Some friends selected Cortez for a Friday night group dinner. None of us had been there before. By the time I was told of the restaurant, there was no time left for me to check previous Chowhound reports, so I went in rather blind, other than a quick glimpse at the 2006 Zagat book entry to at least get the location info.
The atmosphere was clearly swanky, spacious, and not too noisy, which I prefer. The lighting was just right and the decor was nice, although a bit quirky with the colorful orbs hanging from the ceiling.
Our server was a handsome waiter with a French accent - he was generally friendly and patient while we ordered. Throughout the evening, he was only somewhat available when we looked for him.
I started my evening with a Manhattan cocktail, which the printed menu indicated was made with Woodford Reserves bourbon. Quite nice, actually.
The food started with two kinds of sliced bread in a fabric sack which was weighted down by an inner chamber of something like rice or dried beans.
We started with the soup, shot glasses of celery soup with a black truffle foam. Tasty, accessible, but some at the table said they couldn't taste the black truffle flavor.
That night's crudo was hamachi. We also got the yellow fin tartare. Both appeared as very small portions. Both dishes proved to be very disappointing, as both fish were not entirely fresh. As a sushi lover, I was almost offended by both the fish quality and the prices ($12 a plate, and the waiter had encouraged us to double up on each).
Baby mesclun greens salad was pretty straight forward and fresh tasting.
Foie gras torchon (pate with baguette) was good, although many at the table had mistakenly expected seared foie gras. Of course it was very rich. Again, the waiter encouraged us to double up on this dish, which was a mistake - one would have sufficed. Sort of a waste of $17 for that second pate dish.
Prawns a la plancha with crab rice, the one universally enjoyed dish of the meal. The seasoned prawns were cooked just right. They were meaty and flavorful. The crab rice was also quite good. This was the one dish we were happy we doubled up on.
Crispy sweetbreads, one order, was made more as a dare than really desired by the table. Most of us had eaten sweetbreads elsewhere before and didn't care for it, but we really wanted to get someone at the table to try it. Although nicely deep fried, the sweetbread pieces offered little flavor and a little bit of grittiness, which made the dish mostly forgettable.
Wild sturgeon was ok, decent flavor, pretty good texture, but frankly, a disappointment in portion size, presentation, and overall impact, especially as a $22 entree.
The restaurant had printed cards sitting on the table listing the night's two specials. One was a tortellini, which we passed on. The other was an entree of suckling pig, which we went for, one order. It was a huge disappointment to everyone at the table. It was salty, fatty, and very small in portion, for a special entree. We all have enjoyed suckling pig at other restaurants, so there was no challenge in the approachability of the dish. It was simply poorly executed.
I did not touch any of the desserts, so I won't comment on their quality, other than a mention that we ordered three different desserts for the table, but the waiter only heard and delivered two.
In general, service could have been better. Aside from what I already mentioned about the watier, the hard working gentleman assigned to keeping our table clear of emptied plates was rather zealous in wanting to take away dishes when there was still uneaten food on them. We literally had to stop him at two different times to keep him from taking our food away.
Unfortunately, the thing which totally soured the entire experience was when we received the bill. We knew it would be expensive and we knew there would be an automatic gratuity for our sized group. However, we were stunned to see the automatic tip was 21.7% of the pre-tax amount (exactly 20.0% if you consider the post-sales tax total as your basis). The computer printed receipt did not specify the rate, just the dollar amount. Two of us pulled out our cell phone calculators to confirm the rate. We were aghast, since the quality of service could hardly justify a tip over 18%, and certainly not over 20%.
Well, as a table, we agreed not to contest the tip rate and simply pay and leave and let our thoughts be known elsewhere. When we paid, some paid cash and two paid by credit card. Amazingly, the two credit card slips which came back also had the 21.7% tip built into their portions of the bill (adding up to our specified totals for each card).
Just to see if perhaps we had missed something, we asked to see the printed menu again. We were resoundingly disappointed when we could not find anywhere in the menu any mention of the automatic 21.7% gratuity for a group.
We walked out joking whether we should go get a burrito or a bowl of rice porridge or something since we were clearly not satisfied. Certainly, not anywhere close to $65 per person satisfied. Maybe maybe maybe $30 satisfied. We all agreed we would never return to Cortez.