My brother had been complaining that since moving back to the Bay Area from Manhattan a year ago, he hasn't tried any of the "name" restaurants in SF (by contrast, he's been to about 1/3 of the just-published list of NYC restaurants with Michelin stars). So on the spur of the moment we decided to have a nice dinner and ended up at Jardiniere via Opentable.
We were seated immediately at a table downstairs, which was fine but upstairs looked nicer. At 8.30 (our reservation time) and for most of the evening, there were always at least a couple of open tables. At 10pm (post-theatre) there was a big rush of guests, but it cleared up soon afterwards.
We both ordered the chef's 6 course tasting menu ($89) which consisted of:
- Maine lobster with spiced pumpkin, endive and prosciutto salad, ginger broth
- Wild salmon with braised celery, pickled cauliflower and japanese cucumbers, tsar nicoulai caviar
- Sonoma squab with pancetta braised chestnuts, celery root puree, and persimmon salad
- Loin of lamb with creamed nettles, local porcini mushrooms and heirloom baby carrots, perigord truffle
- Chef's selection from the cheese cave
- Maple cream tart with sugar pumpkin-pear compote, whipped creme fraiche
First, I was a bit surprised not to receive an amuse bouche. I know it's a favor from the chef, but I've always had at least one whenever I've ordered a tasting menu and just wanted to register my surprise. Our service was fine but not at the quality that I was expecting from a top restaurant -- perhaps they thought us too cheap for opting to share a 1/2 bottle (we're not big drinkers) of the 2003 Qupe Syrah ($20) instead of the wine pairing? On a side note, the bread was quite good but the butter at Jardiniere is *really* excellent.
The first course (lobster) was by far the best. The bold, warm flavor of the pumpkin, the bright, tangy salad, the mellow ginger broth all created an extraordinary taste sensation. However, it was not perfect -- there was a large piece of cartilege and a tiny piece of shell in my lobster, and my brother's lobster also had tiny pieces of shell. Honestly, I don't think this is acceptable for a high-end restaurant. The lobster was also very slightly overcooked.
The salmon was fine but overpowered the caviar. The persimmon salad was very good (they seem to have a way with salad), but the squab and lamb themselves were okay but nothing special. The cheese course -- a mild French cheese (I didn't catch the name) served with pistachios and maple syrup -- was quite good and I don't even like cheese. Dessert was just okay.
Overall, I think Jardiniere is a fine restaurant if you're in the area, but not worthy of being a "name" or destination restaurant. At over $100/person it wasn't worth the money to me, and I wouldn't go back except maybe to have the lobster again (sans shell) and find out where they get their butter :)