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Jun 30, 2009 09:45 PM

Commis -- Piedmont Ave. (Oakland)

This is the former Jojo's spot on Piedmont Avenue and it opened just last week. I went last Friday night because I knew if I wait any longer, it'll be much harder to grab a reservation in this tiny spot.

I never been to the old Jojo, but my guess is this is more contemporary in look and less cozy. It looks like a fancy hotel restaurant, but the size is still small. Still, Chef James Syhabout is front and center in an open kitchen right in the middle of the restaurant surrounded by the counter seating. It's very much like a French restaurant in service and appearance, except it doesn't have white table cloth (which I actually think they should add because I didn't like the cheap look of the tabletop).

Chef Syhabout formerly cooked at Manresa and then Plumpjack Cafe. He's offering only a three-course prix-fixe menu at $49. Dinner is served from 5:30 p.m. from Wednesday through Sunday. No plans for lunch. The menu offers three to four options per course, and they all seemed really creative, focused on sustainable and seasonal ingredients. Right now the menu will stay the same as they get their groove, but the server says the chef plans to change the menu daily down the road.

I also got the wine pairing for $29. Everything I was served matched well with what I ordered.

My dinner started with an amuse bouche made of a peach puree in a shot glass that was beautiful and refreshing. It was topped with a green foam using a native plant that I didn't know, but it was a creative combination of flavors, perfect for summer!

The first course offered options of a braised little gem salad, smoked mackeral, a soup and farm egg with pork jowl. I got the farm egg with pork jowl that was this beautifully plated dish of cubed pork jowl and golden potatoes with the soft farm egg on top. On the side was a smear of black garlic with allium blossoms. Such fancy plating. The pork jowl was slightly crispy but creamy tender. I really liked the potatoes too that had a flavor I couldn't recognized, but liked the mixture of flavors on the plate.

Second course was an offering of a roasted chicken, aged beef loin or Morro Bay cod. I got the cod and it was perfectly cooked with the skin still on and crispy. The fish was partly seared but still slightly rear inside, which was a nice texture and presentation. It came with an English pea porridge that was so bright and sweet. I really liked it. What was weird was the menu also said delta crayfish but I didn't get a crayfish on the dish. I wonder if it was just the foam on the plate because the foam did taste like shellfish.

The third course was dessert with just two options, a chilled strawberry-watermelon soup and a frozen creme fraiche. The second sound like fancy ice cream so I opted for the soup, which was beautiful again but very tasty and refreshing on a hot night. It was served with a scoop of black pepper ice cream which was nice but not super peppery. Overall, I liked it although I hope in the future the pastry chef would be more diverse in his offerings. (Both pretty much seemed to highlight ice cream.)

Even though they were opened just two days, the service was very attentive and friendly. they knew a lot about the restaurant and dishes.

With Chef Syhbout cooking right in the center (he was also very friendly when he wasn't focused on cooking) it really reminded me of Dennis Leary at Canteen. The same concept of a chef behind the stove cooking everything although Commis seems to have more advantages in help and space. But the intimacy is there because of the small space and the pre-fixe dinner which really is more like a chef's tasting menu with choices.

Even though the restaurant wasn't crowded when I ate (I walked in early at 5:30 p.m.), they were turning people away because the tables were mostly reserved that night. So not sure how easy it will be to walk in because with Syhbout's reputation, I'm thinking this place will be pretty busy for awhile.

You can see my photos of the restaurant and food here:

3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

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  1. Thanks for the great report, I'm really excited about this place.

    1. Based on the photo in your blog I think the "native" plant in the amuse was nasturtium. That's a nasturtium petal floating on top. Nice report.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Armoise

        Yes, I think you're right! It was a really long name that sounded like "nasturtium" but I didn't know how to spell it. It really tasted nice against the sweetness of the peach. And really looked pretty. Thanks!

      2. We went on Thursday July 2nd (one week after opening) and the place was full (we had an 8:30 p.m. reservation). Interesting menu and concept. There are three sections to the menu as described above. The menu was fixed price and we were told we could pick any three courses and the chef would adjust portion size (so only one entree sized corse even if you ordered two courses from the entree section). It sounds like we had the same menu as singleguychef. My wife and I both got the aged beef entree which was fantastic. We were trying to figure out how the meat was cooked as it was perfectly cooked through from edge to edge rare with just a small amount of browning on the outside. We were surmising that they may be sous videing the beef but that was not the case at all as we found out when Chef Syhbout came by our table. The meat is cooked at low temperature in an oven and removed after five minutes and then rested for 10 minutes and basted. Then the meat is returned to the oven and this process is repeated until the meat is done. The meat is not salted until the meat is finished.

        We throughly enjoyed our meal and look forward to visiting again.

        3 Replies
        1. re: skwid

          America's Test Kitchen demonstrated a similar technique for thick "pan-seared" beef steaks recently.

          1. re: Stephanie Wong

            According to Chef Syhbout the steak was done in an oven.

        2. Tonight's amuse was a corn custard w/ tomatoes. Starters were the fabulous soft cooked egg w/ pork jowl and black garlic, a vibrant green courgette soup w/ shrimp, a beautiful carrot salad, and sardines (which my father loved, but I did not try). Mains were the previously mentioned chicken, Morro Bay cod, and lamb with a date puree and some really lovely beans. Dessert choices were a cream of melon soup (good) and black sesame cake (amazing). I ordered the melon soup, but was blown away by the taste of sesame cake I stole. It was a fluffy, charcoal colored sponge that looked like some sort of crazy fungus, served over ice cream. The sesame flavor was intense, but the star of the dish was the tiny cubes of bright green candied cucumber. Startling, but in an entirely delightful way. Wine pairings were excellent, and the warm rolls and house made butter were extremely dangerous.

          1. Went last week. Wow. What a fascinating set of contrasts. On the one hand, this is perfectly precise, precious, pretentious food and food styling. On the other, it's tasty, substantial, presented effortlessly, friendly, and all-in-all pretty cheap. Best meal of the year so far, by far.

            According to the cook, the menu has been changing a lot. He said something like 9 times in their 12 services. Though apparently some things are staying pretty constant.

            The standout dish was the sardine first course. A pair of lightly cured sardine flanks rolled around -- um what? something -- with a small dollop of a green tomato coulis and topped with a tiny dark sprig of fennel leaf and sprinkled with FENNEL POLLEN. I don't know if fennel pollen is always such concentrated joy or if it has to be sitting on top of a pickled fish to taste that way but man oh man is it something.

            The beef loin is delicious and definitely going to be a topic of conversation if anyone at your table orders it. "How on earth do they do it?" occupied everyone except the guy who was eating it because he was too busy eating it.

            Watermelon and strawberry soup for dessert. Liquid sunshine.

            If I had to find something to criticize it would have to be the service. Perfect but a little -too- perfect for where it is. The waiter had no qualms at all steering us right up to the top of the high end of the wine list (though was entirely gentlemanly when we opted for the midrange sancerre). Some flourishes, like pretty much the entire staff swarming to the table to deliver all the dishes in perfect simultaneity, Which was nice and skillful and all but after dinner we were heading next door to Cato's Ale House, not the opera. If that makes any sense. Still, if you want it done by the book, these folks have been to school.

            Get there before Bauer farts all over it and/or invites the whole world in. They seemed to be at about 60% capacity which may not last long even, as they say about everything these days, "in this economy". Set menu price has gone up to $59. Wine pairing is still $29. Food is a steal; wine pairing made no sense to me given the ample DIY options.