Located in the heart of San Francisco at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Parallel 37 is a contemporary, American restaurant-unassumingly elegant, with a warm, modern feel. The name comes from the northern 37th parallel, a circle of latitude 37 degrees from the Earth’s equator. From Europe to the Mediterranean, Africa, Asia, and the Atlantic, Chef de Cuisine Michael Rotondo has used these destinations as inspiration for his ever changing menu and wine pairing events.
A former executive chef at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, Chef Rotondo works diligently to source ingredients from local purveyors-from fruits and vegetables, to dairy, meats and fish, as well as wine, beer and spirits.
On our recent visit, we had the chance to dine with them, just before heading to Napa and Sonoma wine country. The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco frequently hosts guests taking just such a trip, and we thought what better way to help wine lovers choose local wineries to tour than to taste them before arriving in the region.
Chef Rotondo was up to the challenge, and worked with us to pair his 5-course menu for the night with local Napa and Sonoma wines. When we arrived, a waiter quickly delivered a loaf of crusty sourdough bread to the table, along with a plating of two butters, one unsalted, and the other a compound of coriander, mint, and Maui black sea salt-both sourced from Petaluma dairy farms.
The first glass of wine to be poured was a Bruno Paillard Brut Champagne ($28/112), from Champagne, France. Before I could say anything, our distinguished waiter, Carl, assured me that yes, the rest of our meal would be paired with local wines, but the chef felt this was the perfect pairing for our opening amuse bouche-a lobster & prawn salad with caper berries, local radishes, tarragon, and blood oranges. This wine was a perfect match of acidity and creaminess, and the dish was just enough to get our mouths watering for what was to come.
Our first course was a salad of little gem lettuce with crispy spicy artichokes, turmeric pickled onions, a dusting of cumin, and a light, creamy yogurt tarragon dressing. This was the perfect introduction to what sourcing locally means, with greens selected from nearby Dirty Girl Farms.
Artichokes can be challenging to pair with wine, because they contain a chemical acid called ‘cynarin’, which makes everything taste sweeter — especially wine. Chef Rotondo created a successful pairing, choosing the Kistler Les Noisetiers Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Coast ($26/104) to complement. This white was creamy enough, but with more zest and acid than a traditional California Chardonnay.
Kistler doesn’t do tours, as their production is quite small, but they do sell online, and can be tasted at local restaurants like Parallel 37.
Our second course was Yuba (Japanese tofu skin-very delicate, and pasta-like), rolled and stuffed with kumquat and soft shell prawn, lightly fried, and then plated with local Miner’s lettuce, chickweed, and fresh wasabi, with a drizzle of guava puree around the plate. Fresh wasabi has a completely different flavor from the green, dried stuff you find in the supermarket. When grated, it provides depth, rather than overpowering the dish. The guava, kumquat, and prawn played well together, showing sweet, tart, and savory in each bite. It was served with a rosé wine – Lewis, Vin Gris of Syrah, Napa Valley 2011, ($72). With a high minerality, and similar tropical fruit notes, it was a good pairing.
Our third course was ahi tuna, seasoned and seared rare over pearl barley, served with trumpet mushrooms and Serrano ham. This was an interesting dish, because the fish jus (broth) at the bottom of the bowl had an earthy, umami, almost ‘beefy’ characteristic to it. The dish was garnished with Marin County red mustard green and micro spinach. Unlike oyster sauce or soy, it was not overly salty, but proved a rich, glimmering broth in which to swirl each bite of fish and grains. We tried not to lick the bowl, as we finished the last piece. A complex dish like this can be a challenge to pair, but not for the team at Parallel. Wine chosen was a Knez Pinot Noir 2010, Demuth Vineyards, Anderson Valley ($95).
Moving along promptly to the fourth course, Chef Rotondo’s team present pork three ways – rack (deboned), belly, and tenderloin with a carrot puree, carrot tortelloni, baby kale fronds, and frisee as garnish. This was a rich dish, and deserved a big red to cut the creaminess of the fat. Enter Seghesio, Zinfandel, Sonoma County 2011 ($15/52). Although you’d generally pair pork and carrots with a white wine, this Zinfandel blend was up to the challenge. We noticed a trend-amazing wine and amazing food create the perfect storm-traditional pairing rules become irrelevant. The dish was rich and velvety, with the bitterness from the kale and frisee a nice contrast.
The time came for our dessert to arrive, and a quenelle of mint and cucumber sorbet atop crystal clear elderflower gel appeared, along with a Joseph Phelps Scheurebe, a very unique ice wine (not on Parallel’s menu, but ask-they may have it). The sorbet was a refreshing change of pace, and we watched as even the 8 year old diner at a table across from us enjoyed her palate cleanser.
Our final dish, a dessert of manjari chocolate cremeaux with peppermint ice cream, locally sourced huckleberries and cocoa nib crumble. It looked entirely complex, but pastry chef Andrea Correa provided the recipe, ensuring that even our most kitchen challenged readers can make this dish!
Our night came to a close, the last few drops of Scheurebe poured into our glasses, and we finished our meal with beautifully presented dark chocolate and banana truffles, surrounded by edible flowers.
Wine Notes on Joseph Phelps Scheurebe 2012, Spring Valley Ranch Vineyard, St. Helena
Local is most certainly the focus at Parallel 37. The menu is also quite ‘green’, an on trend shift we’re seeing nationwide, as chefs allow the freshest items available to be front and center, whether they be meat, seafood, or vegetable. With unique items like Miner’s lettuce and chickweed integrated, Chef Rotondo ensures that what is local-and more importantly, in season-goes on the menu, and shines, regardless of the minor role it might play.
Our original menu featured a few items that were to be included for Parallel’s Valentine’s Day Dinner, but based upon availability, many didn’t make the cut. Disappointing? Perhaps, if you had your heart set on a dish. In our opinion, however, knowing everything is at its best makes for an exciting experience, and a fabulous meal.
You may never eat the same thing twice at Parallel 37, but come join them for the ride. Your belly (and social conscience) will thank you.
Editor’s Note: Want to shop and eat like a California local? Here’s Ritz-Carlton San Francisco’s chef recommended list of their favorite local farms and food purveyors.