1 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94105 (map); 415-543-6084; boulevardrestaurant.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: It's still pretty good, but at $15.75, the Kobe beef in this attractive patty comes up a bit short on flavor
Want Fries with That? Yes, they're very good.
Price: Burger & fries, $15.75
Notes: Lunch only
Over the course of my nine years in the Bay Area, Boulevard had never found its way into my burger consciousness. But when we found out that this James Beard nominee for Outstanding Restaurant does indeed have a fancy-pants patty on its lunch menu...well, okay, twist my arm, I'll try that.
As the James Beard nomination (and the Michelin star) might imply, Boulevard is a nice restaurant—not just fancy-nice, but also a truly pleasant place to have lunch if you can afford it. The sections of gently-domed brick ceiling, the light coming in through the windows, the bits of stained glass above the bar, all make for a space that feels simultaneously civilized and inviting. I add bonus points for our waiter's willingness to provide the same attentive and seemingly genuine care for two t-shirted schlubs* as he did for his crowd of otherwise besuited and bepearled diners.
The burgers this waiter served us certainly looked the part for these environs. The fat, half-pound patty sat there prettily, leaking little red stains onto its housemade bun in a way that had my pupils dilating.
Yet Boulevard's choice of American Kobe beef for their patties seemed more aimed at earning approving nods from Michelin inspectors than delivering the best burger possible. Despite the juice dripping off the patty, the meat felt a touch dry when one actually bit into it. And though we'd seen the cook sprinkle it with salt on the grill, the flavors came off just a bit flat. Not a bad burger, but for something that had taken $15.75 out of our wallets, and looked so promising on our plates, we left a little disappointed.
Technically, everything else about Boulevard's burger hit the mark. They had been cooked to order and then finished briefly in the oven so that the Cowgirl Creamery Wagon Wheel cheese (rich and creamy with a light tang to it) had fully melted. It came with a thick round of grilled red onions and a slice of tomato that actually passed muster. They don't unleash any Michelin-starred tricks on the sauces—the burger arrives with an uneventful tray of ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise.
By contrast, the fries at Boulevard taste even better than they look (and they look good). The not-quite-skinny fries arrive overflowing out of a small copper sauce pan, with plenty of salt, plenty of crispness to the exterior, and a meltingly soft potato interior.
I'm inclined to think that when the folks at the James Beard Foundation dole out their nominations, they don't think too long about a restaurant's prowess with a patty of beef. So, skip the mild disappointment of this Kobe beef in patty form and try some of the other food that earned Boulevard its accolades.
* Yes, I'm referring to myself and my dining companion here.