The first time I went to Jardiniere was circa 1999 and I remember how glamorous it felt sitting at the gorgeous circular bar having my first flute of Veuve Clicquot. Over a decade later, that circular bar is still there and it, along with the accompanying delicious food, still draws crowds. Of course, with its location in Hayes Valley, Jardiniere has always been a go-to pre-theater spot for those going to the Opera, Symphony or Ballet. But its busyness is not just due to location but also to an ongoing reputation for well-prepared and executed food (this is, after all, Tracy des Jardins baby, although she has been drawn to other projects near the ball park and in Tahoe).
Perhaps due to the lackluster economy, the seasonality of theater season, or just the Monday night doldrums, Jardiniere offers an ongoing Monday night pre fix, which is probably one of the best deals in the city. For $45, you can dine on a 3 course menu including wine pairings for each course. The theme this evening was “The Foods of Jamaica” and I thought a fitting and thoughtful touch was the Bob Marley playing in the background. At least these folks have a sense of humor!
Our evening started off with a white shrimp ceviche, with cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and 7Up (the diced veggie accompaniment actually also included jalapenos, red onion, and basil oil). Ceviche is, of course, citrus-marinated seafood. For some reason, I couldn’t remember where this fell on the pregnancy yay/nay list, and I murmured aloud to my husband as I thought through the process “Can I eat ceviche? Oh, sure I can, because it is cooked…although not by heat.” In any event, hearing this (and being the ever dutiful and worrisome husband), my husband inquired about the cooking status of ceviche with our server. As a result, they kindly (? And I put a question mark, because I do wonder whether it was to my benefit or not) cooked the shrimp for my ceviche. Because of that, I don’t think that I obtained the wonderful acidity of citrus-soaked shrimp, but thankfully, I didn’t miss it that much as the accompanying basil oil and diced raw veggies provided a nice tang and just the right punch. I actually wonder if I appreciated the partnering veggies and basil oil a little more because my tongue wasn’t recovering from any citrus impact.
The main was a jerk leg of Hoffman hen served with English peas and dirty rice (red beans and rice). Although it broke my general rule of “don’t get chicken when you go out to eat at a fancy place” (sorry, I just feel like I get more bang out of my buck with red meat, the other white meat, or seafood, since chicken is a regular household feature), I did really enjoy this flavorful hen. The jerk seasoning was there, but wasn’t too powerful, as it often can be; instead, there was a nice underlay of sweetness, and I almost felt like there were teriyaki tones in there, which could have been a derivative of the use of brown sugar or dare I suggest, soy sauce? Who knows? Chef’s secret. In any event, the balance of jerk against the sweetness provided a much more delicate food experience, and along with the moist chicken and the comforting dirty rice, I ate my plate up. The only thing that I left on my plate was a scattering of red beans, as the amount of red beans was slightly too plentiful for me.
Dessert was a pineapple rum cake with brown sugar ice cream and candied cashews. The cake proved to be a bit dry and although I got a hint of pineapple in the cake, I didn’t taste any rum. The brown sugar ice cream, though, was fabulous and I was bummed that they only provided a quenelle, as the dry cake could have used more moisture from the creaminess of the ice cream.
I was sort of spacey on the wine, as I’m getting closer and closer to due date and as a result, am becoming more forgetful and even slightly clueless. Also, with growing contractions every day, I thought best to avoid the wine, and so didn’t pay attention to it much other than to wet my palate and taste it for tasting’s sake. But if I recall, we started out with a crisp minerally little Chilean white, moved onto a rich drinkable Beaujolais made of 100% gamay grapes, and then had a sassy little Semillon.
In its hey day, Jardiniere was a bit glam in appearance and fulfilling in food. Since then, nothing’s changed. The good news is that the food’s quality hasn’t changed; the bad news is that the decor hasn’t changed either. The whole feel of the place feels a bit old, with its outdated cream staircase and fluted pink light fixtures. And let’s face it folks, sometimes we pay for ambiance. I also sort of wonder whether des Jardins has her hand in Jardiniere any more, and for me (who goes ga ga over chefs, as opposed to celebrities), that makes me sort of sad. But in all fairness, the food is still quite good and if I was going to the Opera, I would definitely make my reservations here.
Although sitting on the second floor peering down at the bar, I already felt like I was at dinner theater, which I attribute to the eclectic crowd dining this Monday evening. There were people, in pseudo-casual wear, clearly there just to have a nice meal. Then, there was a contingent of men donning full Wall Street suits and their ladies in evening cocktail attire. Interestingly (at least to me), I saw two couples made up of distinguished looking older gentlemen (I might be using this word loosely) towing scantily clad dates on their arms (one, in a white strappy bandage dress number and the second, in black pants with front slits cut thigh high — yes, I said front slits). Then, just to make things a little more Baz Lurhmann, a wedding party rolled in, including the bride in her beautifully sequined ballgown and her handsome groom in his tux. What a trip.
Now, where can I get some of those front slit pants?
Bauer’s two cents here.