Mixed Plate (Cortez -- San Francisco, CA)
For a very long time, a lot of people we knew were bugging us to go try out Cortez. So when we had plans downtown last Friday night, we figured we'd check it out.
Cortez is named for the famous explorer, and it's located in the Hotel Adagio. When you first walk in, it seems to go on forever. The restaurant is pretty long and narrow-ish, with a larger room off to one side. It would be relatively nice, if not for the God awful ugly ass light fixtures that look like they're from a Disneyland theme cafe in the 1980's.
Now normally, I don't give a shit about where I sit. In fact, I generally prefer sitting where I can see the kitchen so I can see how everything is done. Perhaps it's because we made an Open Table reservation a mere 3 hours before, but we got the shittiest table ever known to man. It was almost like an afterthought. My chair backed up to where they cut the bread. In fact, I'm pretty sure some of my hair must have ended up in the crumb bucket next to the cutting board.
Our server wasn't overly warm, but he wasn't necessarily cold, either so we had no problems with him at all. The service took a turn for the worse later in the evening (although it had nothing to do with his attitude), which I'll get to later.
We ordered as follows:
I had a raspberry lemonade that was so sweet and cloying that I had to go to the bathroom and check for spontaneous cavities. Jon had a pomegranate cooler with tequila, which was quite good. I'd definitely order it again.
First we had the Katafi crusted crabcake. This is very good, but not spectacular. The Katafi lends it an interesting texture, and the inside is extremely light. This is nice, but also a drawback; it felt as if we weren't getting a whole lot of crab, which is lame.
Then, we had the "Croque Madame" which was our favorite dish of the evening. This was comprised of jambon de bayonne, hamachi and garlic buerre blanc and came with a poached quail egg on top. It had all sorts of my favorite things and we both decided it was super yums. The juxtaposition of the cold, raw hamachi and the warm brioche and egg was really sensory heaven. I do think it can still be improved upon -- it was a little *too* buttery (now when *I* say that, you know there's an issue) and the quail egg was a little overcooked.
Next we had the corn ravioli, which were fine in and of themselves. They had a zucchini puree, peas and cherry tomatoes. Both vegetables were off. Underripe in the case of the tomatoes, and, because they must hate me, the peas were mealy. I cannot stand a mealy texture when it comes to fruits and vegetables (and it for this reason that I am wary of all but the finest pears), so I was a little on the pissed side.
We also ordered french fries, which, as you know, happen to be my favorite food on earth. And Cortez does a great version. They are crispy and perfectly salted. Plus they come with some kick ass harissa and zatar spiced aiolis, which rocked my world. The only problem is that these would have worked best with the Croque, and they didn't bring them until....
We had our last dish, which was pork belly. I adore pork belly but wasn't really up for it that night. The waiter convinced us that it was God's gift to pork belly, though, so we ordered it. And it was stupid. Dressed almost exactly the same way as our raviolis and on a plate which made it extremely difficult to share, it did not appear to be the tasty piglet tummy that I so love. It was devoid of any flavor worth commenting on, and was just kind of blah and disappointing. And the vegetables still sucked.
For dessert we had the sugar and spice beignets with Valhrona chocolate fondue. These were warm and extremely tasty, but I would classify them more as little square doughnuts rather than beignets. The glutens were not quite right for them to be considered the almighty beignet, but they were still good despite the misnomer. In fact, I just might fill up my bathtub with that fondue and wallow in the love.
Now Cortez touts itself as a small plates restaurant. Small plates they are, but the way they serve them is completely retarded. They are, indeed, small, but they come on plates that make it extremely difficult to share. What's more, they are portioned out strangely. For example, the Croque could have been sliced before the egg was placed on top, or they could do smaller crabcakes as opposed to one large one. Simple stuff like that. The pork belly was presented like a regular old entree, leaving us puzzled as to how to proceed.
A bigger problem was this: We had four dishes with four very different flavors. They did not change our plates once. Normally I wouldn't care about this, I'm usually against that kind of fuss and waste of energy for the servers and dishwashers, but in this case it was absolutely necessary. By the end of the meal my plate was covered in the sauces, emulsions and juices of four different things, vaguely resembling the mystery drinks that kids make and try to force each other to drink (these usually consist of juice, pepper, ketchup, milk, and anything else they can get their grubby little hands on). It was supreme grossness.
Pacing was erratic, and on the slow side; we were definitely ready to go by the time the check came. Oh, did I mention that the check was placed on our table before our dessert arrived? Faux pas, my friends, faux pas. It was not high on the scale of consistency. To his credit, our server was swamped but still, it doesn't take a whole lot of brain power to realize that a dessert has not yet made it to the table. And I knew the meal had been a disappointment when I was frustrated by the total of the bill ($100, boots and all).
Would I go back? Perhaps. If I was waiting to see a show I might pop into the bar for a croque madame, french fries, and a pomegranate cooler, but that's about it. I don't think I'd sit down for another full on meal. I've just got too many tricks on my dance card and I can't waste my precious time, energy and cash flow on something that's simply mediocre.
"To eat is a necessity. To eat intelligently is an art."