“San Francisco, right when I arrive
I really come alive…
And you will laugh to see me,
Perpendicular, hanging on a cable car!”
Ah yes. It had to be Judy.
The only thing to distinguish this hotel room from any other traditional comfortable city hotel room with inoffensive regency-inspired décor was the soundtrack of Ms Garland singing “San Francisco” we heard upon entering.
For fans of the gin-riddled diva, it was much appreciated.
In addition to the usual amenities, each room at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco comes with its own “intimacy kit” (safety first, kids) and a small plastic sealed bag containing cardboard strips of about two inches in length. Said strips were squared off at one end, and had a rounded point at the other. Before judging the conversation that ensued, please note that we are both women.
“What on earth are these?!” we exclaimed, brows furrowed. “Could they be for your… feet?” “Ears? Eyebrows? Nose?” “Are they an elaborate new fangled American flossing tool?”
We were confounded. Ideas about potential uses for these objects steadily interrupted conversation for the next two days. After an even sillier conversation with three lesbians who were none the wiser, we encountered these strange items once again in our Airbnb rental a few days later – our host Laurence had an apartment filled with taxidermy, Marquis de Sade literature and Russ Meyer film posters. There, we discovered they were collar stiffs.
(Cue a collective eye-roll from all the men.)
Nice touch, Ritz-Carlton.
Aside from meeting all your stiffening needs – shirt collar and otherwise being catered for – a stay on the Club Level at the Ritz-Carlton means added services that you wouldn’t otherwise find in such a large hotel. With its own reception, bar, and a lounge with regular food provided, you’re afforded the kind of attentiveness that is normally available only in a small boutique hotel.
One day into our California jaunt, we were welcomed to Parallel 37, the Ritz-Carlton’s restaurant. The décor is comfortable and modern, although not especially memorable, with its chunky dark brown leather chairs, naked darkly stained tables, low lighting. The atmosphere was slightly lacking, but then it was a Monday night. The star here, as it should be, was the food and service.
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"This is where to come to see waiters on all fours, picking up bits of hay from the floor with huge silver spoons – remnants from some particularly conceptual dish that has shed a few strands of its presentation while sizzling on the way to its table"
Using fresh local produce and embracing the California food scene’s global outlook, the dishes were all well balanced, and featured several ingredient pairings we’d not encountered before. Bruins Farm heirloom tomatoes were matched with crispy duck confit; the sweet slabs of deep pink, orange and green tomatoes were highlighted by nuggets of honey-doused, wonderfully smoky duck, as well as a tofu based dressing and a few springs of peppery rocket. The sommelier coupled this with a delicious and refreshing vodka-based cocktail, incorporating grapefruit, almond liqueur and rose lemonade. It was lovely indeed.
The rest of the eight-course tasting menu included crispy artichoke with baby gem; tender seared octopus with a sweet-ish sorbet; and a beautifully cooked rib-eye with celery root and mushroom chutney. New chef Michael Rotondo, an eight-year veteran of Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, is clearly taking the move in his stride.
There was one other dish of note, purely because we had once vowed never to eat one of its key ingredients again. Adopting a strategy of always trying the “weird thing” on the menu, we had last ordered chicken feet at a Chinese restaurant in Camden, London. It was revolting, all bone, gristle and sinew. “Why!?” we cried. Why would that be a “thing you eat”? However, by removing the bone, sinew and gristle, Rotondo and his team have managed to transform this potentially horrific stuff into something delicious: a chewy (in a good way) and gelatinous mouthful, served in a steamed bun, with condiments including a grapefruit jam. Delicious.
Instead of wine, the drinks pairing for the chicken was a locally crafted beer. And to finish, sherry made a great accompaniment to the Guanaja chocolate cake with blood orange curd.
We were full, but not uncomfortably so. Parallel 37 is serving dishes that celebrate ingredients’ flavours, and combining them in unusual ways that serve only to highlight their special qualities. There were no boring mouthfuls here. C
The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco, 600 Stockton Street, San Francisco, CA 94108, USA
Ritzcarlton.com; 415 296 7465
Amy Grimehouse are Alex Menace and Mia Pollak. Amy Grimehouse is an immersive cinema/arts club night in London that celebrates trashy, camp, cult and transgressive film, art and books. It’s rather marvellous.