Audiffred building, the restaurant is unique in shape and design and offers diners a stunning view of the twinkling Bay Bridge. Eye-catching patterns; textiles; a fancy peacock motif; royal blue and emerald green velvets; and luxe, beaded lamps are just some of the stand out design touches that make Boulevard dining area and bar/ lounge special.
The dining room offers a set menu of either three or four courses. The starters range from the some what plant-based dishes like the Spanish octopus and Monterey calamari with kelp noodles, golden mushrooms and hearts of palm al limone to more familiar dishes like the beef tartare with winter truffle, artichoke, pickled ramps and aioli.
The mains are more traditional and include a Berkshire pork chop with rye whisky and honey glazed pears, parsnips and sage, pearled barley, pinhead oats and wild rice, and a rack of lamb with ginger & green chili potatoes, carrot “sponge” red orach, golden carrot and ground cherry relish.
Of course, Chef Nancy’s seasonal menu is constantly changing based on not only
what’s fresh, but what she’s inspired by. She’s said that she would like to see more plant-centric offerings on the menu, despite the original Boulevard crowd not necessarily gravitating to the restaurant for that type of cuisine.
The menu also offers seafood mains that currently include the Northern halibut with almond cauliflower fritter & cauliflower mushrooms with caulilini and lobster hollandaise and the sea scallops with “clams casino” potatoes, watercress aioli, bacon and parsley bread crumbs.
We chatted with the esteemed Chef Nancy Oakes on her restaurant, its history, where its headed and whats in store for this new year. Here’s what she had to say.
Boulevard is a quintessential San Francisco restaurant. Talk about its history, the building its in and its prime location that makes it stand out from other well-established restaurants in the city.
It has an architectural advantage. It’s right on the Embarcadero waterfront, it stands out. It caught my attention in the 60s really. It has a great setting, which is an advantage. I didn’t expand into a lot of different restaurants like a lot of chefs have done. Me 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 spot 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 legacy.
I’m at a point in my career where throwing in the towel was certainly a possibility peak pandemic. When we first heard about the pandemic, we thought it would be just three to six months. Then it would clear up. As it dragged out we realized we wouldn’t be able to just reopen like business as usual.
I had taken on a new partner prior to the pandemic and he had used Ken Fulk, who also was a longtime friend of mine, to design his offices. So we brought Fulk in to give the restaurant a fresh look. We have a lot of diners who are children of the people who used to frequent the restaurant, and we wanted to create interest for that younger, new demographic. I wanted the newer design to still feature the original bone structure of the restaurant, despite the fresh look.
Since its initial opening in 1993, how has it evolved? What’s in store now as it progresses post-reopening?
One of the questions I get asked most frequently is, ‘what’s your signature dish?’ and well, I don’t have one. It’s because I’m restless and always curious. So you have to keep reviewing yourself. One of the great gifts of this career is that I get to hire and work with younger people. So you have to keep them interested, in addition to yourself.
America eats differently then it used to. Part of the reason for that is the Food Network and the food shows which opened up adventurous eating to the whole country. You constantly have to be adjusting, or else you get timed out. Unless you’re like House of Prime Rib, which has its specialty that it does well and it sticks to it.
What’s the inspiration behind the menu?
We’re trying to make plant-based food more towards the center of the plate. It’s actually been kind of challenging. To make it as compelling as things that have always been popular, like the Berkshire Porkchop, it’s tough. Unless your audience is already expecting that. I want people to be able to come and enjoy a meal that isn’t necessarily focused on a massive piece of protein. It’s challenging because it’s what a lot of people expect, especially from Boulevard.
What’s in store for 2022?
I have concerns 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 committed to the art of food and better, interesting food. I don’t think that’s out there as much anymore.
I think there’s a lot of people now who want to be stars in food television, famous in the food world… but I’m not sure if there’s a committed group of chefs who are as willing to give up as much of their lives and routine in the name of their food. It’s hard hiring in this profession. I don’t see much hunger for it as I did in the past. So I wonder what will happen. It could be that we’re just in a stage of limbo, but we will see.
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