Volume 42 Number 40

Jardiniere

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› paulr@sfbg.com

Fizz, like buzz, is evanescent by nature, so I was not totally surprised to see that the champagne-bubble lights that once hung in the air above the bar at Jardinière were nowhere to be seen when we stepped inside on a recent evening. Had they been removed as a discreet way of acknowledging the rapid defizzification of American life? Or just switched off? Yet whether the bubbles be gone or merely darkened, the dome overhead remains; it was originally meant to suggest an inverted champagne cup (itself a suggestion of Marie Antoinette’s breast) but, in its bubbleless state, it now suggests a classical aura. One thinks of the Pantheon or some venerable bank building — a structure whose design is meant to radiate confidence, strength, and maybe a hint of transcendence.

Jardinière (the name means "gardener" in French) turns 11 this fall, and while that’s hardly a pantheonic number, the restaurant for the most part has aged well. It helps, surely, that Pat Kuleto’s interior design was one of his more restrained; the elements of whimsy, such as the wavy ironwork railings that line the sweeping staircase to the balcony, are subtle, while the largest of those that originally weren’t (i.e. the bubbly dome) have been tuned to a lower frequency. The biggest star of the design was never frivolous, anyway; I refer to the cheese chapel on the main floor. Its glass door is still conspicuous behind the bar, and although the cheese course has become commonplace over the past decade, Jardinière was one of the first restaurants other than the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton to offer one, and still does.

Blessed are the noisemakers, for they’ve gone someplace else to eat, leaving Jardinière reasonably quiet and conversation-friendly. The restaurant’s floors are mostly carpeted, which is a vast asset in maintaining a livable balance between bustle and din. The balcony, furthermore, is a motherlode of richly upholstered booths that line the outer walls and are cozy little havens in which talk is easy, if not cheap.

Did I say not cheap? Nothing is cheap at Jardinière, and since we’re talking about one of the city’s premiere restaurants, we wouldn’t expect it to be. Nonetheless, prices for many of the main courses have risen into the mid–$30 range now, and that’s a lot more than just five or six years ago. On the other hand, it’s a lot less than what they’d be at a comparable place in New York City. How strange to think of San Francisco as being a relative bargain.

The blow-out-minded might spring for the chef’s tasting menu: $125 for seven courses, plus another $65 if you want the wine pairings. (The executive chef these days is Craig Patzer, and Reylon Agustin is chef de cuisine.) But one can make do quite nicely with the à la carte choices. There was an around-the-horn consensus in our little booth that a spring-into-summer soup ($10) of white corn, braised chard, shreds of duck confit, and tiny cubes of garlic crouton was undersalted, and our server seemed slightly startled by the request for a salt shaker. But the shaker was brought swiftly, therapy was applied, and the soup — made with a rich, almost geutf8ous chicken stock — came to life.

No such issue clouded a lovely salad of little gem lettuces ($10) whose bright green nooks and folds were laden with buttery avocado slices, radish coins, filets of anchovy, and crumblings of hard-boiled egg under a green peppercorn vinaigrette. It reminded me of an Easter-egg hunt, with delightful surprises tucked here and there.

In earlier years, the des Jardins cooking style made ample use of cream and butter, but those luxurious accoutrements seem less in evidence these days. Butterfat was definitely used to smooth the pat of mousseline potatoes that accompanied the Devil’s Gulch pork ($36) — two slices of roasted loin, two slices of garlicky sausage — along with a pair of deep-fried okra knobs and some braised baby carrots and pearl onions. But slices of Liberty duck breast ($37) were fanned out over a bed of plump farro grains enriched not with butter but slices of nectarine and a five-spice gastrique (which also formed an elegant glaze at the edges of the meat).

And a sautéed filet of bluenose sea bass ($36) came to rest like a piece of tender driftwood on a bright beach of crispy sunchokes, Lucques olives, and almonds lightly bathed in a lemon emulsion — possible butter there, but in a modest amount. The saucings generally suggested lean sophistication, and, in a mild anomaly, the main courses struck us as being at least as inventive and nimble as their smaller precursors.

The dessert menu has a greatest-hits flavor, with a strong subtheme of seasonality. Ingredients are immaculate and execution flawless. It’s hard to find a dessert menu now that doesn’t offer bread pudding; Jardinière’s ($10) was made from brioche and plated with a pat of muscat sorbet (which had a singular and haunting flavor) and an almost impossibly fine dice of candied white peaches. Chocolate mousse tarts, too, are hardly unusual, but Jardinière’s elongated wedge of hazelnut marjorlaine ($10) was distinguished by a smooth, dark-chocolate intensity subtly enhanced by espresso oil. For a seasonal touch, there was a cherry tart ($10), about the circumference of a golf ball and complete with latticework; it was escorted by a scoop of Tahitian vanilla gelato and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

In an important sense we know sublimeness, like art, by its flaws. One of our water glasses was cracked, and the service staff, while attentive and knowledgeable, occasionally seemed overeager to remove plates we weren’t sure we’d finished with. Jarring. I wondered if there were a connection.

JARDINIÈRE

Dinner: Tues.–Sat., 5–10:30 p.m.; Sun.–Mon., 5–10 p.m.

300 Grove, SF

(415) 861-5555

www.jardiniere.com

Full bar

AE/DC/DISC/MC/V

Well-muted noise, especially upstairs

Wheelchair accessible

Nude Beaches 2008

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@@http://www.sfbg.com/nudebeaches@@

Editor’s Notes

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› tredmond@sfbg.com

Look, I get the gun thing. I started shooting a .22 rifle in third grade, and by the time I was 11 I had a gold National Rifle Association Sharpshooter medal on my wall. Even in my advanced, protogeriatric condition, I can still pop the logo on a Budweiser can at 50 feet; I did it two months ago, in upstate New York, with my nephew and namesake, who is a proud teenage redneck. Tim lives in a small town, wears camo, smokes the adults at paintball, and loves his firearms.

My brother, his dad, goes along with this reluctantly — in his household, there are very strict rules about gun use. The .22 and the .177 have trigger locks, and my brother keeps the only key in his pocket. The ammunition is locked up separately. And he has informed his son that anything you kill, you eat — which discourages any potshots at squirrels and birds. I can live with that.

I also have a friend in San Francisco who hunts, and I’m more than happy to go to his annual pig roast and consume the sweet, juicy, wonderful wild boar he pegged in Sonoma County.

So I get it. There are people who love target shooting, and since I was one of them many years ago, I understand. There are people who think it’s cool to go shoot a pig or a turkey or a duck and take it home for supper: since I think it’s one of the world’s great experiences to catch a bass or a trout and do the same thing, it’s hard to be critical.

But the United State Supreme Court decision last week wasn’t about my nephew’s .22 or my friend Rich’s hunting rifle. It was about whether cities can do anything remotely at all meaningful to keep 14-year-olds from shooting each other on the streets.

It’s about whether kids in Hunters Point and the Western Addition will live to graduate from high school. It’s about whether the desperate young people who are doing robberies in the Mission District and Bernal Heights will wind up shooting someone and spending the rest of their lives in prison over a bag of groceries and a hundred bucks. It’s about whether someone the age of my kindergarten daughter will take a bullet in the head one night and die from the crossfire while she’s asleep in bed.

Let’s face it: this is about handguns and assault rifles, about weapons that have very little use in hunting, that are rarely part of any sporting tradition, and that exist almost entirely for the purpose of killing other human beings.

The unnamed man who is suing — with the NRA’s money — to win the right to own a handgun in San Francisco public housing claims he needs a weapon to defend himself. I’ve been studying self-defense for 17 years now, and let me tell you a not-so-secret fact: guns are a terrible method of protection. If you own a gun in a city, the odds are far better that it will kill you or a loved one than that it will save your life. Guns don’t deter crime; they encourage crime.

And for my dear friends on the left who say that the Second Amendment protects us all from government repression, let me politely suggest that if the Marines invade San Francisco, the pistol in your attic won’t be much help.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera is fighting back on the NRA lawsuit, aggressively. He has to keep it up; this is madness.

Peskin for DCCC chair

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EDITORIAL The San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee was the sleeper election in June: The Mark Leno–Carole Migden–Joe Nation contest for state Senate got a lot of attention, and the Bayview–Hunters Point redevelopment project got a huge amount of money, but only a small percentage of the voters got to the bottom of the ticket and chose the 24 people who will set policy for the local Democratic Party for the next two years. But a progressive slate won a significant number of seats. Now the DCCC has become a heated political battleground, with two candidates vying to become party chair.

The incumbent, Scott Wiener, leans toward the more moderate wing of the party, although he’s taken progressive stands on some issues. The challenger, Sup. Aaron Peskin, has the strong backing of many progressives.

The race has gotten a bit nasty: Sup. Chris Daly, a Peskin supporter, has sent out e-mail threatening the political future of committee members who don’t vote the right way. Both sides are lobbying furiously, with Leno helping Wiener and progressive leaders pushing Peskin. Right now it’s too close to call the election, which takes place later this month.

We’re not happy with the level of animosity here. We recognize that this isn’t the presidency of the United States, and that, thanks to the influence of the reform slate, the DCCC chair is no longer as powerful a position as it was in the days when the late Phil Burton and former Mayor Willie Brown controlled the party with an iron hand. And with the committee this closely split, neither candidate will be able to run an effective party operation this fall without working with both sides. So this shouldn’t be a political bloodbath.

We also recognize that neither candidate is perfect. We’ve disagreed with Peskin on a number of key issues, including Home Depot, and frankly, it’s not ideal to have the president of the Board of Supervisors also running the local Democratic Party.

But like any political contest, this ought to be decided on the issues — and on the future of the San Francisco Democratic Party. And Peskin is the clear choice.

If the DCCC did nothing but raise money, register voters, and push Democratic candidates, this wouldn’t be such an important fight. Weiner has done a perfectly fine job of keeping the party well funded and, under his tenure, 15,000 new Democratic voters have joined the ranks. But the party also endorses candidates and takes stands on ballot measures, and in close races — as some of the key battles will be this fall — the party’s support (which includes party money) can be significant.

And while the chair has only one vote, and can’t decide endorsements unilaterally, the person who runs the local party has a fair amount of influence over how money will be spent and how DCCC slate cards are managed; if the job didn’t matter, these two people (and their powerful allies) wouldn’t be fighting over it.

Peskin is on the right side of all the key fall contests. He’s backing progressive candidates for supervisor in the swing districts (John Avalos in District 11, Eric Mar in District 1, and David Chiu in District 3). He supports the housing justice initiative, is the cosponsor of the public power charter amendment, and the sponsor of two progressive tax measures. Wiener supports Ahsha Safai, the candidate of downtown and Mayor Gavin Newsom, in District 11. He hasn’t taken a position on public power, and told us he has "significant concerns" about the cost of the affordable housing measure, although he supports both of Peskin’s revenue proposals.

Wiener has been a reasonable and fair person as chair. But the issues matter. And if the San Francisco party is going to become a center for progressive activism, if the DCCC is going to be willing to challenge the state and national party and its leaders when necessary, take in the mayor when he’s wrong, and push the party to the left, putting a more activist progressive in the top slot is crucial.

It’s still possible a third candidate could come along. But for now the choices are Peskin and Wiener, and we urge progressives on the panel to support Aaron Peskin.

PS: As Amanda Witherell reports on page 14, PG&E is madly, desperately fighting to keep public power off the November ballot and is using every misleading figure and dirty trick possible. So the DCCC chair has to be willing to stand up to PG&E without hesitation or doubt.

Bad grades

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› gwschulz@sfbg.com

A much-anticipated audit of City College of San Francisco’s spending of bond money finds that school officials promised voters more than they could possibly deliver and then didn’t allow proper oversight of hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds.

A minority faction on City College’s Board of Trustees has for years sought a performance audit of the school’s bond projects, which includes $441.3 million authorized by voters during elections in 2001 and 2005. The audit by Sacramento-based MGT of America was released June 4.

The faction, led in large part by longtime trustee Milton Marks, often publicly quarreled with former Chancellor Phil Day over the matter, arguing that Prop. 39, a state ballot measure that passed in 2000 and made it easier for school districts to get voter approval for bond financing, legally required full annual performance audits of its capital spending on new classrooms, laboratories, a gymnasium, and a performing arts center.

But school administrators denied they were necessary or claimed that the cursory, more limited financial audits done each year met the legal mandate. Pressure on Day’s administration finally became insurmountable last year as San Francisco’s District 12 state Assembly Member Fiona Ma began threatening to have the state conduct its own audit, offering deeper scrutiny and wider disclosure than City College officials were perhaps prepared to stomach.

"My overall feeling is that we appreciate their efforts, accept their findings, and will implement all of the recommendations," a conciliatory Vice Chancellor Peter Goldstein told the Guardian in response to the report.

While mostly mild in its language, the audit shows that the school may have violated state law by granting several small contracts to the same construction companies so City College could avoid the headache of competitive bidding.

The state’s Public Contract Code requires that projects costing more than $15,000 go to the lowest responsible bidder through a competitive process, a provision designed to save money for taxpayers. But between 2005 and 2006, the community college entered into seven separate no-bid contracts with one construction firm totaling $83,545 for work at its Cloud Hall facility on Ocean Avenue.

"It’s unfortunate that two of the project managers were not aware or did not appreciate the importance of that rule," Goldstein said. "They’ve been counseled and we don’t expect to have any more occurrences of that type."

The auditors found "similar multiple contracts" — totaling less than $100,000, Goldstein said — where the work should have been combined into one larger contract and approved by the school’s independently elected Board of Trustees.

The audit reserved special criticism for a bond oversight committee required by Prop. 39 to watchdog the school’s capital spending. The Guardian reported last year that such committees in other districts, for example, West Contra Costa County routinely received full performance audits and met more often than City College’s oversight committee (See "Who’s following the money?", 07/10/07).

But the group of citizens here, which includes San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros and former San Francisco Chronicle publisher Steve Falk, who’s now head of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, has done far less than what the law asks it to do.

The report says that one oversight committee member, who goes unnamed, told the auditors that it wasn’t the committee’s responsibility to determine how City College actually spends the funds. The auditors also watched former Chancellor Day tell the committee at a January meeting that its reach was limited solely to ensuring that City College complied with certain provisions of the state’s Constitution.

That turned out to be totally untrue. "The intent of this law is to provide a broad oversight role for the committees, thereby encouraging cost-effective use of bond funds," the report states.

"Many of these things that are in the report are things that people on the board have been saying all along," Trustee Marks said. "We really shouldn’t have had to spend $250,000 for someone on the outside to tell us this."

The original estimate for all of City College’s ambitious bond projects amounted to about $539.7 million, and the school has offset many of those costs by securing tens of millions of dollars in matching funds from the state. But as of January, the total cost has ballooned to $968 million. Last year the Guardian reported that the school gutted several projects promised to voters by "reallocating" roughly $130 million from their budgets to save other projects suffering from skyrocketing cost overruns (See "The City College shell game," 07/03/07).

Trustee John Rizzo, who joined Marks in asking for an audit, said he wished the report had done more to explain why many of the projects were poorly planned, leading to millions of dollars in higher costs. He cited as examples the new Mission Campus and a health and wellness center for athletes.

Rizzo told us, "Just from what contractors say and what staff has been reporting, that still needs to be looked at."