When those hot summer days roll around, there’s nothing better than a bright, fresh, colorful recipe that requires no cooking. Sometimes, however, it can be difficult to think of original ideas that don’t require you to turn on the stove. Luckily, pioneering chef Nancy Oakes—owner of San Francisco’s Boulevard, a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winner since 1993—has shared one of her favorite ceviche recipes that’s endlessly riffable, easy to make and beautifully plated.
After decades helming Boulevard, which debuted in 1993 in the Embarcadero waterfront area, Oakes has adapted to all the ups and downs of the restaurant industry. Boulevard has thrived for so long because of her ability and willingness to change with the times.
Unlike some chefs, Oakes relishes in staying at the same institution for the long haul, guiding it and its team to continued success. “I have a lot of friends who are chefs who love opening new places and starting on a clean slate, and that’s the part I don’t enjoy. I like fine-tuning and working on a project,” she explains. “There are always improvements, and every day can be better. Some people move around, but some have worked here for 20 years or more, yet there are always new faces and new talent too.” That mix of the new and familiar keeps Oakes inspired to come into work every day.
Among the recent improvements has been an update of the restaurant’s decor and dining offerings. “After the pandemic, customers’ tastes changed, and we wanted to give them more options,” Oakes says. “So we set out to create a more interesting bar, featuring beautiful blue onyx and a huge, hand-painted mural as the focal point. It’s a more drop-in, casual, à la carte area up front now. You can grab a few bites, or there’s the back dining room, where we serve a minimum of three courses.” Customers also really enjoyed Boulevard’s outdoor area when COVID limited indoor dining, she notes, so the restaurant is working to make that into “a more permanent feature, hopefully by September.”
Boulevard has had to face many other challenges beyond the COVID disruptions, just like any other business in the service industry. But Oakes seems to take it all in stride, rising to solve new and chronic issues while protecting her staff. “We aren’t over this; people are getting sick, and it has been very disruptive. It’s been tough to constantly juggle staff if folks have to call out, but we want everyone to be safe too.” She mentions that a lot of pre-pandemic problems are still with us today, like the lack of affordable housing in the Bay Area and the resulting long commutes. “A lot of chefs have turned to the entrepreneurial wing to make a living, like selling on Etsy, creating popups, etc. It’s just important for folks to know this isn’t over; chefs are struggling even more so to make a living, and it’s been ongoing to this day.”
Even though the pandemic has magnified some of these issues, Oakes loves working in the Bay Area and hopes that more women follow in her footsteps. “A question I’m often asked is why has this particular area been such a good place for women chefs to succeed? I like to think that California has been a bit more open-minded when it comes to women chefs,” she says. “In other places, a lot of the men, at least in my experience, decide to open multiple restaurants, and when they put their staple and brand in an area, it can be hard to compete with.” As thanks to those who inspired her along the way, she works hard to be the best mentor she can be to anyone who walks through Boulevard’s doors.
Regardless of the challenges Oakes has faced over the decades, one thing has remained constant: Boulevard’s output of delicious, seasonal and inspiring foods. Oakes and executive chef Dana Younkin, who have worked together for over 15 years, have nailed that delicate balance between modern and comfort. For example, Younkin’s speciality would be a dish like “hamachi fish with Rainier cherries, pickled vegetables, and light, fresh sauces,” while Oakes’ go-to favorite is something like “pork chops with cherry balsamic figs and hazelnut potatoes.”
Though there will always be a pork chop on Boulevard’s menu, the “accessories” change on an almost-weekly basis. “Although people see four seasons, I don’t find that to be true,” explains Oakes. “New ingredients are coming all the time; new and fresh things arrive almost weekly. Some come and go at lightning speed—it’ll be there for two weeks and then it’s gone.”
The recipe she shared—right in time for a (hopefully) sunny Father’s Day and July 4 weekend—is a perfect example of how she and Younkin keep the menu fresh. “It’s summer, and I think it’s gonna be a hot one,” Oakes says. “During these months, I wait for tomatoes, which has almost become a cliché at this point, but I love Marvel Stripe heirlooms that are yellow and red, swirly looking, as well as gold or white Brandywine. There are oranges in the recipe too, which makes something so sunny about the plate. Of course, I’m addicted to cilantro, so I would go heavily on the cilantro flowers and leaves. This is also a super calorie-friendly dish, and we all need to fall in love with that kind of food. Not everything has to be crispy and fried.”
The best part about this beautiful dish is that you can switch it up to suit your tastes or whatever is in season. “The halibut in the Bay Area is caught in cold water and tastes great raw, but it doesn’t cook very well because it’s super lean,” says Oakes. If you don’t like halibut or it’s not available, Oakes suggests marinating whole scallops, then thinly slicing them, or using hamachi (Pacific yellowtail, a type of jack) or fluke, a flatfish popular along the East Coast. If you don’t want to work with raw fish, marinate some prawns or shrimp, give them a quick sear, put a lid on the skillet and let them steam for about a minute. You could even use crab or abalone; almost any mild fish or shellfish would work in this recipe.
Whatever you decide, this ceviche is friendly to a variety of white wines. “People seem to be leaning more toward heavier whites, like a white Bordeaux,” says Oakes, “while I tend to favor cleaner and crisp. But we can all agree that a Sancerre is a go-to for this dish throughout the summer.”
Among the suggested wine pairings from Boulevard are a bright Sauvignon Blanc from France’s Loire Valley, the 2020 Hippolyte Reverdy Sancerre; a zesty Austrian Grüner Veltliner, the 2020 Alzinger Wachau Durnstein and a plumper white from France’s Rhône Valley, 2019 Alain Graillot Crozes Hermitage Blanc. Below, Wine Spectator shares an additional 10 picks—adding some summery rosés and celebratory sparklers to the mix—that will make this vibrant ceviche your go-to meal during the warmer months.
Halibut Ceviche with Oranges, Tomatoes and Herbs
For the fish and marinade
- 1 12-ounce halibut fillet
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon toasted coriander seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- Juice of 4 navel or cara cara oranges, plus zest from 2 oranges
For the salad
- 2 or 3 large heirloom tomatoes (preferably Yellow Brandywine or Marvel Stripe tomatoes)
- Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup high-quality, extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 large navel or cara cara oranges, peeled and segmented
- 1/8 cup cilantro leaves, chiffonade
- Selection of greens, such as watercress, pickled chervil, arugula, and/or baby lettuce
For the fish and marinade
Clean fish of bones and skin. Arrange in a single layer in a small, non-corrosive dish. Sprinkle fish with salt, coriander, red pepper flakes and orange zest. Pour orange juice over fish, cover and chill for 2 hours.
To assemble the ceviche
1. Remove fish from marinade, leaving some zest, red pepper flakes and coriander on it. Arrange fish flat side down on paper towels and let dry, then transfer to a cutting board. Slice across fish at a sharp angle, making thin but wide slices.
2. Arrange sliced fish over tomatoes; season with salt and pepper, then drizzle with olive oil. Arrange orange segments, cilantro and assorted greens around fish. Serves 4
10 Vibrant White, Rosé and Sparkling Wines
Note: The following list is a selection of outstanding and very good wines from recently rated releases. More options can be found in our Wine Ratings Search.
Brut Rosé Champagne Sauvage NV
Score: 92 | $72
WS review: Sleek and finely-knit, with firm acidity and a chalky underpinning married to a lovely range of steeped raspberry, wild strawberry and dried fig fruit flavors. Hints of salted almond, blood orange zest and smoke play on the finish. Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Drink now through 2024. From France.—Alison Napjus
Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County 2020
Score: 92 | $19
WS review: Mouthwatering, showing Meyer lemon, pineapple, peach and lime zest flavors on a rich, lush frame, with a hint of lanolin. The sleek, vibrant acidity keeps the flavors fresh and focused. Drink now. 5,000 cases made. From California.—MaryAnn Worobiec
Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough Classic 2021
Score: 92 | $13
WS review: Mouthwatering in its intensity, with passion fruit, Key lime, lemon blossom, ruby grapefruit and lime zest. Offers hints of tangerine and fresh grated ginger that linger on the long, expressive and sleek finish. Drink now. 103,000 cases made, 11,600 cases imported. From New Zealand.—M.W.
Brut Franciacorta '61 NV
Score: 91 | $32
WS review: Rich hints of brioche and pastry cream accent flavors of white peach and passion fruit coulis in this creamy Franciacorta, with a satiny bead, finely balanced by a bright backbone of citrusy acidity. Chardonnay and Pinot Nero. Drink now through 2025. 40,000 cases made, 1,500 cases imported. From Italy.—A.N.
Grüner Veltliner Kamptal Lois 2020
Score: 91 | $19
WS review: A whiff of elderflower gives way to grapefruit, pear and almond flavors in this sleek, light-bodied white, which tightens up, turning more compact on the finish, yet remains fresh. Drink now. 5,000 cases made, 3,500 cases imported. From Austria.—Bruce Sanderson
LES VIGNERONS DE TAVEL
Tavel Les 4 Vents 2021
Score: 90 | $19
WS review: Ripe, even vivid, in the display of cherry, pomegranate and blood orange, this distinctive rosé has the cut and tension to match. Ends with a mouthwatering edge on the tobacco-tinged finish. Grenache, Cinsault, Clairette, Syrah and Picpoul. Drink now through 2023. 10,000 cases made, 1,500 cases imported. From France.—James Molesworth
LES VINS DE VIENNE
Viognier Collines Rhodaniennes 2020
Score: 90 | $30
WS review: Juicy and direct, with a burst of star fruit, peach and white apricot flavors backed by flashes of green almond and acacia on the finish. Drink now through 2023. 1,740 cases made, 600 cases imported. From France.—J.M.
Brut Rosé North Coast Mirabelle NV
Score: 90 | $31
WS review: Delicate and pretty, with expressive orange blossom and strawberry flavors laced with brioche and spiced nuts. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Drink now. 16,790 cases made. From California.—Tim Fish
HECHT & BANNIER
Côtes de Provence Rosé 2021
Score: 88 | $20
WS review: This has a bit more drive and depth than its peers, with rose water, lightly muddled watermelon and white cherry carried by a steely spine. A nice savory note gently infuses the finish. Grenache, Cinsault and Vermentino. Drink now. 15,000 cases made, 5,000 cases imported. From France.—J.M.
Grüner Veltliner Kremstal 2020
Score: 88 | $17
WS review: A bright and lively white, marked by apple, grapefruit and yuzu flavors. Intense and balanced, with a brisk, citrusy finish. Drink now. 4,000 cases imported. From Austria.—B.S.