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Explore Cortez for Small Plates and Big Chic
by Tracie Broom on Nov 19, 2004
This restaurent is now CLOSED.
Geary Street shaped up in 2003. Just down the street from the glitzy CLIFT Hotel, enter the Hotel Adagio, yet another boutique hotel from the Joie de Vivre Hospitality Group. Within the Adagio is a camel-colored hall of drapes studded with comfortable tables and relatively well-heeled, multi-generational diners (capacity 120) sipping spot-on mango caipirinhas. Cortez is the latest restaurant venture from Pascal Rigo, owner of Bay Bread, Chez Nous, and La Table. The short verdict: Cortez is pretty great. We had a fabu time and thought the food was memorable. Go glam it up! Here's why.
It's an industry veteran affair. The slightly open kitchen at Cortez, run by personable husband-wife duo Quinn and Karen Hatfield, is set to the rear of the dining room, while the entrance opens to a long, glammy bar flanked by a few cozy couch zones. Their cred ranges from cooking at Casa del Mar, Postrio, and Spago Beverly Hills (Quinn) to pastry at Mercer Kitchen, Vong, and Gramercy Tavern (Karen). The GM is Khalid Lahlou, formerly of Aziza and La Table, a truly professional, amiable fellow. The bar was set up by veteran front-of-house man Todd Smith, a total pro with years of big city bar experience (Jeanty at Jack's, Enrico's, MC2). Thus, the small plates menu is fantastic, the service is good, and the drinks are the high-caliber, fresh fruit/obscure liqueur creations you expect from a schmancypants San Francisco restaurant.
There are a smattering of entertaining moments in the menu as well. Start with soup shots of the day for two ($6), served in shot glasses of course- there's a dessert milkshake served the same way. We had a carroty soup that was smooth and yummy. Although it is cruel, we couldn't resist the foie gras terrine ($13), with the requisite very prissy grilled brioche toasts and orange marmalade. The small portions are welcome, as the dishes are rich; case in point, a smoked trout, frisee, apple and avocado salad with warm potatoes, buerre blanc and mustard ($9). So far, nothing revolutionary on the menu, but these are luxurious favorites that any foodie will enjoy. But…then we see a Croque Madame with French ham, hamachi tuna, and quail egg ($9). The new!
Presentation involves stylish dishware and mini-platters. Robust flavors make our heads swim in a fricassee of chanterelle mushrooms, pancetta, parsnips, and gnocchi ($9); comforting Moroccan wine-braised short ribs fall onto a celeriac puree with natural jus ($12); and slow-baked wild salmon gets a kick from roasted, pear-stuffed endive and hazelnut balsamic vinaigrette ($11). There are roughly 19-20 small plates items on the menu, half of the first course variety and half like entrees; it's easy to fashion a full meal -- for a full price, mind you -- but the investment is worth the indulgence in high-quality ingredients and skilled preparation.
Desserts ($4 - $8), which are paired with little shots of dessert wines, ports and liqueurs for only $2.50 extra, don't disappoint. Though many swear by the chocolate peanut butter truffle cake (with Vermeer chocolate liqueur) or the beignets with Valhrona chocolate fondue (and house-made vanilla-milk liqueur), we loved the Cortez lemon meringue tart with blueberry compote, ginger ice cream and lemon foam (Foam! The ubiquitous trendy ingredient made it into the menu after all!), served with Limoncello, the hippest shot to hit San Francisco since Fernet.
We recommend the bar for a swanky drink, and the restaurant for a date or for a fancy friends-night-out, as well as special occasions that don't require a super high-dollar destination, but do require a significant touch of intelligent class. Plus, due to the restaurant's in-hotel location, the people-watching is positively dynamic!
by Tracie Broom on Nov 19, 2004