photo credit: Krescent Karasso
Like us, you’ve probably walked past Gardenias many times, thought it looked cute, and carried on. Well, next time you find yourself in Pacific Heights, consider going inside. We did, and can confirm that this is an enjoyable place to spend a few hours with some European-American food that’s quite good - as long as you order right.
Gardenias really feels like a neighborhood spot, even though food-wise, it’s on the more upscale end of things. Our favorite dishes work because they’re just the right amount of decadent without going overboard. It’s how we imagine real French people eating: less steak frites and mussels for every meal, more small, vegetable-focused plates with copious amounts of high-quality butter. Speaking of butter, for instance, we’ve had butter-drenched mushrooms here in different but equally delicious preparations - once with leeks and lentils, once with farro. Quince and ricotta toasts may be hard to mess up, but the ones here are still delicious. And any seasonal pasta you see on the menu is a smart order. It’s all homemade, and tastes that way.
Much as we like these things, though, the rustic seafaring feel and simple, produce-heavy menu aren’t enough to carry Gardenias to greatness. Mostly because the consistency just isn’t there. We love the roasted duck, but the potato gratin that comes with it is bland. The quinoa risotto is also bland and disappointing (but maybe we should have guessed that based on the ingredients). And the raw brussels sprout salad is borderline bad. Turns out, unroasted brussels sprouts mixed with a yogurt sauce are just not something we want to eat. The menu isn’t long enough to hide its weaker links effectively, so it’s a bit too easy to stumble onto something subpar.
Still, this is a very nice restaurant to hang out in. The space, with dark wood and deep blue paint, has a nautical feel that’s less “swanky Hamptons yacht club” and more “colonial New England tall ship” - very simply decorated in a style that might make a Massachusetts native feel at home. It’s usually mostly full, but not so loud that you can’t talk to your date. And while the service is nice, it’s not the quickest. You’ll need to be fairly determined to get someone’s attention for more drinks, food, or really anything at all. (If you’re the type of person who gets touchy when someone refills your water glass after two sips, maybe that’s a plus.)
Gardenias isn’t a restaurant for impressing out-of-towners, getting too drunk, or grabbing a quick, affordable dinner. It’s a small, cute, easily passable spot that’s actually ideal for a 254th date with your significant other, or some wine and small plates with a few good friends.
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Quince + Ricotta Toasts
Buttery, perfectly toasted little toasts with some whipped ricotta and quince. We don’t know what quince it but it’s good. Only two per order and everyone needs one.
Brussels Sprout Salad
Avoid this unless you deeply love brussels sprouts that are not fried or roasted. It’s cold, the sprouts are raw, and it’s basically a worse version of coleslaw.
Not always on the menu, but if it is, get involved. The chickpea pancake is crispy without being dry, and they pile a shitload of vegetables and sauce on top. You won’t even realize there’s no meat.
Turns out, the secret to making mushrooms addictive and amazing is drenching them with a lot of butter. The menu switches up often, and we’ve had this dish with braised leeks and lentils and also with farro. Both options are excellent and hearty while still being pretty simple. Get an order for the table.
In retrospect, we should have known this was a poor choice. The arborio rice and quinoa don’t mix well and it’s just not very good.
This is a sleeper hit. You wouldn’t expect this tiny spot to be making awesome pasta in-house, but they do, and it’s great. The sauce and filling change up seasonally, but whatever the options, a plate of pasta here is always a good move.
This should be on your table, even though the accompanying potato gratin has no flavor. The duck is incredibly tender and the sauce is excellent.