Nice interior. Weird service. Expensive wine list. Less than stellar food.
Overall high price. Disappointing. Doesn't seem like a winner at this time.
LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION
Near the opera and symphony, just off Van Ness, Jardiniere is easy to get to, with decent parking nearby. We went on a Wednesday, with both the Opera and Symphony cranking it out and had to whine our way into the parking garage. On "normal" nights, expect less problems. For patons, Jardiniere offers a "stacatto" menu prior to 7 PM.
The interior is two levels, with the lower level devoted to a very large and stylish circular bar with some tables. A majority of the tables are upstairs, in a low ceilinged areas that reminded me of a bistro even though it was on the second floor. The main ceiling above the bar features a huge star studded dome, supposedly reminicant of the bottom of a champagne flute. Just off the bar area is the "specially constructed cheese room" where one can see the cheese.
Live jazz from a trio was playing at a nice volume level, and overall the interior wasn't as noisy as many places are. There were a fair number of guests even at our slightly later dinner hour of 8:30.
Overall, it looked like a great place to spend the next two hours.
While there were many interesting looking things on the menu, we decided (perhaps unwisely as you will see below) to go with the chef's 5 course tasting menu. Our waiter informed us that this was "the chef's own selection of what is best today from the kitchen". Well, that's always supposed to be what's on a tasting menu, so I don't think this was useful information...But we assumed with a sales pitch like that, we would be seeing some of the interesting things from the menu in some form or other. We informed our waiter that we were people who liked good food, and would eat just about anything. We did request that fois gras appear, if possible.
The menu is california-french, with a fair number of dishes combining meats and sweets. About an equal number of fish and meat dishes, with a spattering of vegetable creations. Jardins famous "truffled mashed potatoes" did not appear on the menu.
Given the fact that we didn't know the food that would be coming, we informed our
waiter it would be difficult to choose a wine. The hostess and/or wine person (I
wasn't ever clear on her exact role) came over and made some suggestions, which
As I said above, the wine list is fairly expensive. Nothing jumped out at us as either interesting, or reasonably priced. Cabs were all far too young, or far too expensive, and we weren't up to knowing if the match would be good. Pinots and Merlots were obscure and probably overpriced from the basis of those which we knew. Italian wines make a fairly large percentage of the list compared to many places.
We ended up with a $65 Palmher (sp?) chardonay as our main wine. It was good at
that price, but not incredible. It did pair nicely with the food, however, so I
think that our stewardess(?) guidance was appropriate. A glass of an alsace wine
started, and a shiraz lent a hand towards the end of the meal.
The tasting menu consisted of the following: - terrine of fois gras served with a mixed greens, brioche slice, and quince purree - "salad" of croutons and porchini mushrooms with a hot "vinegerette style" sauce - fish (I think halibut) on a bed of vegetables with red bernaise sauce - rabbit loin stuffed with root vegetables - cheese course of 6 cheeses - a small torte cake glazed in chocolate, served with hazelnut gellato
The fois gras was en mousse, and thus very light. For this style, I would have injected additional flavorings, such as congac, peppercorns, or truffles. There were specks in the terrine, but they seemed to add no flavor. When paired against the other things on the plate, it fell flat. A seared pure fois would have been better, or a more intensely flavored terrine. What should have been the expensive highlight of the dish served only to drag it down
The "salad" was a nice idea. However, it appeared that there were 4 or 5 croutons for every piece of mushroom on the plate. We decided that less than one porchini had been sacrificed for the 3 of us. While the bread was fine -- it's hardly something to base an entire dish upon. Sauce lacked in intensity, and did not serve to spread the mushroom flavor to the other parts of the dish.
Of the dishes mentioned above, only the fish stood out as a well executed dish. The sauce paired well with it, and the fish was excellently cooked. It wasn't a crowning achievment kind of dish, but one that could have made an excellent backbone to a fine meal. At it was, it was a dissappointing high note in an otherwise indifferent menu.
The rabbit was served with one turned turnip, and a bed of cabbage, brussel sprouts, and spinach. The rabbit was dry and overcooked, and stuffed with the same (or very similar) mixture. Two small slices per portion. Sauce was a jus lie, lacking in proper acid balance and featuring NO intensity to speak of.
The cheese course was served properly, ordered in increasing intensity, with a nice thinly sliced raisin bread. Cheeses were all French.
The desert was fairly unremarkable. Spattered chocolate sauce didn't add anything. Gellato seemed purchased rather than made. Chocolate was not particularlly intense. I prefer either an all out assault for desert, or some simple plain sorbets/gellato with pastries. This was in between, and didn't really work on either level.
In addition to being non-stellar in quality, there was an obvious lack of QUANTITY as well. Now none of us who were eating like to be stuffed to the gills at the end of a meal, but so too it seems wrong to leave a place after dropping a fair chunk of change and still being actually slightly hungry. A real lack of any kind of starch in ANY of the dishes probably contributed to this. No pasta, no risotto, no potato, nothing like that.
I feel like the old ironic complaint: "The food wasn't that good, and the portions, so small!" So, maybe I should be glad that I wasn't forced to eat more of food I felt no passion for. Still, it just seemed wrong.
Overall, if this is the "best" that the chef has to offer, Jardiniere is in
serious trouble. I expect, however, that this may have been either an off night,
or that de Jardin's does better with set menus than with off the cuff creations.
Many dishes we saw being carried by looked larger and much more interesting that
what kept being brought to our own table. Also, with the exception of the fois,
none of the items which we were presented with seemed related to what was on the
menu -- nor were they better replacements for the same. I wish I had had: - the
stroudel of chanterelles and lobster - the quail stuffed with mushrooms - the
lamb loin with veal stock - many other things on the menu Instead of what we got.
Service was just plain weird. Neither particularlly helpful nor annoying, it
fell into that indifferent area that makes small mistakes mount up. For example:
- taking forever to get the menu - taking more forever to get information about
the tasting menu - taking still more forever to get on with the wine selection -
bringing us our shiraz after we were basically already finished with the course
it was supposed to go with - very little help with informing us what we were
eating (which, given that we didn't choose it, would have been nice to know) -
watching the bartender drink an entire glass of red wine in full view (something
I have NEVER seen happen) and in one gulp. - extremely poor pacing of the courses
With one glass of wine to start with, drinks before, drinks after, and one bottle
of wine -- the dinner ran to $380 for the 3 of us. For a similar price, one can
get a much better meal at many places in the city. One can also get better wine.
Pitted agains the other "queen of the food scene" Nancy Oakes's Boulevard blows
Jardiniere out of the water.
Maybe it's that the place is still new, and finding the proper pace and place. But after being open for nearly two months, one would expect much more polish than this.
Given our experience, I would not return to Jardiniere on my own dollar, unless I hear that things have changed, or that others who I trust have had better experiences there. If taken by someone else, I would not have the tasting menu, as that may be where the fault lies.
I didn't want this review to be this scathing, but the more I think about dinner,
the less happy I am with it. I guess the best emotion to describe how I am
feeling is: intense disappointment.
Return to Tom Dowdy's Cooking Page
Return to Tom Dowdy's Home Page
Return to Poubelle Software Home Page