Cortez - Hotel Adagio - 550 Geary - San Francisco
My car is a nippy little thing. She redlines at a whopping 9000 revs and when I get on the freeway every morning I like to push her a little, hoping to get from 0-60mph in a sweet six seconds (thereby putting me fast out of danger from neighbouring
I encountered the same deceleration of enjoyment when I dined at Cortez last Saturday evening. Mixed bag that it was, the food that was not the main problem, it was the service. And although our waitress was endearing, it was clear she was overworked or over busy or overstretched and she kept forgetting to bring the wine pairing I had previously discussed with her for each course. I was in a festive, self-indulgent, party frame of mind. I was on my way to a grape-induced high. I wasn't in the mood for someone else putting a damper on my celebration by taking their foot off the gas and slamming it on the brake, but that, unfortunately, is exactly what happened.
This wasn't our first visit to Cortez. We first tried it out last year when husband-and-wife chef team, Quinn and Karen Hatfield, were still in charge of the ovens. Back then we were dining with a couple of friends of Fred whom I hadn't met before and although we loved the cocktails and the food, we weren't keen on the way they paced our meal. We all chose a couple of plates each and then the waiter informed us that the kitchen would send them out as they saw fit, progressing from light choices through heavy. He suggested we all share. All well and good, except not everyone likes sharing, especially people who have only just met. The guest who had only wanted to eat light suffered from both her dishes arriving first and everyone digging in because we didn't have our own preferences to keep us occupied. I was amused when the hamachi croque
Fast forward to the present >>> Thankfully staff no longer dictate the order in which you should eat your meal at Cortez, but the unfortunately everything else seems to have taken a step downhill. Except for the complimentary amuse bouche: warm gougeres filled with hot, liquid goat cheese. They were totally amazing and if I ever go back, then it's just for a plate of those...
To start with, this time round, I chose the Chefs’ crudo inspired by the freshest fish and seasonal produce which happened to be hamachi with topped with hazlenuts. For the $17 I paid for these fresh slivers of flesh I would have expected the nuts to be as fresh as the fish. Sadly they weren't, they tasted stale. Toasting them might have helped balance their raw taste. It reminded me of finding a bag of old nuts at the back of my pantry. In my mind, as I ordered the dish, I was envisaging a replica of the perfect hazlenuts I've encountered at Zuni or the very fine version that have adorned my salads at Coco500. Cortez obviously don't have the nut thing going for them. I also had to add salt. I rarely add salt in a restaurant, only if the dish is screaming for it. My crudo were howling.
Cortez certainly start as they mean to go on when it comes to pacing the meal: They pretty much suck at it. The 2002 Alvarinho, Dorado, Vinho Verde that had been aptly recommended by our server to match my first course was nowhere to be seen. Luckily Fred had chosen a cold appetizer too - and so we were able to wait and attract the attention of our waitress and then wait even further for the wine to be collected and delivered to us before starting to eat.
She who was looking after us seemed to be more in the swing of things by the time she brought us the second course, some crispy sweetbreads accompanied by shaved apples and cider foam (my description, not theirs, which was more eloquent) along with a half glass of some other delicious white wine she had chosen for me. These were by far the best sweetbreads I have ever tasted and although I am normally not a huge fan of all those fancy foams and smears, this dish worked perfectly. I couldn't fault it. Foam that makes sense. At last.
The waitress's control of the stuation was short lived. I was really looking forward to a glass of pinot noir to accompany my sous-vide-cooked pork belly. The food arrived. I looked left, I looked right. I waited a minute, I didn't want to dig in without a glass at my side. I could see the steam dissipating as the meat cooled and our waitress was nowhere to be seen. I took a mouthful BECAUSE I COULDNT WAIT ANY LONGER, and then I looked left, I looked right, I saw our waitress attending other people and wearing her blinkers so she was oblivious to everything other than that which she was doing right then. I made a fruitless attempt to gain her attention. I took another bite, and then another and another and the belly was gone. My spirit was dampened. If I'd have been at Cafe Gratitude, my experience would have been named "I am disappointed".
I don't know what would have happened next if the manager hadn't have come over to ask us how we enjoyed our meals. I think he's a bit of an A-hole, only expecting people to smile sweetly and say "lovely" through grimaced smiles. I told him plain and clear" "The food was tasty but I never did receive the glass of wine I had requested to pair with my pork-belly". His face turned as black as a thunder cloud, he excused himself and off he stormed to reprimand our poor waitress. A few minutes later she returned to apolgize profusely and confess that everything was completely her fault. I think she would have taken responsibilty for George W Bush, Columbine and Paris Hilton too, if she could have done so at that point. She also mentioned she would comp my pork belly. Don't comp me my food, I think, bring me a
The spell was broken, the promise of a magical night of food perfectly annointed with alcohol, did not materialize. I place the blame squarely with the sleazy manager guy, not the waitress. She may have slipped up a little but he behaved inexcusably infront of us. When I expressed my disappointment, the first thing he could have done would have been to rush me a complimetary glass of wine by way of an apology. Fred too if he was really smart. It was wine I was lacking, not the money to pay for my pork belly. He should have taken responsibility and shouldered the blame and then taken it up with the waitress after hours, in private. Instead he embarassed her and made her a scapegoat by putting her on the spot, during service, and making it clear that he considered all the problems to be totally her fault. Listen up wise-ass manager, maybe your customers are smarter than that. The reason you probably won't be seeing me at Cortez again is because of your lack of sensibility, not because of the waitress who fluffed up.
Btw - thanks for the sweet herbed popcorn that arrived with the check. It made me feel less bad about walking out on dessert, which I had been looking forward to before my enjoyment of the evening fizzled out like a damp squib. Never mind, I am sure it would never have been as good as Karen Hatfield's...