September 29, 2021 By Becky Duffett SF Eater
Boulevard is a quintessential San Francisco restaurant at the foot of the Bay Bridge, serving filet mignon and crab tagliatelle, with a view across the bay and those twinkling bridge lights. First opened by Nancy Oakes in 1993, it’s a deservedly respected restaurant, and the women-led powerhouse in the kitchen has won awards over the decades. But admittedly, the restaurant has catered to an older crowd in recent years, primarily plating upscale business lunches and dinners. Even the marvelous Belle Epoque dining room, with its winding tulip lamps and rich jewel tones, had lost a little luster, before going dark entirely for many months during the pandemic.
Now Boulevard is back, and dare we say, the dame looks like she’s ready to party. The one and only Ken Fulk, bon vivant and acclaimed designer behind everything from the Leo’s garden party to the Chrysler Building’s sky lounge, stepped in to not only redo the interiors, but also take a small ownership percentage. Oakes and Fulk were already partners in Tosca Cafe, which underwent another loving restoration, and decided Boulevard deserved the same care. “As a kid in San Francisco, in my early 20s, before I was even a designer, I walked into Boulevard and felt so glamorous,” Fulk says. “Lunch, dinner, cocktails, it didn’t matter, it was over the top. I was enthralled.” Now he hopes to bring that glamor back to the restaurant.
Boulevard resides in the Audiffred building, a historic survivor of the 1906 earthquake. The restaurant has an unusual shape, pushing through a round rotating door, squeezing down a long dining room, and culminating with that big Bay Bridge view. Fulk pushed back the host stand to create a grand entrance and defined bar and lounge. He pulled tables out of the dining room to give it more breathing room and elegance. He added vintage mirrors to the tall windows, to better drink in the twinkle lights. He lightened the colors, swapping out the dark wooden bar top for dreamy blue onyx, painting columns in lighter greens, and plastering ceilings in warm neutrals.
And he went all in on patterns and textiles, with a peacock motif fanning like a phoenix throughout, from royal blue and dark green velvets, silk patterns with feathers backing chairs, black ostrich leather padding stools, and hand-drawn birds perched on the walls. There are still also two taxidermied peacocks, who are new to the establishment, as their predecessors were retired after too many years of heavy petting. And the Tiffany leaded lamps, of course, had to stay, arching over the bar, shaped like flowers, and with two lady figures.
Chef Dana Younkin has been Oakes’ longtime trusted partner in the kitchen, and she’s debuting a new menu, which should still deliver familiar comforts, but with welcome updates. The bar and lounge, as well as the chef’s table, will have its own separate menu. Drinks have been crafted by cocktail pro and barman about town Greg Lindgren, including a Boulevardier with bourbon, Campari, and carpano classico. But Boulevard wouldn’t slap a burger on this bar, and Younkin promises more refined options.
The dining room is moving to a set menu of either three ($89) or four courses ($115), including a starter, main, dessert, and some extra enticements like an opening artichoke dip and final bon bons. The openers are lighter and brighter, such as a salmon tartare with clean and fatty cherry salmon and an oversized seeded cracker, gooey stuffed squash blossoms, and a vegetable twist on wild lobster mushroom bisque. The mains are hearty and classic, with a Berkshire pork chop with hunky spaetzle, and a rack of lamb with festive mint jelly. Check out a sample menu over here, and enjoy the cocktail list below.
Boulevard reopens today, September 29, Tuesday to Saturday. The bar, lounge, and chef’s counter are open for walk-ins, while reservations are recommended for the dining room.