Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Cortez - Hotel Adagio - 550 Geary - San Francisco

2006 restaurant review of cortez at the hotel adagio 550 geary san francisco 94102

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 snails vehicles co-negotiating the freeway on-ramp merge at the same time as me). I wish she'd drink tea so I could warm her up a little before we set out on our journey, but she says it's not her cuppa, so I have to take her to the road cold. I pop her in first gear, I put my foot down on the gas and off she goes like a rocket... and then... and then... darn it... she's complains about the early morning chill and whap! She cuts out on me and I have to slow down.

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 monsieur madame (?) arrived. None of the staff explained exactly how four people should go about sharing the diddly little fried quails egg that was perched on top of it. But as I have illustrated by effortlessly plucking that dish from my memory - at least the food from that visit made an impression. Indeed, the Hatfield's food still makes an impression at Cortez - it appears that every single one of the good reviews still lauded on the Cortez website date back to when this duo was still in charge. And they left almost a year ago.

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 friggin glass of wine. Pronto. Can't you see I need it? Can't you tell I want it? Right now! Alas...

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...

Cortez on Google Map

This review is "Back for Seconds" for me, and a third visit for Fred.

2005 | Lovo Night at "Bula Re" in Savusavu

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Cortez - Hotel Adagio - 550 Geary - San Francisco


  • At 26/10/06 00:35, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hope you feel better having got that off your chest.The manager sounds like a complete a**hole!

  • At 26/10/06 04:54, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Not sure I like this language even if it's deserved!!

  • At 26/10/06 06:27, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Ouch. We went to Cortez back in its early days, and though we found most of the food to be at least good, it was certainly not worth the prices they were charging for those little, little plates. And our server was a dingbat as well. We've not returned, though I would like to go back for a cocktail sometime.

  • At 26/10/06 07:39, Blogger wheresmymind said…

    What kind of car do you have? Gremlin? ;)

  • At 26/10/06 07:54, Blogger Anita (Married... with dinner) said…

    We've noticed that we're enjoying Crotez less and less these days, too. The last meal, the prices seemed to have shot way up, and the addition of real entrees feels too calculated and shrewd for my taste.

    If you liked the rosemary caramel corn mignardise, be forwarned they serve the un-candied version at the bar... and it's terribly addictive.

  • At 26/10/06 08:28, Blogger Sam said…

    Beccy - he could have made the situation better, he should have, but he simply made it worse instead.

    Chrisb (Mum!) - I had nightmares about having used that word beginning with an F which I don't care for either. I woke up this morning wondering why I had done it, so I re-edited and struck it. Hope that makes you feel better. I don't regret any other language I used of which you may have disapproved so I am afraid you will just have to suffer the A-hole like we had to.

    Sean and Anita - good point about the price. This meal came to $147 before tip. When we ate there as a foursome last year the bill was just $200.

    Maybe its the big dishes that make the difference in price?

    Anita - Luckily I only like corn if it IS caramelized - so please dont tell me if they have that available at the bar too.

  • At 26/10/06 08:40, Blogger Sam said…

    wmm - ps - you have 3 more car guesses before you turn into a halloween pumpkin!

  • At 26/10/06 09:21, Blogger Dive said…

    Nice long review!

    And extra points for the Cafe Gratitude reference...totally snarkalicious!

    I'm lovin' it.


  • At 26/10/06 12:43, Blogger Catherine said…

    Great piece, Sam. I really enjoyed this!

  • At 26/10/06 19:35, Blogger Cynthia said…

    Hi Sam,
    I just wanted to say that I've been reading Becks & Posh for a while now and have always admired your writing. Many of your Bay Area recs have led to memorable meals (Coco500, for one). I've finally started my own blog and hope it's ok that I've linked to you.
    Take care,

  • At 21/8/07 02:52, Blogger Blackpool Hotels said…

    If you liked the rosemary caramel corn mignardise, be forwarned they serve the un-candied version at the bar... and it's terribly addictive

    Blackpool Hotels

  • At 23/5/09 05:48, Anonymous Adam said…

    I appreciate the labour you have put in developing this blog. Nice and informative.


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