Monday, April 13, 2009

Dish on Dining: Jardinière

Eat Away the Monday Blues in Luxury
300 Grove St. (at Franklin), San Francisco
Civic Center
PH: 415.861.5555
Open for dinner nightly
Reservations, major credit cards accepted

In today’s economy, restaurants are doing a variety of promotions to fill their dining rooms. Who am I to pass up a good deal? One of the more interesting specials come from Jardinière, the flagship restaurant of celebrated Chef Traci Des Jardins (a James Beard award and Iron Chef America winner).

Jardinière has been a mainstay for fine French dining in the city for years, and its close proximity to the Opera House make it a popular spot for the opera-ballet-symphony crowd. In recent years, Des Jardins has implemented new formats to keep things fresh, including the casual J Lounge downstairs. And last month, she introduced a Monday, three-course prix fixe dinner with wine pairings for $45 (before tax and tip).

I sent the rundown of Monday night menus (the restaurant’s Web site posts planned dinners for the upcoming month) to my food-diner-in-crime Foodhoe Foraging and we set out to Jardinière last Monday night for the Tuscan-themed dinner.

It’s been a few years since I’ve dined at Jardinière, but the overall vibe despite the revamped downstairs still screams out luxury. The large bar still is the central focus of the room, even when dining upstairs in the main dining room.

NOTE: When trying Jardinière’s Monday night dinners, you can only order the prix fixe menu. The regular menu is not available as an alternative. In a way, it’s a smart business formula because – for one night – the kitchen can control the ordering of food because they already know what the diners will order. They just don’t know how many will show up.

Foodhoe and I got there early for dinner and by the time we left, the restaurant filled up with other Monday night diners. So it’s a sign that the Monday night themed dinners seem to be sparking a lot of interest.

For the Tuscan dinner, we started with Acquacotta, a tomato, mushroom and bread soup. Our server did a wonderful job of explaining each dish as well as the wine that was paired with the course. For the soup, we were served a tasting of the Casamatta Bianco 2007 Vermentino.

The wine was nice and bright, which in a way made the soup seem light. The soup was an intense tomato soup with a really enjoyable bread in the center. I enjoyed the bread a lot because it was toasted, giving a nice contrasting crunchy texture to the soup, almost like a big crouton. But because it was sitting in the soup, it was also slightly softened.

The only oddity about the soup was the clump of green vegetables on top. I couldn’t figure out what it was; it looked a lot like spinach. But it had a strong almost bitter flavor, which did not blend well with the overall flavor of the soup. So it really seemed out of sync and probably would do the soup service by being left off entirely.

The second course was the main entree, which was a Porchetta of Suckling Pig. This was really the main reason why I wanted to try Jardinière’s Tuscan dinner because I knew any kind of roasted pig would be amazing. And I was right. The thick slice of suckling pig (a young or baby pig) was perfectly cooked, tender with a crispy skin and some fatty parts still there for flavor.

Unlike the soup with the odd green component, I thought everything on the pig plate complemented and even played off each other. The tender and fatty pig was cut by the vinegary shaved fennel salad, and seemed bigger in serving size with the sausage stuffing. The side farro salad with braised greens and topping of salsa verde were substantial and did not overpower the pig, instead offering much needed color to the plate.

Foodhoe never had a suckling pig before, but since I ate many suckling pigs with my mom for dim sum (it’s a popular choice among the Chinese), I knew this would be a star. Foodhoe enjoyed the crunchy skin, and I bit into a few pieces too even though I generally stay away from eating skin.

The pig was served with a glass of 2005 “Majus” from Ajello, a red wine from Sicily that was perfect with the meat dish. I really liked how the wine carried through the Tuscan theme for the night.

The last course was dessert, and after the pig, I figured dessert would just be a throwaway because I was already happy with the dinner so far. But the dessert, an espresso flan with candied almonds and frothed almond milk, was such a delightful surprise, it made the dinner a huge success.

The flan had a sweet espresso flavor and the candied almonds were so crunchy and lightly honeyed that I wanted a snack bag to take home. And Foodhoe commented how the frothed milk (just like foam that reminds her of cat spittle) really carried a taste that matched the flan.

We were served a dessert wine that had such a beautiful light amber color, called D’Ancona Passito de Pantelleria (2004). It did its job of adding a nice floral taste to the dessert course without being either too strong in alcohol flavor or too sweet.

Of all the different dinner promotions out there, I found Jardinière’s Monday prix fixe dinner to really be worth the money. It’s a great value for the level of sophisticated dishes you’re served (and the wine!). Despite being a French restaurant, the Monday night themes – like the Tuscan dinner demonstrated – go all over the world, giving the Jardinière kitchen a chance to stretch their culinary perspective. (But dinners aren’t restricted by geography, upcoming dinners focus on spring and another on San Francisco, featuring cioppino.)

This Monday night dinner is a smart promotion that I think will definitely win new fans to this San Francisco landmark. Would I be this excited if I paid what would be the normal high prices at Jardinière? I think so because this peek at the quality and talent of the kitchen along with the professional service proves why this restaurant continues to be a perfect place for a special dining experience.

Read Foodhoe’s take on our Monday night dinner here. And again, to get a preview of upcoming Monday dinners, check out the restaurant's Web site.

Single guy rating: 4 stars (Creative Promotions)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Jardiniere on Urbanspoon


lamy99 said...

I was there the same night. No complaints here.

mark said...

Looks like you had a wonderful meal with the foodhoe, that porchetta looks outstanding.

Mark Scarbrough said...

I have so many frickin' options for meals because of your blog--all for when we're in the Bay Area in May. I can't wait!

Passionate Eater said...

Whatta promotion! I ate at Jardinere way back in the day, when I knew a pastry chef there. I guess I will have to revisit it soon. I agree with you that it seems like a pretty darn good deal, considering what they regularly charge! Monday is no longer hump day with this deal.

Mrs. L said...

Suckling Pig? Oh man I wish we hadn't already made our dinner plans for when we are in SF next week.

Justin said...

Thanks for giving new ideas for this weekend night!
I Buy Barbeques

Carolyn Jung said...

$45 WITH wine pairings?! Man, that's a deal! The pork looks so amazing, and the dessert the perfect nightcap to a wonderful meal. I'm hungry just looking at it all.