Commis, Oakland (long)
Snagged a late res. at Commis for my husband's b'day. Turned out to be one of those complicated evenings in which you want to love the splurge/first time at a highly touted restaurant and really want the b'day boy to have a "happy birthday"--but you're disappointed.
We were 10 minutes early, and they first said they couldn't seat us, then a half-minute later said our table was free, and they could seat us, but we couldn't order, because it was a small kitchen, and it all had to be staggered (setting a tone of special-ness or affectation--lots of restaurants have small kitchens and have to stagger--it's part of the challenge of restaurant cooking). We were seated initially at a table by the door to the kitchen/toilets. We didn't complain, but as soon as a better table came free, the staff graciously offered to move us.
Beautiful, sleek, sparely designed space. My husband loved the modern silverware--I found it interesting looking, but awkward to use.
The service was mostly--the server forgot the wine my husband ordered and brought the wrong one--attentive. But it was all a little pretentious. I asked for advice re a wine by the glass and got a description that could have been a parody of wine-snobbery--and unhelpful to the task at hand. The prices by the glass seemed a little steep (aperitifs that we have had at other local restaurants were marked up higher here). We were told we had to order dessert w/ starters and mains because the dessert chef needed time to prepare--but nobody had said that when they gave us menus, so we were unprepared to make a dessert choice (the server then offered to let us decide later on, but we pulled ourselves together and made a selection). And, as best we could tell from the dessert descriptions, there was no prep that required anything more than last-minute assembly.
And really other than the "famous" egg amuse (which was, indeed, great), there was too much self-consciousness or fussiness in the preparations--and no dish to write home about.
First amuse: a hibiscus and something soda--would have been lovely on a hot day, and this was an early April night in which the temperature was dipping down in the 50's--and just not very deep or complex re flavor.
Appetizers: Asparagus soup (served cold on this chilly evening) had many moving (literally--the server poured one part over several others) parts that didn't really come together, and the asparagus flavor wasn't especially vivid. My husband liked his corned pork salad--I found it overly salty. White rolls were OK (baked w/ rosewood, but still just OK--ditto home-made butter).
Mains: Poached and seared guinea hen nicely done and tasty enough, but not exciting. Wild Altantic cod had a very long journey to Calfornia. It was fresh and nicely cooked, and my husband really liked the brown rice cooked underneath it. But no knock-out there either.
Desserts: my husband ordered the cheese plate, which added $9 to the $59 fixed price tally (can understand a supplement for foie gras or lobster--but a few small triangles of nice cheese and a little jam and local honey and bread?). The chocolate brioche pudding w/ green tea ice cream and puffed rice was a riff on genmai cha tea (explained the server), but again didn't really come together or "pop" re flavor.
Final amuse--absinthe jellies--which my anise-disliking spouse agreed with me were good.
A steep tab, adding in supplement and drinks and tips, which would have been fine for the occasion, had we had been wowed.
3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611