Dining Out: Commonwealth

A Dining Experience Review

Type: Fine Dining       Food: 9/10       Service: 8/10     Value for money: 8/10

http://www.commonwealthsf.com/

2224 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

Restaurant notes:

  • A portion of profits from every tasting menu sold at Commonwealth is given back to local charities in the community.
  • The menu here is extremely vegetarian friendly – the degustation comes in both vegetarian and pescetarian options with no extra charge
  • Commonwealth currently has one Michelin star
  • Best tableware I’ve ever seen. Hands down.

When I was a child growing up in Indonesia, mum and dad would drive me around in the back seat of their retro Toyota Kijang through the bustling streets of Jakarta until I would fall sound asleep.

It was always humid and warm. So when it got too hot my parents would take me to the car, crank up the air conditioning for a bit, put on some music and drive around the city until I was no longer a restless angry toddler red-faced from the heat. I would nod off as we drove past the street vendors, the glittering malls and hotels around the HI roundabout, and the dilapidated yet essential warungs. When the humidity became particularly unbearable during the rainy season, the sound of cars whooshing across wet roads and the honking of the frustrated commuters would be my lullaby. 

Fast forward 20 odd years later and I’m on a 16 or so hour flight, blinking my eyes open after a solid 13 hour nap in squishy cattle class seats. That childhood sleeping ritual I was just telling you about has given me some sort of super power  – I have no problems whatsoever falling asleep in moving vehicles, and it comes in handy when I have to travel. Kudos ma and pa!

This time I’m en route to San Francisco, with a slim 1 and a half week’s notice and an almost non-existent visa (it’s a long story). Despite the incredibly inconvenient timing and complications, I am excited about the trip. My colleague Branique from Melbourne is also joining me, and we have agreed to take off a few extra working days to explore the city together before heading back home. Her real name is actually Monique but:

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#starbucksfail

No complications with our landing though. Our plane glides down onto the tarmac smoothly, with hardly a bump or any unsettling jolts that might leave one with the feeling of heaviness in the heart and stomach. Perhaps out of love, I participate in another ritual of mine as soon as the seatbelt signs turn off. I quickly text Josh  “10/10”. A brief opinion of how well the pilot has managed to get me back on solid ground. Messages we exchange to let each other know we arrived safe at our destinations when flying.

Aaaand we’re here! Hello California! Hellooo San Fran!

For our first night in San Francisco, Branique and I decide to do something special for dinner. A nice drink somewhere and then off to check out the city famous for it’s established food scene. And boy what a food scene it has! I’m curious about the Michelin Star rating system as it doesn’t exist back home, and the only other Michelin Star restaurant I have dined at was Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong a few years ago. We agree that we will need to try at least one whilst we are here, so at our hotel room, after some intense research, Branique and I excitedly book an early sitting at Commonwealth: a one Michelin Star restaurant that describes itself as “progressive American cuisine”.

Commonwealth is housed in a single story shop with a frosted glass, nameless front that is easy to miss if you are casually strolling along Mission Street. The entrance is through a side door haloed by a large, brightly coloured mural of…donuts and street lamps? Even more confusing are the big bold red letters sprawled beside the mural that reads “Hunt’s Quality Donuts”. On a small wooden plaque to the left of the door is Commonwealth’s name etched in a modest font.

“Welcome Ladies!”

The restaurant is already quite full as we walk in at 6.30pm, with only two tables available and both are reserved. A casually chic front-of-house in her swishy black maxi and earthy scarf draped across her shoulders glides us over to a table and presents their simple menus. Everything is clean and bright, and the last bit of the sunlight seeping through those frosted glass windows gilds the space with a soft, sunny filter. Air plants, exposed wooden beams, forest wreaths, Scandinavian furniture, and fashionable industrial lighting – this is a very, very trendy place. 

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A modern twist on salt and vinegar chips: crispy golden potato chips dusted with seaweed salt and a side of vinegar foam.

They offer a 6 course tasting menu for a reasonable $80 per person, or an a la carte menu with items ranging from $14 – $20. Branique and I opt for the tasting menu and a glass of wine each to start, and our waitress swiftly brings us a table snack as we wait for our drinks (image featured above). It’s a bright, clever and tasty dish, but I am unsure about the vinegar foam. The flavours are there but personally I find the texture of foam unsettling and off-putting and it’s presence in this dish seems sort of pointless. Love the seaweed salt dusted over the perfectly crispy shards of golden potatoes. My wine arrives and I’ve chosen the Godello which is savoury and energetic, perfect to stir an appetite.

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Amuse bouche of steamed egg custard, spring onion, squid

The clean and bright theme is carried through to the dishes here. Our amuse bouche promptly arrives after we polish off the table snacks. It is cool, light and savoury – mellow Japanese flavours and a well cooked bite-sized teaser of squid. Everything looks as if it has been created by woodland fairies. Even the tableware is somewhat ethereal. Our egg custard looks as if it is nestled inside an ice sculpture or a water droplet.

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Poached oysters with basil seeds, creme fraiche, apple fennel broth, coastal herbs

The egg custard is followed by our entree shortly after. I’m sad to see more foam, but it’s cameo appearance in the dish has more of a purpose, and I am impressed. It will transport you to the ocean – perhaps beach combing around the shallow rock pools. There are waves kissing your feet as they tumble onto the shore. Looking down at my plate, it almost does seem like I’m looking at a mini ecosystem inside of a rock pool. The poached oysters are rich and velvety. Now I’m a fan of oysters, but for those of you who have yet to be wooed by them – this would be the dish to do it. The apple fennel broth is fresh and citrusy, masking any overly fishy smells that may turn oyster newbies away. The foam is creme fraiche – very clever! It melts into the dish and adds an extra level or richness.

 

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Abalone and sweet pea dumplings with shiitake mushrooms, yuzu and a scrambled egg mousse

I mention to Branique that I’m really enjoying the choice of tableware at Commonwealth so far. Whilst I am usually an advocate for traditional china and silver, I love a bit of table theatre. Our second dish from the tasting menu is another homage to the sea, sitting in a bowl that reminds me of clam shells. This is an interesting dish. Very complex. The flavour pairings here are playful and smart. Buttery  abalone absorbs the meaty, earthy flavour of the shiitake mushrooms, adding richness and depth to dish. The yuzu comes in the form of little droplets of gel that burst in my mouth with every mouthful, adding an element of surprise. The peas – another earthy yet sweet flavour -tricks the brain into thinking that this is not a seafood dish at all.  Scrambled egg mousse balances out the sweetness of the peas with it’s savoury notes.

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Artichoke, black truffle, burnt lemon, parmesan and wild greens on brioche

 

So I suspect that Commonwealth have definitely employed woodland fairies to work in their kitchen. Our next dish looks like a mini garden. This is actually one of my two favourite dishes from the tasting menu: artichoke, black truffle, burnt lemon and parmesan are scattered generously over a buttery, rich and crumbly brioche that is lightly toasted. A small portion of a creamy parmesan and truffle infused cream accompanies the toast – I notice a thin layer of this slathered on the toast beneath the toppings. Despite it’s delicate and bright appearance, this dish is rich and heavy. The artichoke is so creamy, nutty and savoury all at the same time that it almost feels like I am eating a really good cheese on toast.

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Grilled venison, coal roasted sweet potato, swiss chard, fermented turnip, tangerine and coffee

Red meat comes in the form of an exceptionally cooked venison (I like my meat on the rarer side – which is the correct way of eating red meat :P) in a dish that uses a dusting of aromatic coffee to wake up the protein and tangerine and sweet potato to keep the palette fresh in between bites. In contrast to our previous dish, this is quite light and refreshing for something meat based. The tangerine is a little too intense for me and I find myself struggling to take the smallest portions of it to make sure I don’t overpower the flavour of the venison. Excuse the quality of the next couple of photos as I inevitably lose lighting throughout the course of the evening.

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Palette cleanser: celery sorbet in verjus soda

I don’t understand how they managed to make the palette cleanser work, but it works. Celery sorbet? It works! The strong celery flavour and smell is masked by the punchy verjus soda which is lip smackingly tart and delicious. It is sweet without being too sweet. I’m seeing a pattern here in which the chef seems to show off his ability to pair unusual ingredients together in every dish, without being pretentiously experimental. The following dessert is one of the most impressive examples of this…

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Dessert: Porcini churro, pine mousse, tonka bean cream, chocolate matcha branches

Branique and I spend a moment analysing our dessert as it arrives at our table. It smells absolutely amazing, but we are perplexed by the ingredients. Porcini? Pine mousse? Tonka bean? Chocolate Matcha? What? Everything apart from the chocolate matcha doesn’t seem to belong in a dessert (unless you know what a Tonka bean is). It is as if the chef had been given an extremely challenging Masterchef mystery box challenge. The pine mousse is frozen by liquid nitrogen it seems, as it arrives on our table smoking. It is creamy, nutty and not too sweet – almost like pistachio ice cream but lighter. The tonka bean cream is more of a fragrance rather than a flavour, and we realise this is what makes the dish smells so amazing. It’s incredibly strong – channeling everything from vanilla bean, cinnamon, caramel to cloves. The porcini churro is possibly the  most amazing churro I have ever eaten in my life. It is bitter sweet with a deep and earthy flavour thanks to the porcini mushrooms. I could eat this every day. What a clever dessert.

Leaving Commonwealth, you’ll feel a sense of enlightenment and food comprehension. You walk out surprised by the many different ingredients you’ve tasted in one sitting, and you probably will end up talking about the experience for days, weeks, even months after. For the quality of the food, the initiative and purpose, the effort in detail, and the casual yet impeccable service of the very knowledgable staff, I almost cannot fault this restaurant. I encourage everyone to add it to their foodie list. In fact I implore you.

Happy feasting, and remember to mind your table manners.

 

 

 

 

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