Commonwealth (San Francisco, CA)

Commonwealth
2224 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Dining date: 11/26/11

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Given that I only spend a couple of weeks a year in San Francisco nowadays, I don’t return to restaurants as much as I’d like, opting instead to try as many new places as I can.

I thoroughly enjoyed my meal at Commonwealth last December…so much that I wanted to make a return trip during the Thanksgiving weekend. Opentable was not on my side having only a 5:30 reservation available, but I must’ve checked that site dozens of times during the course of the week and stumbled upon a 9pm slot (seats at the bar are available on a first-come basis, though). The timing would be perfect; it was just enough time to see USC take a 29-0 lead over UCLA at halftime.

Commonwealth offers an a la carte menu of plates ranging from $6 to $16 as well as a 6 course tasting at $65. It’s a great value, made even more impressive by the fact that $10 from each tasting menu goes straight to a local charity (currently, it’s Mission Graduates). Additionally, the restaurant was willing to add any a la carte items to our tasting, splitting it evenly into three equal portions at no extra charge. Effectively, extra courses were at most $5pp – awesome. We opted to tack on three extra courses to our tasting (it amounted to $77pp), and the kitchen was kind enough to add an additional one on the house.

housemade pear-star anise soda

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This was a fun soda. Star anise was definitely front and center, but there was a subtle pear flavor as well.

potato chips with seaweed

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More exciting than a typical bread basket, these were tasty and addicting. The seaweed flavor was fairly subtle but you knew it was there, and each bite had a wonderful crunch.

grilled chicken tsukune, umeboshi, shiso, sushi rice cracker

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This was one of the a la carte dishes. Basically meatballs, the chicken was moist (dry chicken meatballs are the worst!), and I tasted a little bit of lemon essence and spiciness. The rice cracker added some delicate texture. A nice start, for sure.

The kitchen then brought out two amuse bouche.

geoduck crudo

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chestnut & celery root soup, chestnut creme fraiche

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The bite of geoduck was chewy, slightly fishy and smoky. The soup was very comforting with warm, earthy flavors and a lingering sweetness. A little bit of creme fraiche countered with a tart flavor that also added some richness.

foie gras bon bons, quince, tonka bean, Szechuan peppercorn
GRENACHE BLANC > Domaine Fontanel > ’99 Rivesaltes, France

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Amazing. The creamy foie gras was encapsulated in a shell of hardened chocolate. I thought this was a great combination of flavors and textures, totally resembling one of my favorite desserts. The quince was a nice touch as well with a refreshing, complementary sweetness. The grenache blanc pairing was one of the best I’ve had in recent memory.

Jerusalem artichoke, onions cooked in hay, chickweed, quinoa, quail egg
ALBANA > Tre Monti > ’10 Emilia Romagna, Italy

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The artichoke was prepared in two ways, a creamy heart portion and a fried, crispy portion. I thought both of these were tasty, while quinoa added some extra body and earthy tones. Texturally, this dish really intrigued. The quail egg was fun, providing a little more richness. This dish had a lot of components that really came together.

carrot, sprouting broccoli, yuba, puffed buckwheat, coconut milk, thai spices

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This dish (from the a la carte menu) was compliments of the kitchen. The carrots were clearly spotlighted, crunchy and sweet. I liked the extra texture of the crispy puffed buckwheat and I’ve been loving yuba lately.

scallop, pumpkin, vadouvan, black rice, nasturtium, nettle emulsion
GRILLO > Di Giovanna > ’09 Sicily, Italy

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Again a duo of preparations for the main ingredient: a seared scallop was paired with dehydrated slivers. Interesting. The scallop was good, nicely seared, and I liked it in tandem with the sweet and creamy pumpkin. The black rice added some extra body while the dehydrated scallop was a nice touch – it tasted of the sea but had a chewy, almost leathery texture. Fun, but I probably won’t be craving a whole bag of them. Colorful presentation.

petrale sole, wrapped in feuille de brik, nicoise olive, celery root, grape, spinach, verjus

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I thought the fish was cooked well here, and the feuille de brik wrapping provided a very delicate texture (almost resembling crispy fish skin). I thought the olive filling may have been slightly overpowering though, as the fish’s flavor was pretty mild. I wasn’t sure I was going to, but I enjoyed the celery, grape and spinach flavors here.

quail, parsnip, chicories, beurre rouge, fig leaf, vanilla
CARIGNAN > Broc Cellars > ’10 Alexander Valley, California

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I thought the quail had good flavor, tender and cooked well. Also, I liked the sweetness of the vanilla and parsnip in tandem with the bitter fig leaves. My dad thought the meat was slightly overdone though, and I did think one of my four roulades fell into this category (the other three were perfect). He also found a few pieces of bone/cartilage within his meat…yikes. Disconcertingly, I’ve been finding bones/shells in a surprising number of higher-end meals in SF lately (ahem Benu, Coi) and it’s just not fun.

coffee rubbed beef cheeks, salsify, pickled walnut, beet-horseradish gremolata

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This was our last savory course and another from the a la carte menu. The meat was expectantly very tender, and the coffee rub definitely came through, adding some depth. I didn’t think the salsify and beets were able to stand up to the richness of the beef and coffee flavors, but I didn’t mind too much.

green apple sorbet, honey-coriander granita

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The sorbet was as advertised; the flavor of green apple was bright and clear. The slightly sweet, slightly herbal granita was a nice touch.

peanut butter semifreddo, chocolate ganache, frozen popcorn
TAWNY PORT > Quinta do Infantado > Douro, Portugal

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The peanut butter flavor was clearly upfront, and I enjoyed it with the chocolate and butterscotch. Classic flavor combinations. The frozen popcorn was interesting but I didn’t think it added much flavor.

bruleed marshmallow infused with douglas fir

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Lastly, we were served one more thing. A marshmallow was caramelized and poked with a twig, and a pine essence really came through. How seasonal!

The wine pairing was very reasonable at 5 pours for $30. The restaurant even refilled the glass a number of times for our supplemental courses. Of the pairings, the grenache blanc was easily my favorite, paired with the chocolate and creamy foie gras.

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My meal at Commonwealth was both interesting and delicious. In fact, it was one of the more interesting meals I’d had in some time. For some reason, I can’t think of anywhere in LA that has the same combination of such refined dining in a very casual atmosphere. I liked the way that chef Jason Fox would take the central ingredient and often prepare it in multiple ways on the plate.  Accompaniments were well thought-out but never took away from the focus of the dish. This was quite possibly my favorite sub-$100 meal of the year. Now, why doesn’t this restaurant have a Michelin star?

Service was very attentive; silverware was changed and the entire table wiped down after every single course – twelve times. Even when I’m pretty sure it didn’t need it. The French Laundry didn’t even do that.


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