Traci Des Jardins’s Civic Center restaurant Jardinière opened way back in 1997, and next week marks their fifteenth anniversary. The place remains a popular dining stop a decade and a half later, before and after performances, for the opera, symphony, and ballet crowds, and it’s one of the more glam restaurant interiors in town. "It makes me feel ancient," Des Jardins jokes. "But, obviously, it’s also kind of cool. I started cooking almost thirty years ago, so half my cooking life has been at this restaurant." In marking the anniversary, Jardinière is making some menu changes that Jardins says she sees as a reflection of her own changing sensibilities about dining, in particular breaking down the components of larger dishes and letting diners choose their own sides from a collection from a group of interchangeable starches and vegetables.
For instance, you can now order your New York steak, which already comes with marrow and bordelaise sauce, with lobster mushrooms tossed with parsley and duck cracklings, or Bloomsdale spinach with shallots, and add your choice of pommes frites, duck-fat fried potatoes, or a potato mousseline.
Also, first courses have been changed up a bit as well, and the tasting menu remains a feature, with four courses for $110, available only after the pre-performance rush, after 7 p.m. The cocktail, beer, and wine lists have been expanded in the downstairs lounge as well.
Earlier this year, Michael Bauer re-reviewed the restaurant, barely mentioning the atmosphere and complimenting the food, but saying he no longer saw the value, downgrading them from three and a half to three stars based on what he saw as some overpriced entrées. We asked Des Jardins if the changes were intended to address his criticisms.
"There are so many food writers," Des Jardins said. "Of course there has to be value, and we hope our diners find that, but this is more to address the needs and comments of regular customers than it is to address the criticisms of any one person." Furthermore she says that it reflects an ongoing evolution in how the restaurant is plating its food, and it doesn’t hurt that a number of customers liked customizing their dishes anyway. "That’s definitely a factor here, too," she says.
As for whether she thought the restaurant would ever last this long, she said, "I don’t think you ever really look that far ahead. But sure, when we opened, there were places like Chez Panisse and Zuni that I had gone to for years and it was kind of a back-of-the-mind hope."
In related news, they have not made an official announcement but former pastry chef Ellie Mueller (née) has returned to the restaurant after taking time off to have a child — and after the departure of Lisa Lu to Central Kitchen — and she now happens to be married to executive chef Morgan Mueller.
See Jardinière’s new menus below. (Click to enlarge)
Jardinière - 300 Grove Street at Franklin - 415-861-5555 - Open nightly at 5 p.m., and often serving dinner late on performance nights