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Why We Love Traci Des Jardins' The Commissary in the Presidio

By Virginia Miller
August 20, 2014
Photo by: Virginia Miller

Open May 20 in the Presidio, Traci Des Jardins' The Commissary is housed in a former army mess hall in the Montgomery Street Barracks (circa 1895 - pictured above). The multi-room space is marked by tabletops made from salvaged Douglas fir and lights from the historic, nearby former army gymnasium. Robbie Lewis, who cooked at Rubicon and was the executive chef of Des Jardins' Jardiniere for eight years, is the culinary director. You'll see him behind the chef's counter, which is our preferred seat over the bustling, open kitchen. Executive chef Reylon Agustin also worked with Des Jardins at Jardiniere and her Truckee restaurant, Manzanita in the Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe.

The menu is heavily Spanish, showcasing common tapas favorites - albondigas, octopus/pulpo, croquetas - as well as creative dishes with California flair. Cocktails were created by GM Malcolm Brownson, most recently of Nico. Brownson also put together a vibrant wine list heavy on Spanish wines and California wines using Spanish varietals, a few craft beers and sangria. There's light dine-in and take-out breakfast and lunch during the day, but we'll walk you through standouts on the current dinner menu. The dishes here are already making a mark, so watch for Des Jardins' and the Presidio Trust's next restaurant and bar, Arguello, set to open October 7. For maximum fun, stay overnight in the park at Inn at the Presidio and stroll across the lawn to The Commissary for dinner and breakfast the next morning.

101 Montgomery St.; 415-561-3600

  • Photo by: Virginia Miller

    The Commissary's roasted cuttlefish ($14) is some of the freshest we've ever had, grilled with impeccable texture over arroz verde (green rice), blissfully chewy and laden with herbs and edible flowers, the green cast against a dramatic dark smear of squid ink.

  • Photo by: Virginia Miller

    Brownson's cocktails ($8-12) walk the right line between elegant but unfussy, often with herbaceous touches and high quality local spirits like 209 Gin used as the well gin. Trying six cocktails, we love the Sand & Fog, a softly smoky blend of Speyburn Speyside 10-year Scotch, eucalyptus, kombu (edible kelp) and Brownson's house "lime soda" (a base of Manzanilla sherry, triple sec, lime, demerara syrup which he uses in numerous cocktails). What sounds complicated is served clean and simply. On the gin front, Laid Back (pictured left) is bracing combination of 209 Gin, Green Chartreuse and sherry, while the 24th & York tributes the SF cross streets, a mix of the smoky agave spirit inflected by cayenne salt heat and savoriness.
     

  • Photo by: Virginia Miller

    The vegetarian entree was one of our overall favorite dishes: a chickpea galette ($19) is like a fluffy pancake laden with mint, zucchini and basil in a vibrant harissa vinaigrette. It works beautifully as a shared starter, too.

  • Photo by: Virginia Miller

    Lewis' jamon-wrapped trout ($27) was our entree standout. Tender and savory as the fish is in a crispy skin of Spanish ham, it's a dreamy, umami-rich sherry broth that we sopped up, dotted with trumpet mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and tarragon. On the meat side, a NY steak entree ($30) is almost outshone but its accompanying side: potato gratin oozing with Idiazabal cheese, a style of sheep's milk cheese we adore from Spain.

  • Photo by: Virginia Miller

    You may have seen sweet pea and ham croquetas ($9) before in other Spanish restaurants, but this version is among the greats, all summer pea brightness and meaty ham.

  • Perfect corn is one of the great joys of summer — and Brentwood corn-on-the-cob ($8) is guaranteed goodness. But then you grill that corn and cover it in Spanish mahon cheese and quicos (corn nut-esque crispy corn) and it's like popcorn meets cheesy-fresh corn. Sigh.


     

  • Photo by: Virginia Miller

    Salads are no afterthought here. A little gem salad ($13) stands in the place where a great classic Caesar might. Grab a knife and fork to cut through crispy hearts of lettuce covered in nutty, one-year aged Manchego cheese, subtle cured anchovy, boiled egg crumbled up and fried bread croutons. We also delighted in the summer notes of another salad of impeccable peaches, arugula and fluffy ricotta ($13) marked by basil and fried shallots.

  • Photo by: Virginia Miller

    For beer, we recommend (if they aren't sold out) a new Marin beer, Headlands Belgian-style rye IPA ($11 for 16 oz.), laden with tropical depth. On the wine front, there are many treasures, including the fascinating layers of floral and mineral notes in a 2012 Tendal Listan Blanco from the Canary Islands ($11 glass) or the medium-bodied yet acidic 2012 Dido Cabernet from Spain. Post-dinner, Brownson crafts some off-menu winners: a striking, smoky-dry combination of Oban 14 year Scotch and Sercial Madeira (pictured right), or a darker, earthy-sweet blend of Tawny port, Bual Madeira and 1983 Pedro Ximenez Sherry.
     

  • Photo by: Virginia Miller

    Pastry chef Kristi Glauslow's desserts maintain richness without veering too sweet. Churros ($9) are everywhere these days, but this version dissolves warm and comforting on the tongue, dipped in rum milk chocolate. We particularly appreciated the summer glow of fluffy ricotta cheesecake ($9) marked by figs, citrus yogurt, burnt honey and oatmeal crumble.

  • Photo by: Virginia Miller

    Slowing down on rocking chairs gazing out at the Presidio and Golden Gate Bridge from Inn at the Presidio, a neighbor of the Commissary and ideal city retreat, feels worlds away. In a historic 1903 Georgian Revival-style building, the inn was once the home of unmarried officers (their married colleagues lived nearby in the Victorian cottages along Officers’ Row). The inn is decorated with army artifacts and modern but comfy notes of Americana. Linger by the fire pit outside at a night with a digestif post-dinner at the Commissary. Book rooms here.

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Places Mentioned

The Commissary

Californian • The Presidio

Food- Decor- Service- CostE
 
 
 
 
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