The building that now houses serial restaurant wrangler Jason Dady’s latest enterprise, Jardín, began life in 1896 as a stable and carriage house subservient to the mansion of banker Daniel J. Sullivan that once stood at Broadway and 4th Street.
Faced with demolition some 90 years later, the structure was donated to the San Antonio Botanical Society, who had it carefully deconstructed then reassembled, piece by piece, on the Society’s grounds at the head of Mahncke Park.
The reconstruction process wasn’t fully completed until 1995, at which time the resuscitated Sullivan Carriage House opened as a gift shop, gardens entrance and restaurant. Several food service operators tried to make a go of the carefully recreated interior in the intervening 26 years, but it may have taken someone with Dady’s experience and creativity to finally put the culinary puzzle pieces together.
As handsome as the building itself is, the real draw, especially come warmer spring weather, is the restaurant’s private dining patio, shaded by Texas Ash trees and surrounded by seasonal blooms. Dady fans will recognize much in the Mediterranean-focused menu, which feels right at home.
Among the mezze plates, the Bolognese-stuffed and crisply golden-fried rice arancini would be perfect with a glass of rosé, although they’re terrific with just the black truffle aioli that accompanies them. Al dente cubes of butternut squash — more chevre, please — play well with tart pomegranate. And a quirkily spiced, but smoky and smoothly textured baba ghanoush is best paired with puffy “naan pita” sprinkled with traditional thyme and sesame seeds, a version of zaatar minus tart sumac.
A posey-pretty chilled, golden gazpacho offers a lighter prelude to one of the lunch plates — the dinner menu expands on lunch with some large plates such as smoked beef short rib. Though the soup contains yellow tomato and cucumber, the golden beet sings through the bracing blend. Paired with the fattoush salad, with “crispy pita chips” in place of torn and toasted croutons, it would make for a crave-worthy combo. More rosé, please — or perhaps a frozen peach bellini if the occasion permits.
Hummus looms large on Jardin’s menu. The charred cumin oil puddled onto the chickpea-based dip that accompanies the pan-seared salmon made a welcome addition. At first glance, the crust on the fish looked like a throwback to the blackened-everything craze of the early ’80s, but it turned out to be an asset that offset the moist flesh, which was further complemented by tzatziki sauce, marcona almonds, golden raisins and a wisp of apricot purée.
Personally, I’d order the lamb burger a little less than the medium doneness that appears to be the default setting. Everything else — the feta crema, the dill and even the hummus — can remain exactly as it is. If there has to be a burger on the menu, and I suppose it’s obligatory, then this is a good one. Diners looking to take something home should look to options able to withstand the time and trip. My choice, from the hummus section of the menu, was the version with saffron pickled cauliflower. Both of the main ingredients, plus an enthusiastically charred pita, made it home just fine, and the still crunchy-bright cauliflower was especially welcome at dinner time.
Of course, anything taken home won’t be as prettily presented as the plates served on Jardin’s tables, and I’m not sure I’d risk to-go desserts precisely for that reason.
The olive oil cake with saffron Chantilly came strewn with pulled-apart flower petals. Blinded by my appreciation of the garnish, the subtle saffron cream and the also-torn cake, I failed to note any almond nougat — if it was there, it was even more subtle than the cream. But perhaps it wasn’t really necessary. You couldn’t remove the chopped walnut topping from the Nutella torte with hazelnut mousse and still have the same dessert, however. The slightly bitter nut was needed to counter the extravagant richness of the cake.
Even in all-forgiving nature, it’s nice to have a little balance.
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