Friday, September 02, 2005

FOOD: Jardiniere

San Francisco has always been one of the world's top restaurant towns, and we were glad to discover on a recent visit that it hasn't lost its luster. Visiting here this weekend, we treated ourselves to dinner at Jardiniere this evening, an old favorite. The room is as beautiful as ever, arranged around three sides of a central bar, with a horse-shoe-shaped upper level overlooking the bar. The arrangement of bottles and glasses in the bar positively sparkles, complimented by the art deco scalloped light fixtures around the room, giving the whole scene an effervescent luminescence. At the back of the upper level, an excellent jazz trio performs. The tables are discreetly spaced so that conversation is possible, yet you can still enjoy gazing around the room to see what other people are eating and wearing (the people-watching was quite good sport there).

Amidst this lovely setting, the food exceeds expectations. I started with a duck confit salad, a delicious morsel of duck breast with crispy skin but moist tender meat inside, atop super fresh haricots verts and corn, with a bit of frissee lettice, and drizzled in a port emulsion and corn milk. (Jardiniere is famous for dealing with local farm produce and getting very fresh ingredients. It shows, and it's worth it.) I relished every bite. George enjoyed his simple salad of heirloom tomatoes with shaved ricotta dura cheese (taste like ricotta but more flavor, a bit of salt, and hard like parmesan), with a savory drizzle over it.

For my main, I had a perfectly pan-seared pork chop, served over Italian butter beans and braising greens, and topped with sour cherries and almonds. It was an innovative and delightful flavor combination. And the pork chop was just sensational, sliced thickly, and incredibly flavorful, tender and juicy. (When I commented on it, the waitress told us that they brine the pork chop in milk. I should also have asked about where the pork comes from, as I know Jardiniere prides itself on earth-friendly sustainable resources.) I savored it. George's main was a beautiful piece of salmon, served with roasted artichokes, cherry tomatoes, fingerling potatoes, and some olives. Our meals were nicely complimented by a glass of Volnay for me and Meursault for George. (They had nice selection of wines by the glass, as well as split bottles.)

For dessert, I had a macadamia coconut tart served with a coconut sorbet. The tart was delicious, on a light and flaky pastry shell, big pieces of macadamia nuts, and in a coconut base that was naturally sweet but not overly so. The sorbet was done the same way, tasting naturally sweet of coconut but without heavy added sugar. George had a vanilla crème brulee (the dessert menu was very constrained, as it usually is, by his gluten allergy, though the staff were very accommodating and attentive about this throughout the meal). In perusing their extensive after-dinner libation menu, I noticed that they offered Old Potrero Rye, which I had recently read about and decided I needed to try. It was really quite good, neither smoky nor floral, but with a pure grain flavor and very aromatic, as a great whiskey should be. (I'll be keeping my eyes open for a bottle.) George complimented his dessert with a glass of eiswein, which was quite nice. All in all, it was a top-notch dining experience.

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