If I had been born to old money instead of young love, or had I not procrastinated so much when contemplating an application to Harvard things may have turned out differently, and I might feel more at home in Jardiniere. Its not that I felt out of place or that someone thought I was out of place (some day Ill have to tell you about the time the hostess tried to kick me out of the Concorde lounge in Heathrow); its that Jardiniere is so upscale, so refined, so expensive. When I go to Jardiniere, I take a look at the menu, gulp, and rationalize that I eat there, on average, once every 540 days. Then I look around at my company at the bar and realize that they must eat here once a week, or at least every time they attend the Opera or the Symphony.
Of course, I am being somewhat coy here; after all, I went to the Symphony -- which is how I ended up sitting on a comfortable low-back stool and resting my arms on the granite bar top with about two hours to kill. Ive decided to minimize my exposure to 19th-century music. After all, that is now the century before the last century. At intermission, I had heard the Copland and Rorem and had nothing to look forward to other than Rimsky-Korsakov so I decided to get a head start on the after-concert crowd and headed for the solid beveled-glass portal of Jardiniere.
Since I was feeling pick one: a) adventurous, or b) indecisive, I ordered the Chefs Six-Course tasting menu ($75) with matching wine pairings ($42). The bartender asked if I wanted to see what was on the tasting menu, but I told him that would take all of the fun out if it, and to just go ahead and we would see what happened. What happened, was this:
I was served a glass of Laurent Perrier NV Brut. Jardiniere uses a trumpet champagne flute that I thought was especially elegant and certainly in keeping with the theme of the evenings activities. The wine was elegant, and had bubbles. What can I say? Im not a champagne expert. The first course was roast lobster with corn puree, black trumpet mushrooms and lobster jus. The lobster was tender and flavorful. The jus was rich and caramelized perhaps it had a bit of veal demi-glace?
Next came a glass of Jasper Hill 2001 Australian Riesling. This was an unexceptional wine, completely lacking in varietal character. Had I not been told that it was a Riesling, it would have been hard to guess. The second course was Duck Pate with Dijon Aioli, capers, cornichons, and a thin toasted crouton plus a Rillet of Rabbit with Plum Moustarde. This was also quite good and made up for the listless wine. The rillet was especially nice. I am actually growing quite fond of rillets, having recently become aware of them late in my eating career. The technique is similar to that of pate, with the meat or fish being pureed with spices and a fat of some kind and then cooked in a small ramekin.
Next was a glass of Prager 2002 Gruner Veltliner accompanying Halibut with heirloom tomatoes and salsa verde. The halibut was caramelized on the surface, but cooked perfectly just before flaky so it was still moist. The heirloom tomato provided a base for the halibut, like a crouton would in a classic beef tournedos dish.
Just about at this point in the meal, like a whoosh, the door opened and the after-concert crowd poured in. There had been but two of us at the bar previously, and now the bar was packed two-deep. I tried to eavesdrop on conversations about trips to Europe and stock tips, but wasnt able to pick up any useful gossip at all. Perhaps Id had too much to drink by this point. Certainly by the time Id finished the Port (see below) that was the case.
It was time for the red stuff. A glass of JL Chave 1999 St. Joseph came with a Lamb chop served with heirloom harcouts, and olive jus. I just made up heirloom harcouts but I dont know what else I can call the collection of different colored (and perhaps a bit too al dente) beans that was served with this dish. The olive jus was delicious with the tangy saltiness of the olive pieces melding well with the rare lamb chop.
The cheese course, a serving of Aramits natural rind raw sheeps milk cheese (a traditional Basque cheese) with lavender honey and almonds was served with a glass of chilled Inniskillin 2001 Cabernet Franc Ice Wine. Although Jardinere is noted for their cheese service, I didnt find this to be exceptional: I was more impressed with the cheese at Gary Danko.
For dessert, I was served a Chocolate-mint Napoleon with a Mint Parfait and Mint Syrup. This was also quite good.
Finally, because I had mildly complained about the Jasper Hill Riesling, I was compd a glass of Fonseca 1985 Vintage Port, which made an excellent end to a fine meal.
Service was professional and helpful, although the pause between courses was sometimes a bit long. The wine pourings were generous, however, so working on the wine helped to while away the time between servings. And, the best part of the service was that the bartender wrote down all of the dishes and wines for me, and I didnt have to take a single note to compile this report.
I think that Gary Danko provides the best value in an up-scale tasting menu in San Francisco, but Jardiniere is also a top notch spot and its pull is hard to avoid when in the City Hall / Cultural District. Recommended (one long review).