The fog in San Francisco is a much talked about occurrence. Writers, artists and photographers, including Arthur Ollman and Mark Twain, have been inspired by the city’s ephemeral mist for decades. The Beautiful Unseen: Variations on Fog and Forgetting, a book by Kyle Boelte, was published this year. There’s even a Twitter account for “Karl,” the affectionately-named persona for the Bay Area’s fog. Earlier this year, The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco completed its $30 million renovation of its nine-story historic property with the city’s fog as its design inspiration.
The property, formally the headquarters of Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., remains indubitably San Franciscan as an iconic neoclassical building atop Nob Hill. The design aesthetics are sharply cool, immediately timeless, and represent a modern refinement that the brand continues to uphold. To lead the three year transformation, the Ritz hired the world’s largest hospitality design firm, Hirsch Bedner Associates to convey the concept of fog throughout the property. Crisp whites, muted grays and steely blues set the tone throughout the marble tiling, tapestries, local artworks and chandeliers of the 336-room property.
Additional design inspiration was taken from Willie Brown, “one of the most notable San Francisco mayors,” according to The San Francisco Chronicle who was known for his fine tailored suits. I noticed the belt bucket fasteners in my suite’s curtains, as well as the twisted steel cords that draped from the hallway sconces like a pocket watch attachment. Rich, textured fabrics are everywhere, from the ceilings to the plush armchairs. The result of the cool colors and the opulent textiles and adornments is an impeccable balance between modern panache and inviting comfort.
The first section of the hotel that underwent a transformation was Parallel 37, the property’s signature restaurant. The geographic name represents the ring of countries and cities the eatery crafts its menu inspirations from, including San Francisco, Sicily and Japan. The restaurant recently nabbed Zagat’s “Hot Hotel Restaurant for Locals” title, a prestigious accolade considering the city’s high culinary clout. Like the hotel, the Parallel 37 is sleek and remains so right down to the delicate blown glass butter dish. Low-key and affable, the young chef Michael Rotondo trained at a series of multiple Michelin star restaurants in his twenties. He also earned the “Most Promising Chef” award from chefs Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller. Menus rotate seasonally with items changing to reflect availability from local farms. The fall tasting menu, just $95 a person, is a superb bargain.
Nearby the restaurant, across the lobby hallway, is the JCB Tasting Lounge named after the renowned wine maker, Jean-Charles Boisset. The French-born Boisset, along with family members, hold a prestigious collection of wineries that include 18 centuries of combined winemaking heritage across regions in Burgundy, Napa Valley and the South of France. The tasting room, while small for no more than six people, is decadent in décor and offers tasting flights of rare wines within the Boisset Collection. A few pairings, such as the “Savory Flight” include Rotondo’s Crispy Liberty Farm Duck Fritter with Kumquat Relish and Flank Steak Steam Buns.
Fog or not, it’s always a splendid time to visit The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco, particularly after a stunning multi-million dollar renovation.