It’s really not fair when luxury hotels like one of my all-time favorite classics, The Ritz-Carlton, introduce a new Chef de Cuisine that knocks my socks off. I can only eat and drink so much without dragging myself to the gym. But alas… they’ve done it again. So, say ‘hello’ to Michael Rotondo of The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco’s Parallel 37 who trained and worked alongside world-renowned Chef Charlie Trotter at his eponymous Chicago restaurant, Charlie Trotter’s.
With a background at the Five-Star Four Seasons Resort in Palm Beach, where he focused on local Florida flavors and, of course, Latin American fare, he’s trained in Europe and worked in multiple Michelin star restaurants tasting the bounties from different countries, including a stint beside Paul Bocuse in France. In 2008, he even received the “Most Promising Chef” award from chefs Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller after competing in the United States Bocuse d’Or, widely regarded as the epitome of culinary competitions worldwide.
“There are few cities in the world where such amazing ingredients are available locally and in season year-round, but also so close to the epicenter of the wine culture in the United States,” Rotondo explains. “Being a chef for me is about the complete food and wine experience.” We agree, Michael. After all, what is fine fare without the fruit of the vine? (PS. I hear Jesus agrees too). Michael’s hyper-seasonal menu focuses on the best possible ingredients in a progressive, market-fresh style that is both refined and creative, without being overly avant-garde or drenched in too much sauce (we abhor the saucy over-pour).
We tasted everything from his mouth-watering royal trumpet mushroom with sea urchin and bonito flakes ($20) that was the perfect blend of forest heaven and sea wonder to his ever-so-delicate kona kampachi with kumquats and ponzu in brown butter ($17), bringing together a light citrus splash and gentle salt surprise. I could have eaten four servings of this dish alone. To get a sense of his range, you’ll notice that all of the dishes I mention in this article are different than the dishes in the photos to demonstrate Chef Rotondo’s seasonal savoir faire.
The black cod with yuzu gel, arugula blossoms, and parmesan ($20) and an almost deconstructed crispy porkbelly in a homemade steam bun with grapefruit and pink peppercorn ($16) were two of my personal favorites. The pork belly was not only cooked to the ideal crispiness, but the sauce itself was also housed in a highly flavorful, yet light asian sauce. The brilliant touch of grapefruit gave the dish that added blast of freshness… yes, I’m salivating as I write this.
In short, if you’re living or staying in San Francisco and don’t mind spending a pretty penny on quality small plates, this is the spot to do it. Plus, you’d be hard pressed to find better service than the Ritz. You could walk into the property in sweats (though might as well put on the dog), but they still treat you like royalty. For that, I (and my yoga pants) will forever be grateful. Oh, and we also recommend going for Chef Rotondo’s tasting menu, given that the above were our top picks, but he changes his menu frequently.
All delicious photos courtesy of Michelle Walker
Parallel 37 at The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco
600 Stockton Street (between California and Pine)