Parallel 37 at the Ritz has fine food in casual setting

BRIAN MOLYNEAUX/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
Deeply delicious: A large serving of juicy duck breast — slant-cut in medium-rare hunks — is a highly satisfying entree at Parallel 37.
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The famous, superluxe dining room at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel — where Gary Danko, Sylvain Portay and Ron Siegel created sumptuous, groundbreaking meals for more than two decades — is gone, replaced by a more casual venue called Parallel 37.

Staying on during a transition that encompassed a floor-to-ceiling re-do, Siegel crafted a new, abbreviated menu that still bears his signature: high-concept French cooking with Japanese influences (he was the first American to defeat the “Iron Chef” on Japanese television) and California’s eclectic use of ingredients.

Many of the dishes at Parallel 37 would have been quite at home in the old Ritz-Carlton Dining Room, but now the cost of a three-course meal is about half — $75 a person with a cocktail or a glass of wine.

Only two large carrot ravioli ($14) nestle in a small hollow at the center of a huge round plate, but these are voluptuous French-style ravioli with thick, if tender, skins filled with carrot cream and moistened with reduced Madeira and demi-glace, a sweet and meaty sauce.

Pristine Dungeness crab ($16) — a little pile of shredded body meat on a raft of avocado slices, sections of leg meat scattered with wisps of frisee and blood orange segments, barely dressed with lemon zest and a few drops of olive oil — focuses all attention on the crab itself.

These four-bite starters call for a substantial entree such as a huge duck breast ($28): three tender, juicy, slant-cut, medium-rare hunks with a  suggestion of cinnamon insinuating itself into the meat.

A fabulous pork belly appetizer ($16) — a seemingly daunting slab of melting flesh artfully set off by turnip cream, raw beet shavings, a pickled beet log, a spear of grilled asparagus and a garden of studiously placed miner’s lettuce — quickly disappears.  

Something so extravagant should be followed by one of Siegel’s inspired fish dishes. I trust the fish here. The buttery, fatty flesh of a big, golden-crusted slice of local black cod ($27) is sublime in a smoky miso broth studded with cubes of daikon, tiny beech mushrooms and baby tatsoi.

Red snapper ($27), with crispy skin and leaner white flesh, perches on “bamboo” rice — short grain, a little sticky — studded with bits of crab, pomelo and Meyer lemon. The whole thing is topped with crisp threads of raw carrot, which adds textural excitement.

What I like about this complex food is its freshness, its liveliness. The kitchen pays attention to every component. You can sense the fine hand of the cook.

Unlike the savory courses, desserts ($10) need more clarity. Their parts don’t add up. But I loved a plate of sweet treats ($10) because each  cookie — jelly, chocolate and minipastry — was fresh and distinctive.

In all honesty, I miss the elegant old dining room. The new decor flirts with utility, especially expandable wooden tables with hinges showing and acoustics that actually magnify sound. The wine list on an iPad is fun to navigate, if overpriced. Service remains kind and intelligent, if now sometimes overburdened.

The main thing is we can get Siegel’s classic dishes more spontaneously and less expensively. I’m not used to this level of cooking being so accessible, but I’m happy to adjust.

Patricia Unterman is the author of many editions of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Guide.” Contact her at pattiu@concentric.net.

Parallel 37

Location: Ritz-Carlton, 600 Stockton St., S.F.

Contact: (415) 773-6168, www.parallel37sf.com

Hours:
11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch; 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays and 5:30 to 10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays for dinner

Price range:
Small bites $6 to $9; appetizers $11 to $18; entrees $26 to $29

Recommended dishes: Duck breast, local black cod, pork belly, crab salad, carrot ravioli

Credit cards: All

Reservations: Accepted

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