San Francisco’s Ritz-Carlton Goes From Staid to Hip with Parallel 37

Kampachi sashimi at Parallel 37. One of the prettiest dishes you'll ever eat at a bar.

It used to be a place you’d never venture on a whim.

No, the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, high atop San Francisco’s blue-blood Nob Hill, was reserved for special times, when you got dressed to the nines to celebrate a planned, lofty occasion.

Those times have changed — dramatically.

The prim-and-proper Dining Room, the last of those concept restaurants at any Ritz-Carlton, finally was bid adieu late last year. In its place, the swank Parallel 37 opened, named appropriately enough for the geographic latitude running near the Bay Area.

With cocoa banquettes, bare tables and a focal point wall aglow with the image of a backlit oak forest, the new restaurant has gotten a fresh, contemporary makeover. It has a much larger bar, too, complete with two flat-screens, something unthinkable before. And parking for the restaurant has been dropped to a reasonable flat-rate of $10 to lure more folks to drop in on a regular basis.

Chef Ron Siegel at the bar of Parallel 37, the restaurant formerly known as the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton.

Amid this whirlwind of change, one constant has remained, thankfully. Executive Chef Ron Siegel, who has been at the helm since 2004, is still in charge.

“I like the new look,” he says of the transformation of his restaurant. “The other was a little stuffy. People in San Francisco love to eat out and to them, this has the right feel now. I like the energy it has.”

The popular new bar.

The communal tables in the lounge area.

You might remember Siegel for being the first American chef ever to beat an “Iron Chef” on the original Japanese version of that wildly popular TV show back in 1998. Many tourists still do, and make a beeline to the restaurant just because of that.

It used to be that you’d have to pay a pretty penny to dine here. Not so much any more. Gone are the lavish, hours-long tasting menus. In its place is an à la carte menu with $7 to $18 appetizers and entrees all under $30.

At the sleek soapstone bar, enjoy small bites and appetizers. Or order off Siegel’s dinner menu like so many patrons opt to do.

That’s exactly what I did when I dined as a guest recently at the bar, which is proving quite the new “It” spot in the city among the denim- and khakis-crowd after work, who congregate  at high communal bar tables.

The "Missionary March,'' one of the new signature cocktails.

A cocktail is a must, especially with one of San Francisco’s most talented mixologists, Camber Lay, overseeing the bar. With creamsicle bitters an ingredient, the “Missionary March” ($14) was a bright and fun blend of tequila, lime and a fresh grind of black sea salt.

Crispy chicken wings ($6) may be from the bar bites menu. But they’re like no chicken wings at any other bar. Deboned, these plump little morsels come skewered on bamboo sticks for easy eating. Lemon and Szechuan pepper added liveliness and a little kick.

Crab cakes ($8) are bite-sized morsels full of fluffy Dungeness flesh. Disks of apple and ginger gelee gave them even more “wow” appeal.

Not your usual chicken wings.

Dainty crab cakes.

Kampachi sashimi ($15) from the dinner menu will astound. It’s so gorgeous to behold that you can’t believe you’re enjoying something so elegant and refined while propped on a bar stool. Curls of silky raw fish are arranged on a rough-hewn plate with tangy wood sorrel leaves, crisp little rice puffs, the crunch of pomegrante seeds and caviar-like finger limes. It’s a dish where time stands still with each and every lovely bite.

Snapper with bamboo rice.

Siegel has a sure hand with fish, whether it’s raw or cooked. The snapper ($27)  was another artful dish. Its skin was seared crisp like a potato chip. Fragrant bamboo rice with more Dungeness crab and juicy pomelo segments added a subtle Asian flair.

Don't miss the lemon semi-freddo.

For dessert, it doesn’t get better than the lemon semi-freddo ($8). A wedge of tart arrives with a rippled, torched marshmallow top drizzled with huckleberry sauce. Underneath, there’s a layer of frozen lemon custard on a graham cracker crust. It’s tangy, just a little sweet, and delightfully gooey. It’s grown-up sophisticate on the outside but all childhood fun on the inside.

The Dining Room might have been a place you ventured into once a year. Parallel 37, with its more relaxed vibe and price point, is a place that’s sure to beckon a whole lot more often.

(For more on Parallel 37 and its stellar cocktail program, see my story in Food Arts magazine.)

More: My Q&A with Chef Ron Siegel

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Date: Thursday, 23. February 2012 5:25
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Chefs, Food TV, General, More Food Gal -- In Other Publications, Restaurants, Spirits/Cocktails/Beer

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11 comments

  1. 1

    It’s great that despite the changes they made they were able to keep the same chef…it’s nice to have a little bit of constancy. Sounds like a fun place to spend an evening, and the food looks wonderful!

  2. 2

    I’ve had Chef Siegel’s food before they redid the restaurant and it was quite good. I’m glad to see that he and the restaurant are changing with the times – they all look like great improvements and the food looks incredible.

  3. 3

    Nice! That semifreddo looks fantastic.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  4. 4

    The gelee on the crab cakes makes it look so elegant. Now I wonder when they’ll revive the tea service in the lobby. :)

  5. 5

    Had lunch there in January, and the menu was very limited, did not any dishes that appear on your website. Very disappointing, maybe Chef Siegel was on vacation!

  6. 6

    Did you really say, creamsicle bitters? That sounds incredible! And that sashimi is so beautiful, I can’t stand it. The perfect crust on the snapper!! And Mr. Ron, your mustache is epic.

  7. 7

    Oh, I was looking through the photos as I read about your bar dinner, and thought, hmm, interesting sashimi, funky skewers, typical fish dish, and BANG, I saw the lemon semifreddo! You know I love lemons and that looked amazing. I want one now.

  8. 8

    Hey Carolyn, Good to know. I never would have thought of going to the Ritz for a nice cocktail and snacky. I could really go for one of the Missionary Marches right now – sounds delish!
    -Erin

  9. 9

    I had the Valentine’s Prefix once at the Dining Room and it was amazing. I enjoyed looking at everything he cooked. What a special meal.

  10. 10

    That is some makeover! And the bar sounds amazing, perhaps worth the trip on it’s own! Wonderful that they kept the same chef, a comforting touch.

  11. 11

    This looks like a fun place to eat at in San Francisco. Love the dessert photo.

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