Campton Place Restaurant, nestled on the first floor of the Taj Campton Place hotel just off of San Francisco’s Union Square, takes a unique approach to Indian cuisine through a combination of expertly spiced fresh California ingredients and a wine selection that stands out even in this wine-obsessed city. If you’re looking for an extraordinary culinary experience in the City by the Bay, treat yourself to the two Michelin star restaurant’s original take on common Indian street food and impeccable service.
The main draw at Campton Place is executive chef Srijith Gopinathan’s five-course Spice Route Menu, which fuses a delicately calibrated selection of Indian spices with fresh seafood—lobster, dayboat scallops and black cod—or fresh fruits and vegetables with a spectacular range of curries and chutneys. The effect is something unmistakably Indian in flavor but in an alternate universe from the typical rice-centric take-out chicken tikka masala and saag paneer.
Gopinathan grew up helping his grandmother cook—harvesting spices for her from the family garden—in Kerala, India, before attending the Culinary Institute of America in New York, where he learned the fundamentals of European cooking. His first posting was at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons in the UK, and he went on to Taj Hotels, first in the Maldives and now in San Francisco. The results of this fusion between Gopinathan’s upbringing and his culinary training are most evident in the first course on the Spice Route menu, the Spice Pot.
The Spice Pot is Gopinathan’s take on a traditional Indian chaat, basically a mixture of chickpeas and spices frequently served as a snack. At Campton Place, the chaat becomes a work of art, served in a tiny pot, dressed with a tamarind and cilantro chutney, and delicately decorated with a few fresh sprouts, a tiny carrot and a yogurt foam. The Spice Pot appears in a cloud of vapor from a bed of dry ice, causing the dish to resemble the San Francisco Bay under drifting fog. The presentation and flavors are so carefully orchestrated that what could feel like a gimmick becomes a truly memorable experience.
Rounding out the meal, master sommelier Richard Dean’s wine pairings are impeccable, accentuating flavors in each course without overwhelming the palate. The combination of an MV Egly-Ouriet “Les Vignes de Vrigny” premier cur Champagne with a day boat scallop dosa seasoned with turmeric, mustard and kale was particularly striking.
The restaurant space itself feels comfortable and elegant without being fussy, and the service is attentive but unobtrusive (the low-key proffer of a crisp Wall Street Journal to a solo diner at the end of a long day of meetings was particularly appreciated). As the evening drew to a close and the meal ended with a rhubarb, lychee, yogurt and cardamom “super bloom”—a kind of pudding—I felt like I had experienced both a global journey and the best the Bay Area has to offer.
Spice Route Menu, $155; wine pairing, $115
Campton Place Restaurant, 340 Stockton Street, San Francisco, 415.781.5555, tajcamptonplace.com/dining