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Dishing

Dishing with Chef Michael Rotondo

photos: courtesy the Ritz-Carlton
Chef Michael Rotondo

Restaurant: Parallel 37
(in the Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco)
600 Stockton Street (at California), 415-296-7465, www.parallel37sf.com

I get letters from readers now and again lamenting my monthly “Dishing with Chef …” column, which I started over a decade ago in Northside San Francisco magazine (then called “10 Questions with Chef …”). The column features interviews with chefs in their prime like Thomas Keller and Gary Danko, Food Network stars including Guy Fieri and Rachael Ray, and up-and-coming chefs. I’ve always had a pretty good eye for the up and coming — I interviewed David Kinch, Joel Huff and Ryan Scott long before they graced the covers of publications like San Francisco magazine and 7×7 or appeared on food-focused TV shows like Iron Chef and Top Chef. I even beat the San Francisco Chronicle to the punch with Huff, who languished in relative obscurity at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel for nearly two years.

Like Kinch, who combines respect for ingredients with an unmatched innate culinary creativity at Manresa, Scott, who pioneered today’s gourmet sandwich craze at Myth Café, and Huff, who blended his laid-back surfer style and strong Japanese influences to coax incredible depths of flavors from deceptively simple dishes, Michael Rotondo, the new chef at Parallel 37 in the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco, is a gifted cook with unique talent and style — something that, in a town known for its restaurants, is surprisingly rare.

Rotondo’s pedigree is impressive: a stint at the five-star, five-diamond Four Seasons Resort in Palm Beach, Florida; two years in Europe working at multiple Michelin star restaurants; and eight years under the tuteledge of the legendary Charlie Trotter at his eponymous restaurant in Chicago. When that restaurant closed in 2012, the timing was right for Rotondo and the Ritz.

If you’re a connoisseur who makes pilgrimages to Yountville to dine at the French Laundry, or to Los Gatos to dine at Manresa, you owe it to yourself to make the short trip to Parallel 37 to experience Rotondo’s menu, which comprises some of the most inspired dishes I’ve experienced in a long time.

Food style: Thought provoking and flavor first with artful aesthetic.

Fun fact: In 2008, Michael received the “Most Promising Chef” award from Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller after competing for the United States Bocuse d’Or, widely regarded as the epitome of culinary competitions worldwide.

What is the last thing you cooked for yourself?
Fresh ramen noodles from Japantown in a homemade pork broth.

A meal or a dish that was an inspiration or a revelation?
Eating in Japan, where less is more. Just simple fish and rice, but quality comes first, something that is necessary for great cuisine.

Last restaurant where you dined and the best thing you ate there?
Manresa. I had this amazing Spanish mackerel — David Kinch’s ability to combine that fish with the acidity of local melon was inspiring.

“Secret” hole-in-the-wall restaurant in North Beach?
Vietnam Restaurant.

What was your favorite childhood food?
General Tsao’s chicken. I don’t remember anyone really eating it back then … I feel like I discovered it!

Something in your fridge or freezer that would surprise people?
A magnum of Krug Grand Cuvee Champagne — it’s there just waiting for a special occasion.

If you retired tomorrow, what dish would you be remembered for?
My crispy globe artichoke, and definitely my fried chicken feet steam bun — every Monday we have “industry night” and it’s on the menu.

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