Cortez: More Small Plates
550 Geary Blvd (betw Taylor & Jones)
San Francisco, CA, 94102
Yes, Citysearch has given this place the $$$$ rating, so Grubgirl was resigned to get the most value out of this place, as she went there to meet up with a couple friends. You know how I feel about the whole small plates concept — I think it is a big rip off to the consumer. On the other hand, it is a shrewd move by business people, because…people ARE willing to pay those prices…so if the demand is there, why not keep supplying?
Anyway…we were seated at the bar area, so were given menus for small plates & cocktails. One of my friends, The Vegetarian, ordered a cheese plate (you can find it in the Dessert section) and an order of fries. Sadly, the cheese plate was almost literally 3 slices of 3 different types of cheese. Not enough for 3 people to sample…barely enough for her, as she had to order it twice.
The fries, in Cortez’ defense, were good. Crisp, cooked in something that made it almost taste like McDonald’s quality. Yet…it was served in something the size of a soup bowl…except it was in squarish format, like an ashtray. For good fries in higher quantity and less price, I’d go to Harry’s on Fillmore instead.
Next we ordered some vegetarian ravioli — maybe it was stuffed with butternut squash? I can’t remember…because though the portions were average (there may actually have been 4-6 normal sized raviolis in this plate), the flavor was bland. I figured it needed more salt and that the flavorlessness was “a veg thang” — but my friend the vegetarian said it was unimpressive. We also had the amusing experience of having another person, unrelated to our party, dip his finger into the creme sauce once we’d finished it. You shoulda seen the look on my friend’s face…
(We were seated at a couch, and 2 chairs, with a low table in between us. A couple came and sat at the other end of the “not that long” couch and started looking at our menus & all that. That wasn’t annoying…but it did let me know that despite price of things, the service was not mirroring the prices that were charged…and if you’re not getting big portions for what you’re paying for, and you’re not getting service, what ARE you paying for??)
Next I decided to order the meat small plates — they actually were cooked well: some Australian-raised beef, and maybe some lamb. The only disappointment was with the temperature — room temperature — the fries were warmer. The other carnivore in the group, who is used to eating at such fine establishments, was not sure if the meat was supposed to be served hot or not. So…as I have no idea, just a heads up. I figured the first meat dish (the Australian steaky thing) was room temperature because we waited for them to get me a place setting. For some reason, with 3 of us seated, only 2 of us had the dinner plate / napkin / fork / knife combo. However, when the lamb came, and it was also lukewarm, I was perplexed.
We also had cocktails — 2-3 a piece, off their special menu, which is what really kicked up the price of things. However, due to the slow service, there was a seemingly large gap of time between drinks…even when the glasses were obviously dry. I should thank the slow service for keeping my bill down.
The total of the meal came out to a whopping $60 a piece (including the alcohol and tip). You know that I will pay for fine dining and fine service and fine ambience, but when I get none, I am quite bitter. The same food in a simpler neighborhood with more realistic prices matching the service would have been fine with me. However…the slow (though polite) service dampened the experience. At one time, I waited a few minute to get the attention of the hostess (we were seated in her line of sight). She was madly keying in things into her touchscreen, and so after a really loud, “MISS’ , she gave me a look and ran off to fetch the waitress. On the one hand, it was a quick, effective, reaction, and she fulfilled my request. On the other hand, there was no pleasantness about it: “I’m sorry, let me go find her,” etc. etc. Having been in that role before, I know when to notice when hostesses are trying to be helpful, versus absorbed in their own world.
Finally, if you go to this and you’re an SF local, be aware that this is in the Union Square-ish district. That is, you will be dining there most likely with out of towners. I forgot about that, so was amused when the waitress had to tell our neighbors that small plates were meant to be shared, that ahi tuni is raw fish that’s seared, etc etc. (I’m evil, I know). We also had a patron in the bar who pierced the ambience with her constant shreaks. It was not really a squeal of laughter, it was…well, a shreak. We at first thought maybe someone had gotten engaged or something newsworthy had happened but…by the 4th time, we were annoyed. By the looks of their polo shirts, they were out of towners here for some convention. One of the servers who was clearing our plates confided that she was also annoying the waitstaff, and she was the reason why our waitron was so pre-occupied…apparently that patron was high maintenance, a bit inebriated, and getting pinched in the butt by her co-workers (hence, the shreaking). Unfortunately, we left shortly after her crew left…
So, fellow grubbers. If you’re not on an expense account, and you like fine food with great service and great ambience, well….check out any of the other small plates places that have sprung up, but stick with the neighborhood ones (like Chez Nous). If you’ve got associates visiting and you can expense the whole thing, sure, check it out and close some deals.