Sunday, December 18, 2005

Cortez Take 2

550 Geary Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
Dinner nightly

Last tried: June 2007

Cortez had closed for a few weeks to be remodeled. Although I did not notice anything new in the decor, I saw that the menu had been restyled to turn half-- the half with the more interesting proteins-- into full size plates. With my short attention span, I missed the greater variety of small plates from the previous menu. I also found that the individual components of the dishes did not come together as cohesively as before. For example, the sweetbreads and Monterey squid were each beautifully prepared, but the combination was odd, and the romesco sauce was a jarring addition.

I miss the original incarnation.

Previously tried: December 2005

Apparently Chefs Quinn and Karen Hatfield have gone back to Los Angeles. The new executive chef is the former sous chef, Louis Moldinado. Has this change affected the quality of the innovative small plate cuisine of Cortez? I can't decide...

The cream of cauliflower soup shots were sweet, rich, and delicious. The featured crudo was hamachi with sweet pink grapefruit wedges and a citrus vinaigrette. The fish was fresh and creamy in texture and matched quite well with the citrus.

Next we had the warm octopus salad, which still had the yummy hearts of palm that added a slightly vinegary and crunchy accent, but this time it was resting on a bed of red wine olive fennel puree instead of wild salad greens with garlic foam. This version was richer and more filling but not as refined or flavorful as the previous version.

My favorite dish, the Cortez BLT, was absent from the menu this time. We ordered the pork tortellini with mushrooms instead. The pasta was cooked precisely al dente, and the mushrooms were large, tender, and flavorful, matching well with the brown butter sauce. The pork element of the dish, however, was missing in action. The last savory dish we had, the duck breast with Michigan cherries on a bed of pureed salsify, was cooked perfectly with crispy skin and the meat a moist medium rare. To close, we had the greek yogurt panna cotta, with grapefruit wedges and a candied lemon slice.

We also received complimentary two sticks of chocolate hazelnut homemade "Kit Kats." I tried to convince the restaurant to sell me a box of them. Our server said those homemade Kit Kats were the reason why he worked there. I believe him. Wonder if they'll give me a job.

This was our fourth visit to Cortez, and the first time without the Chefs Hatfield. I thought the flavors in the dishes were not as well-articulated as on previous visits, just richer with more liberal use of cream and butter. But was it just this visit or is it a sign of things to come? Will need to go back again to investigate further.

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