Upscale and aesthetically attractive with sophisticated recipes, Jardin at Robinia Courtyard opened last September in a complex of hospitality businesses on East Washington Avenue.
The complex, a mile or two east of the state Capitol building, includes Madison Tap, a gastropub that features local breweries, and a coffeeshop, Black Locust Café.
But Jardin is the star here, offering a warm, elegant space with inventive, well-conceived and well-executed dishes. Its thoughtful menu is small, with five small plates, eight large plates (just three for vegetarians) and a few desserts. The bar, with cocktails prepared by creative mixologists, also is a popular draw.
The sleek dining room is bright during the day, thanks to a row of windows that looks out on a handsome courtyard, and dimly lit in the evening. It features handmade wood booths, an exposed brick wall painted white, stylish contemporary lighting and large, handsome prints displayed on walls throughout the space.
Jardin is not a place to go for a filling meat-and-potatoes meal. Its plates and portions are reasonable and a bit pricey, but they are not large. Instead, meals are healthy and delicious with nuanced flavors.
That’s a fitting description of the kitchen’s roasted cauliflower plate ($14), which is a combination of cauliflower, truffled egg emulsion, lamb pancetta, pickled red onions in a Parmesan sauce. It’s one of those recipes that puts together complementing flavors and contrasting textures for a simply delectable dish.
Another winner from the small plate list is the Filipino ceviche ($11), in which delicate slices of flash-seared red snapper are served in a memorable coconut cream vinegar sauce. The nearly raw fish comes topped with marinated red onion, cucumber and jalapeno for a sensational flavor combination.
Our large plate selections didn’t disappoint, either. Jardin’s kitchen uses lamb as the main ingredient in at least two dishes and a complementary item in a couple of others. Executive chef Brandon Reid has told local media he buys lamb and pork from Fox Heritage Farms in rural Dane County and serves only the freshest meats.
We passed on the lamb and pork dishes, however, and instead enjoyed some of the most aromatic roast chicken ($20) we’ve had in recent memory. This kitchen’s version included a breast, wing and thigh that were light and crispy outside yet tender and moist within. They came on a plate surrounded by diced celeriac, potatoes and kale and swimming in a fragrant rosemary broth.
The kitchen’s duck breast ($22) also was a hit. Four slices of roast duck drizzled with demi-glace were cooked to perfection and served with sunchokes and pickled strawberries on a bed of richly flavored parsnip puree. The meat was a tad on the tough side, but it was flavorful nonetheless.
The vegetarian in our party was happy with an order of wild mushrooms ($12): oyster, shiitake and cremini mushrooms were sautéed and served with braised lentils, grilled scallions and Brussels sprouts. Another was thrilled with one of the nightly specials: two seared scallops served over parsnip puree with Brussels sprouts and lamb pancetta ($23). The scallops were large, tender and juicy, but we couldn’t help but note the small amount of food for the price.
Jardin offers three desserts. The deconstructed cheesecake ($7) sounded good when reading the menu, but we had our doubts once it was served. It came with all of the ingredients of cheesecake spread out on a plate: graham cracker crumble, berry compote, candied citrus and lemongrass sugar. While it looked like a mess, its flavors were intensely rich and delicious.
Two members of our party turned to the cocktail menu for dessert and were richly rewarded. The Robinia hot toddy ($7) combined Rishi tea with turmeric, ginger syrup, dark rum and white rum for a warm way to end a meal. The kombucha 75 ($9) mixed Death’s Door gin with seasonal kombucha, lemon juice, simple syrup, topped with sparkling pinot noir.
Jardin at Robinia is an attractive restaurant/bar combo offering fine food in a relaxed setting, and it’s a great place to go for a romantic date or other special occasion.
Bill Livick is a freelance writer who writes entertainment stories and Madison-area restaurant reviews for The Gazette.