Commonwealth SF Report
This week I had a chance to visit Commonwealth which opened in the Mission last month. The restaurant, run by Bar Tartine alumni, offers a fine dining menu in a casual environment. The style of food is sophisticated yet accessible and the value is outstanding. We sampled the majority of the menu and found each dish expertly executed.
The standouts were the dishes at the top of the menu card. The chilled summer squash soup was perfect for a summer evening, both rich and refreshing with some complexity from the vadouvan and a crisp fried blossom. The compressed watermelon dish was also a hit, the watermelon was sweet and bright, with a crunch texture that played against a savory dollop of creamy sauce. We enjoyed their gnocchi which was light and creamy with the full flavor of mushroom and truffle coming through. This is a familiar dish executed perfectly and probably the most boldly flavored of the first courses. Out of the entrees, I enjoyed the marrow stuffed squid, but wasn't as taken by the black cod or hen preparations, though my table mates enjoyed all the entrees.
We ordered all the desserts they had available. The desserts were so good that as soon as we finished them we briefly discussed the idea of ordering another round of all of them. All the first course dishes are worthy of ordering again as well as the entire dessert card.
The tasting menu had a few interesting items such as goat cooked in hay and a foie gras dish, that we did not have an opportunity to try. I love seeing a kitchen take some risks and offer creative dishes, at their prices there's every reason to give them a try. The place is off to a nice start, I'm looking forward to seeing how their menu evolves.
2224 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Jonathan Gold's article "Why molecular gastronomy must die" (Sunset Mag, July 2011) is dead on as far as I am concerned.
It is only the extreme places that have the skills and tastes to make this kind of bleeding edge cuisine worth it to me, and they tend to be extreme in price. In Las Vegas, Gagnaire's Twist and Robuchon (about the same price as an air ticket or 2 to Paris), and Manresa in our parts, get me excited enough to return. Somehow the technology in these places is not in your face and the resulting dishes are just plain wonderful.
Commonwealth's bill tonight for 2 with big tip was $132. This is about 1/4 Manresa, 1/5 Gagnaire, 1/9 Robuchon's full tasting menu. (I don't mention TFL because I won't participate in their reservation lottery rudeness.)
And Jason Fox and his hard working crew at Commonwealth is doing stuff that is really good, not easy to assemble, very high tech but not annoyingly so, and mentionable in the same breath as the others I cited -- and it is right there in the middle of the murals and grafitti of the Mission. This is what San Francisco is all about for me.
Our choices tonight:
porcini, corn, snap peas, … under a blow torch melted cheese layer on top of an "idazabel veil", whatever that was. It came together and was delish.
soft shell crab, pickled green strawberries (try to get your hands on those at the Saturday Ferry Bldg mkt), fennel, hearts of palm. yuzu kosho emulsion. Super!
branzino, [wilted] gem lettuce, peas, oyster-nettle puree [oh! that's what that was!] preserved lemons (oh! again!], capers, balsamic. Came together perfectly.
crispy young hen, carrots cooked in harry, marble potatoes, dill buttermilk mousse. Also excellent, beautifully tender and chickeny chicken.
a bottle of Grüner Veltliner and an excellent Peanut Semifreddo desert with freeze dried pop corn stuff.
At a Mission price. What more can you ask. It all came together informally, the technology was supportive not crying for attention.
You won't find a place like this in LA, Jonathan...
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030
re: Thomas Nash
If we had something like Commonwealth or Manresa down here in LA, the usually spot on Mr. Gold would not be so hasty. Unfortunately, all we have down here is Bazaar which is more in the vein of in your face molecular gastronomy instead of the more balanced approach seen at Commonwealth, Manresa, and even Pierre Gagnaire (Paris). Yet there is hope for us in LA. His name is Laurent Quenioux.
Manresa and Commonwealth are indeed some of the finest anywhere.
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030
I completely agree. Having lived in SF for some time and now living in LA, we're really missing the quality molecular gastronomy restaurants down in LA. Commonwealth, for me, is hands down one of the best restaurants I have been to dollar-for-dollar. It's not over the top, but its not pedestrian, and very very fairly priced.
I haven't tried Bistro LQ yet, but I'm hoping that'll make me a bit more optimistic about the creativity of food in LA.
Well, LA just got panzanella salad...
Unfortunately, Bistro LQ is no more. Look for Chef Quenioux's pop up diners at Starry Kitchen. He will be restarting in August after his vacation to France in July.
I feel it is the most creative food that we have in LA right now and it is very well priced...in the same philsophy as Commonwealth actually. Quenioux makes the best blood sausage and squab around.
re: Thomas Nash
I want to agree with you. The price is so reasonable. The dishes are works of original, inventive art. Service was lovely.
But for me, the flavors did not match the expectations set by all the other elements. Nothing was bad, no dissonant notes, nothing failed. But I wanted bolder flavors that I just was not getting. The results almost seemed safe - which really is not what I was expecting from some a bold menu.
A month later I honestly can't remember the details of each plate. So instead I'll offer my snapshots. The plating is amazing. No doubt about that. My main was the crispy hen with the infamous carrots in hay -- and the hen was really tasty. I believe the fish was bronzini, and it was cooked perfectly. We brought a Pinot and ordered another Pinot from their list. Like I said, no duds, no failures. Just not the bold flavors I was looking for to match the artistry of the meal.
Finally got here after months of mixed feelings about Commonwealth's identity: funky Mission Street Food meets yuppie Bar Tartine? Is there room for granite slabs and uni flan in that midrange (are there even tasting menus in that midrange)?
The good news is we had a delightful meal. The tasting menu (now $65) sounded complicated to me, but my companion persuaded me we'd have more time to relax if we let the chef figure it out. We shared a wine pairing and then added a few other glasses.
First up: they have parking. For $5, and it's in their lot, and not a crazed "valet" scratching up cars on Capp Street.
Second, the service is superb. Seriously, SF restaurants could learn a lot by eating here and sending their surly, distracted, holier than thou servers to observe a smoothly run, class operation.
We were served by a trio of knowledgeable, friendly, enthusiastic young women. Xelina Leyba, the manager, looks like a college student. Our water glasses were always filled, cutlery switched out, new courses and plates arrived effortlessly, with no intrusion into our conversation.
Next, the wine. I probably liked the wine more I liked the food, and dinner was very good. Interesting selections, well-chosen food wines, nice stemware. Next time I'll sit at the bar and order a la carte.
As far as the food:
ocean trout tartare, beets, purslane, sorrel, frozen horeradish
PINOT NOIR ROSÉ > Cep > ’10 Sonoma Coast
-> looked like a pork bun, or an igloo. Delicious tartare, even better once the horseradish melted.
radishes in various forms, goat’s milk butter, mache, sunflower seeds
SAUVIGNON ROSE > Xavier Frissant > ’09 Loire Valley
-> happily this was a salad. Beautiful, and accompanied by a lovely wine.
asparagus custard, sea urchin, beech mushroom, chorizo, jalapeno
CHENIN BLANC > Charles Bove > ’08 Vouvray
-> somewhat misconceived. Jalapeño ruined this dish, but honestly, why foam asparagus with bacon bits? I'd have been much happier with roasted vegetables and a spoon of sea urchin.
lamb sweetbreads, fava beans , ramps, daikon, mustard caviar
LACRIMA DI MORRO D’ALBA > Luciano Landi > ’08 Marche
-> Wow. And then again, wow. Neither of us had eaten lamb sweetbreads before. They were rich and flavorful, and a huge portion. We preferred the additional glass of wine, which had more acidity. This is where Commonwealth really shines.
blood orange sorbet, fennel soda
->refreshing, as intended
peanut butter semifreddo, chocolate ganache, frozen popcorn
TAWNY PORT > Quinta de la Rosa > Douro, Portugal
-> This sounded awful to me, but I loved it, like a home-made Snickers ice cream. Not sure aobut the "popcorn"--it didn't really need salted butter. The port was good too.
Overall, a very enjoyable dinner. I still think Commonwealth has an identity problem. It's a bargain compared to Atelier Crenn, but it's not Atelier Crenn either. It's also not Mr. Pollo--or Delfina. (We spent $250 all in.)
The most successful dishes were earthy and hearty and soulful; the least were chef's experiments. I would like to see a couple of choices on the tasting menu if the whole table has to order it--at least two entrees and two desserts.
I don't know that I'd feel as positive if not for the great service and wine. But I'll definitely return.
3621 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110
561 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110
3127 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94123
I went to Commonwealth in early September, and like most others here, thought it was an exciting meal with great service for a very fair price.
I returned last night, a bit nervous about whether it would live up to my high expectations. And am happy to report that it did.
They are transitioning to a fall menu, so there were some new items for us to try. We also decided to have some of the remaining summer items, while they were still available. We had:
Grilled chicken livers, brown rice-black pepper cracker, saba. This is a new menu item, and these were lovely. A nice hint of smokiness from the grill, with the light crispness of the cracker and the tang of the saba to cut the richness.
Garden tomatoes & basil, black olive crumble, etc. I rarely order salads at restaurants because I make them a lot at home and consider them overpriced for the cost of the ingredients and labor involved. But the raves about this dish were warranted and I enjoyed every bite. Those gorgeous tomatoes with the crunchy, lacey smoked bread were a treat that will have to last me until next summer.
Scallop crudo, grapefruit, celery root, mint. This was a more delicate dish than the sort I'm usually drawn to, but I loved it. The silky texture of the raw scallop and the subtle flavors of the accompaniments that accented, rather than hid the sweetness of the fish were brilliant.
Coconut poached halibut, sea beans, grapes, little gem lettuces, Thai spices. Very sophisticated interplay of flavors and textures, And I could have eaten a whole plateful of the lightly grilled lettuce.
Grilled lamb cheeks, chanterelles, cauliflower, hazelnut, douglas fir. This was also a new item - a very rich and earthy dish that we enjoyed a great deal. The lamb had a melting texture similar to confit, with roasted cauliflower and crisp chanterelles in a fairly light jus-type sauce, and a pool of the douglas fir oil off to the side.
We finished with the cinnamon mille-fuille - the only repeat dish from our first visit, and also the only dessert besides pie I've ever seen my husband even care about. Although I am generally neither a chocolate nor a marshmallow person, I like this a lot. The not-too-sweet marshmallow, with the warm spiciness of the cardamom, is really delicious. I could eat a whole bowl of just the burnt honey ice cream that's served with it.
Service was excellent, and it was a special evening out, as we'd hoped it would be. My only regret is that in our desire to try new items, we did not order the squid this time. I hope it remains on the menu for our next visit.
We went to Commonwealth on January 16, 2011. Our table of 6 opted for the tasting menu with 2 vegetarians.
Drinks - We ordered 2 bottles of an Oregon (Willamette Valley) pinot noir that I won't even try to name. One of our friends is our resident sommelier and she ordered the bottles for us - the wine was excellent. We also opted for the liquid nitrogen pomegranate cocktail which was fantastic. It tasted like an intensely flavored adult slushy.
Amuse bouche - a cauliflower soup with an Italian parsley oil. Excellent, warm and complex. Complimented the chilly San Francisco evening perfectly.
First course - Foie gras bon bon, apple, vanilla, Szechuan peppercorn. Decadent and delicious. The foie gras was whipped into a light and fluffy mousse and just melted into your mouth and dipped in a dark chocolate. I could have ate 4-5 pieces of this and just walked out a happy man.
Second course - baby beets, fresh goat cheese, watercress, black olive, hazelnut. The beets were just delicious. Fresh, flavorful, and a deep red color. The goat cheese was soft, fluffy, tangy, but also just melted in your mouth. The hazelnut was subtle, but added a nice compliment to the tartness of the goat cheese.
Third course - dungeness crab and sea urchin risotto, lemongrass, bergamot, chervil. The risotto was cooked al dente. The earthiness of the risotto tasted great with the crab and urchin. The uni was decadent, but did not overwhelm any of the other flavors of the dish.
Fourth course - sweetbreads, chestnut veloute, celery, asian pear, truffle cream. Probably one of the best sweetbread dishes I have ever had.
Dessert courses - blood orange sorbet with fennel soda; peanut butter semifreddo with chocolate ganache; and a frozen sauvignon dessert that I forgot to jot down. My favorite was the semifreddo because it tasted like gourmet reeses peanut buttercup.
I am still pleasantly surprised that Chef Fox charges less than $100 for this tasting menu (well under $100 at $60 to be precise with $10 going to the SF Food Bank). His food is fun, playful, but very thoughtful and precise. The execution is what you would expect from a high end Napa restaurant, but the playfulness of the food is what you would expect from a Chicago or Portland restaurant. Chef Fox is able to bridge quality and creativity at a very affordable price. My only regret is that I wish I still lived in San Francisco as I would be a regular at this restaurant.
2224 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110
This will be an unpopular post. I'm completely baffled. Emperor's clothes? we went tonight for our anniversary dinner. I was so excited to try this place, based on all the rave reviews, and based on my love of Tartine. We had: nori chips with a foam malt vinegar (everyone gets this), shishito peppers with goat cheese and rose petals, chilled squash soup, corn custard with uni, squid with marrow and tamarind, and young hen with spot prawns, and for dessert we tried the white russian coffee ice cream with vodka gelatin.
I liked the chips with the foamy vinegar, which was creamy and tart, but melted into its liquid form after a few minutes. But that was fine.
The shishito peppers were spicy - which i liked. woman next to us felt they were too hot and asked for a glass of milk. I talked to the waitress about the difference between shishito and padron peppers - how every now and then you get a hot padron but mostly they're mild - and she said that in just the space of a week the peppers had all turned fiery hot - but there was no disclaimer on the menu. Our waitress did forewarn us, but we like spicy food, and they went well with the creamy goat cheese, and the rose petals (which were scarce, so i only actually got a taste of rose, my BF didn't).
The soup was creamy and light, and refreshing on this hot night, but apart from a few slices of squash, tasted only of salty mint - if you got a bite with squash, or arugula, then it was good, both for the texture and a slight taste difference. the squash blossoms were ok tho a tad greasy - maybe they had sat a few minutes too long after frying. the blossoms came atop a salsa verde - best part of the dish. i couldn't taste the vadouvan at all.
I was most excited to try the corn custard with uni, lobster emulsion, chorizo, and jalapeno. The custard portion was ok, with little bites of corn, and the whole slices of uni were rich and gamy, what I expect from uni, but the lobster emulsion was all but undetectable – I got a whiff of lobster on my first bite, but that was it. There was no evidence at all of chorizo. The whole thing was a creamy kind of comfort food dish, kind of like a congee, but once the custard melted it was kind of soupy. There were little bites of something chewy, which we assumed was lobster, but they were flavorless. There were slices of red onion or shallot, which also gave some texture, but overall, the flavors were muddled and the dish was mild to the point of dullness, which was astounding to me with the list of ingredients. Not horrible, but not at all what we expected.
We then waited a good 20 minutes for our young hen and squid dishes. The squid was delicious – the only stand-out of the night, and it was really, really good. A nice smokiness, perfectly tender, and the marrow inside was flavorful (tho oddly chunky rather than smooth, but not a bad thing), and perfectly offset by the tamarind smear on the plate. A really well conceived and executed dish – what I expected from the whole meal – and was so startled by because it was the first time during the meal that I was wowed. The only clunker were the shelling beans, which had no place in the dish and added nothing .
The hen was completely flavorless. Nicely cooked tender slices of flavorless fowl, over a “chocolate-almond emulsion” – not a hint of these – or any other – flavor in the sauce. The whole, crispy spot prawns were good and smokey, and very tasty, but there was such a contrast between them and the hen that they didn’t seem to belong on the same plate. The spinach gave a bit of flavor, but the few bites of artichoke added nothing and didn’t seem to belong in the dish. Hen and artichoke – usually a great pairing! I wouldn’t have ordered this dish myself –the BF did, as he doesn’t like fish very much, and the menu is seafood slanted, but even so – it was a huge disappointment.
Dessert: the coffee ice cream was good, with a nice white chocolate cream, and some type of cake underneath it, can’t remember what now, but the vodka jelly thing was a distraction at best. There were whole, very crunchy coffee beans strewed about, which added good texture and a deep flavor, but they were so hard as to cause fear of cracking a tooth. I usually don’t even get dessert, but we were still hungry, after all those dishes!
I had a nice Rose colored Pinot Grigio from Santa Barbara, which I really enjoyed.
I had such high hopes, and now I don’t ever feel the need to go back. And again, I’m truly puzzled by the rave reviews here. For most dishes to be so underwhelming, this can't just be attributed to an off night. Comparisons to Commis, which I loved, are without merit to me, because although the prices at Commonwealth are more reasonable, the flavors are just not there.
3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611
Had dinner there last night and it was awesome! Thanks for all the suggestions, I think ordering a la carte is the best way to go. Some things we got:
Crisp Pig Ears
Squid stuffed with Marrow
Corn Custard and Uni
Spot Prawns & Hen
Overall everything was very good with unique and exciting flavor combinations. Service was really good and I thought the kitchen did a great job pacing the courses. Personally I would make the comparison of this place to Sons & Daughters which is also another solid place. I don't get gnocchi often but these were really good! Very light and the mushrooms and truffle oil were a great compliment. A couple little components might not of worked for me in certain dishes but overall I appreciate the risks and bold flavors.
Sons & Daughters
708 Bush St, San Francisco, CA 94108
I’ll add my praise to all the other posts in this thread. Every year, there are a handful of restaurants that make my most-memorable-meals-of-the-year list. This last year the list includes Cragie on Main in Cambridge, MA, Spinasse in Seattle, WA, Chez Pascal in Providence, RI, Okan in San Diego, CA, and the always amazing Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas. To that list I must now add Commonwealth in San Francisco. It's very hard to put the Commonwealth experience into words that do it justice. There is the creativity, the careful balance of flavors, and near perfect execution of the dishes, the extraordinarily artistic plating, and knowledgeable service -- but there is a synergy at work here that, in combination, raises each of these separate elements several notches. We had a party of five, so I simply ordered everything on the menu, 13 dishes in all, plus 3 out of 4 desserts. Three out of the five in our party, including me, tasted every dish. With two exceptions, the food was beyond good. Sublime is the word that comes to mind. It's hard to single out favorites, but the minty chilled squash soup with a lovely grace note of vadouvan oil; the compressed watermelon with tofu, nori, and tagarashi; the impossibly light cloud-like gnocchi with corn and maitake mushrooms; the exquisitely tender marrow-stuffed squid; and the grilled lamb tongue all drew moans of pleasure and words of high praise. The presentation was equally wonderful. Our group included an artist, and when the marrow-stuffed squid was placed on the table, he, along with the rest of us, marveled at the artistry of the composition. If it were possible, I would have hung it on my wall at home. All of this at a very reasonable price point that is simply amazing considering the quality of the food and the care taken with its presentation. There were a couple of misses which, looking at the big picture, were relatively minor. The goat included both shoulder and loin, and the loin was tough, chewy, and didn't deliver on flavor. One of the desserts was Andante Dairy Contralto cheese that was under-ripe and consequently way short on both flavor and texture. The hard surfaces in the room made the noise level unpleasantly high and made it difficult for me to hear what my tablemates were saying, especially those that weren’t sitting right next to me. But even though I tasted virtually everything on the menu, I'd happily return here again and again, even if the menu remained the same. Alas, the fact that I live in Seattle will make this a little difficult. Commonwealth delivered about as close to a home run as you can get, and at an extraordinary value. It doesn't get much better than this. Bouquets to Melanie Wong for suggesting Commonwealth.
Why with all thes posts doesn't Commonwealth appear in the upper right hand corner?
re: Justin L
I actually think a lot of people are going the ala carte route. You can get some of the dishes from the tasting menu on the ala carte menu. I haven't ordered off the ala carte menu, but just from looking at the tables around me when I was there for the tasting menu, I would recommend maybe sharing a couple of starters and then each order an entree. When ordering entrees, you can also ask the server if they'd recommend getting any sides because sometimes dishes in fancier places like this just serve the main ingredient and that's it. Let us know what you think of the ala carte menu!
I went last week and tried the tasting menu with wine pairings. I was impressed by the creativity of the dishes, a bit of molecular gastronomy in the goat dish with the yogurt blobs, but overall I did leave a bit hungry. I think, looking at the other tables around me, that the regular menu is the best route to go here because you get a bit more portions and there are just as creative dishes on the regular menu compared to the tasting.
I really liked the chilled summer squash soup and the uni egg custard from the tasting menu. The goat was pretty good, and probably the only decent sized dish, but the foie gras was a bit underwhelming and the final dessert plate was a bit mixed (not a fan of flavored marshmallow).
The service was super nice, although the girls at the front seem a bit inexperienced or young because they seemed a bit confused.
The tasting menu is $60 and $10 goes to a charity, which is nice. If you add wine pairing, it goes up to $90. I wasn't in love with the wine pairings. There were interesting selections, but the matches didn't seem to sing to me. But decent size pours.
You can check out my photos of the tasting menu here: http://singleguychef.blogspot.com/201...
re: TNT Adventures
I thought the prices were very reasonable - the food actually reminds me a lot of Commis', but at a lower price point and in a noisier, more cramped environment. I loved the black cod and the lamb tongue. The gnocchi is almost identical to the prior version at Bar Tartine - it was one of my favorite dishes there, but it didn't seem to mesh well with the rest of the menu.
The silverware is the same as Commis' as well... I'm looking forward to seeing if Bauer blasts Commonwealth for being pretentious too, or if he just saves that for ambitious restaurants in the East Bay.
561 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110
3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611
re: TNT Adventures
I went on Friday. It's great from a Socal resident perspective. The cooking is superb, the portions are decent sized, the ingredients are fresh and highlight the season. Everything was tasty and not too experimental. Prices are more than fair.
You have Ludobites here in LA getting national acclaim doing weird dishes that work about half the time and charging about 50% more. Commonwealth is by no means trying to hard in my book.
I highly recommend it.