Stockton Street & an amazing night at Parallel 37

The 500- to 600-block of Stockton St. is the perfect portrait of San Francisco.

As you come to the 500 block, you are met by the Stockton tunnel, the urban marker that divides the busy financial and shopping district from the bustling Chinatown on the other side.

If you choose to climb the narrow flight of stairs at the end of the tunnel, you will find yourself among great, beautiful brick buildings with Victorian facades—tall, majestic San Francisco houses with big windows that sit in the sunshine among big, leafy trees.
But those who choose to go through the Stockton tunnel—the fastest and flattest way to Chinatown on the other side—they will find the path cold and dank. Matted city pigeons stare menacingly at you from the railings that line the road, and no matter how sunny it is outside the tunnel, there are always suspicious pools of water on the path that require careful stepping. Every now and then, you might even come upon an odor of mysterious origin. Mostly, you will encounter droves of busy Chinese grandmas on their way to and from the markets and only the occasional bearded hooligan.

It’s a story of stark contrast. Of majestic wealth and hilly peaks. And a dank underground that the city sometimes tries to sweep away or, at least, sequester. That’s much of San Francisco.

I came to the mouth of the tunnel yesterday, while on my way to a dinner. Not knowing whether the destination was on the other side of the tunnel or above it on the incline beyond the stairs, I weighed my options. I considered for a moment that my dinner was in the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco. And the choice was clear.

Upstairs, of course.

What awaited inside the Ritz-Carlton was Parallel 37, the product of a recent transformation from the more stuffy Dining Room into a fresh, modern concept for the elite San Francisco hotel. My friend Reid was in town, and he was good enough to invite his other friends and me to enjoy the culinary imaginings of Chris, another Hawaii person who has previously graced kitchens of the ranks of Per Se and Aziza.

Needless to say, I was excited. I had been looking forward to this gathering for weeks. Accompanied by a great group of people (who were all super knowledgable in the world of food, no less!), we had set ourselves up for all the makings of a completely enjoyable night.

And it did not disappoint!

I confess that I am not well-versed in the technical aspects of cooking, nor am I particularly well-traveled in the halls of fine dining. But I can really feel it when I enjoy it. If it makes you feel happy, if it makes your heart sing, if the food tells you a story, if the flavors show you something new or remind you of something dear, if it’s a moment you will remember for a very long time—you know that it’s good food.

This was the third time I was lucky enough to sit at one of Chris’s tables—and Chris makes good food. And even to type that feels like an understatement. There were so many aspects of the meal that made the food delicious (though Lord knows I don’t understand all the complex ways it got there!), but my favorite part of the meal was that it showed so much heart. Every dish looked so meticulously beautiful, and amazingly, as fellow diner Amy remarked, every element of it contributed a necessary flavor. “Nothing is superfluous,” was how Amy put it. Everything was a part. Each piece was deliberate. Like singers in perfect harmony, each part of the dish worked together.

So without further ado, here are the pictures! (I confess to not recalling every ingredient, perhaps delirious from impatient excitement, and none of it was written down. But I hope the photos tell the full story!)

We started with a amuse bouche, featuring a yummy green tea gelee. Super refreshing, really clean.

Followed by savory churros—crunchy all the way through and dusted with spices. For shame, Disneyland.

We moved onto this seaweed bread—a bit crunch on the crust and soft and crumbly on the inside, like cornbread. I swear, I could eat this stuff every day.

Next was this kanpachi. Sweet, tender slivers.

Beautiful tobiko and apple over a savory mash. (I think on this dish I asked whether it was acceptable to lick my plate.)

Abalone! Tasty and tender and gone too fast.

Perfectly slow-cooked egg. The textures in this dish are amazing. Anyone who loves rice would appreciate the satisfying mix of egg yolk and grains.

And yes, right before the San Francisco ban—it's foie gras. The gel was particularly exceptional. Bright and a little bit tart, it coupled with the rich foie. Yum yum yum.

Cod belly. One of the surprising stars of this dish was those delicate slivers of cucumbers, which were so fragrant and flavorful that it tasted like honey dew melon.

The tender cut of pork was delicious, as expected—but what really took me was these BBQed beets. The absolute best part was the beet tips, which were sweet, rich, and chewy—like dessert french fries. I was so taken with them that I let out a yelp when I ate them.

Oh, this duck was cooked just how I love it—red on the inside, which made it rich and gamey.

Last was this very pretty platter of desserts. Lucky us!

What amazing food and a memory to cherish. My hat goes off to the chef: Mahalo, Chris—you, sir, are a rock star.

Parallel 37

600 Stockton St.

San Francisco, CA 94108