Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Parallel 37 at Ritz-Carlton San Francisco

I have to admit, I was worried when I heard San Francisco's Ritz-Carlton Hotel had replaced its classic fine-dining restaurant The Dining Room and replaced it with a new place called Parallel 37. Then I heard that The Dining Room's gifted chef, Ron Siegel, was in charge at Parallel 37. Right away, I relaxed.

I was right to feel renewed confidence. Siegel - who worked for Thomas Keller at the famed French Laundry and Michael Mina at Aqua, cooked in New York, was the first non-Japanese to win the original "Iron Chef'' competition and was head chef at Masa's - has a list of skills as long as his resume. Boiled down to essentials, he works wonders with the fresh fish, meats and produce of the San Francisco Bay Area, bringing a subtle French touch to American food. Moreover, Siegel not only talks the talk of local, seasonal and sustainable, he walks the walk.

The restaurant, located just off the lobby as you walk in, opened in December 2011. It is one of several recent and future changes at the 20-year-old San Francisco Ritz-Carlton. The splendid Lobby Lounge, home of fine afternoon teas and live evening entertainment, is undergoing renovation. Presently sealed off for construction, it is expected to reopen this spring.

Parallel 37 - named for San Francisco's latitude - is designed to the max, 21st century stylish, loud and frequented by a jeans-wearing but appearance-conscious crowd. I miss the elegant classicism of The Dining Room, but Siegel's revamped menu - including but not limited to - the obligatory small plates, is flavorful, inventive and delicious.

I dined with fellow travel writer and friend Patricia Nickell, who was in-town on assignment. Patti is mostly a fish person, as am I oftentimes. But this time I followed the recommendation of our personable and funny server - he reminded me a bit of the actor Owen Wilson - and ordered the succulent slow-cooked pork entree with braised greens, flageolet beans and madeira sauce. It was wonderful. Patti liked the beans so much she ordered a side for herself. We started our feast with flutes of Champagne, then moved on to Merry Edwards Pinot Noir, a very tasty and versatile California vintage.

If you're in-town, check out Parallel 37. It's very good and with luck will last as long and operate as well as the vanished Dining Room.

The Ritz-Carlton is located at Stockton Street at California Street, San Francisco, CA 94108 USA. Tel. 415.296.7465. Web: www.ritzcarlton.com or http://parallel37sf.com.

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