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On the Boulevard

A San Francisco Favorite Stays on Top

Now going into its eleventh year, Boulevard is still going strong. The restaurant has consistently won the Zagat readers' poll for most popular restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area every year since 1998. This year Boulevard was one of the James Beard Foundation nominees for the Outstanding Service award.

Boulevard is a beautiful restaurant that seems to have a respect for the past and has hit upon a formula for success. Its art nouveau touches and Belle Époque style are in keeping with the landmark building almost kitty corner from the San Francisco Ferry Building. Unlike so many restaurants that have switched to a "small plate/large plate" format, Boulevard has stayed with the large plates, exclusively. Even the appetizers are large enough for sharing.

While the menu changes daily, there are signature dishes including an ahi tuna tartar. On a recent visit the preparation was paired with an earthy grilled calamari and shaved fennel salad. On the side was a fluorescent orange lime piquillo pepper sorbet studded with almonds. No superfluous crispy wonton skin or toast to go with it, this was a bold dish that tantalized with spicy hot, cold, tender and crunchy tastes. Also bucking trends, Boulevard defiantly serves foie gras. The preparation of which we enjoyed; the "Artisan Foie Gras Two Ways," also featured figs three ways: in a tart, halved and roasted, and in a vin cotto sauce. Silky and smooth, the preserved and fresh foie gras were treated with care.

For entrees, the "Veal Oscar, Our Way" was a pan roasted veal loin with Dungeness crab "thighs" served with white asparagus, fresh chanterelle mushrooms, a béarnaise sauce and natural jus. The sauces were light and delicate and allowed the surf and turf flavors to come through. A wood oven-roasted filet of lamb wrapped with pancetta was slightly less successful; while the lamb was undercooked to perfection, the accompanying morel stuffed with wild mushroom duxelles was not quite warm enough for the flavors to shine through. And the fresh fava beans, cauliflower, and potato "risotto" in cream sauce were each somewhat bland.

Desserts at Boulevard are worth the trip alone. Fresh fruit and the highest quality chocolate are sure to turn up in memorable preparations. Desserts top $10 each but do not disappoint. Our knowledgeable waitress recommended the "Warm Black Bottom Cherry Gratin," and its boozy vanilla sabayon and hot fudge contrasted perfectly with the rich sweet cherries. Likewise, the "Valrhona Grand Cru Manjari Chocolate Truffle Tart" was a cut above what you might find elsewhere. A crispy chocolate crust and a decadently rich warm chocolate topping was complimented by a housemade Brittany caramel ice cream with a slight crunch of fleur de sel and salted caramel, a nod to the famous salted butter caramel that originated in Brittany.

It's dishes like these, along with excellent service and a festive atmosphere (perfect for a special date or business meeting) that keep Boulevard a popular place for locals and tourists alike.