You pretty much know what to expect when you head off to brunch at most restaurants: eggs, pancakes, bacon--the usual. But if you want to wake up your taste buds, there's something a bit different cooking at San Francisco's Campton Place. Chef Srijith Gopinathan has brought complex, yet subtle Indian flavors to the mix in his new brunch menu.
While you can still have your malted waffle with butter-roasted stone fruit if you'd like, on a recent visit, I opted instead for some of the Indian-inflected items. The menu is divided between starters, main courses and desserts. (Check out the slideshow for lots of pics!) I began with the appam with Dungeness crab, poached egg and coastal curry. The dish was delicate and beautifully presented. Our waiter advised me to mix it all together, so I sliced up the crisp, lacy rice pancake, burst the egg and stirred everything around. There was ample crab meat, a nice combination of textures and just the right level of spice for a Sunday morning.
My husband, the Bottomless Pit, started with seared scallops in a sauce with "turmeric whey." Again, Chef Gopinathan found the perfect combination of subtle, yet flavorful spicing, which didn't overpower the scallops or the time of day.
For my main course, I chose a duck samosa with tomato butter. Rather than the little pastry triangles you might expect, these samosas were slices--sort of a strudel-like configuration--with pastry surrounding savory, long-cooked duck. The garnish included fresh apples, which provided an excellent foil for the duck.
The Bottomless Pit ordered the roasted beef short ribs with trumpet mushrooms. The dish arrived with fresh black truffles shaved on top. As a result, the BP hoarded his plate like a pitbull. I did manage to snag a tiny bite, which was bathed in an intense, reduced sauce.
Regarding dessert, the BP was a bit more generous (perhaps he was still giddy from the truffle aroma wafting around the table). He gave me several bites of his chocolate cremeux, a dense ganache-like pudding, served with hazelnut ice cream.
But I think my petite mango tart was the real winner, thanks to its basmati ice cream. I had the chance to chat with Chef Gopinathan after brunch, and he said the secret is oven-roasting the rice, then infusing cream with its flavors. To keep the ice cream fresh and silky, he only makes a liter at a time. I could already tell from his stunning plating that Gopinathan is a perfectionist. That just provided further evidence.
Chef Gopinathan said he learned to cook from his grandmother, but like a good Indian boy, went off to study electrical engineering at university. Maybe that engineer's mind contributes to the precision of his cooking. He says his mother finally forgave him for becoming a chef after tasting the food he's cooking at Campton Place.
By the way, if you're wondering why a hotel called Campton Place is serving Cal-Indian cuisine, you should know that it's been owned for several years by the India-based Taj hotel group. The intimate restaurant is lined with booths, and the decor is modern, understated--and not at all Indian-themed. Service is gracious and polished. It's the sort of place where waiters memorize the orders rather than writing them down. That always tends to make me nervous, but everything arrived as requested.
A live jazz trio plays on Sundays, adding a further level of sophistication. No, this isn't the sort of place you'd roll out of bed and slouch over to wearing your sweats. But for something different, something special, Campton Place is definitely the place for Sunday brunch.