Restaurant Review: Commonwealth

Commonwealth has been on my must-try list for a while, and I finally had the pleasure of dining there recently.  Commonwealth is located in the Mission District of San Francisco and is an offshoot of Mission Street Food headed by chef Jason Fox.  It continues the Mission Street Food tradition of innovative food paired with a charity mission.  There are seats at the bar overlooking the open kitchen where I got to observe the chefs in action as they prepared a six course tasting menu that sounded very adventurous.  There were all sorts of fun culinary techniques on display: immersion circulators, microwave sponge cake, nitrous foams, liquid nitrogen.

The meal started off with complimentary house-made potato chips, which were mildly flavored with nori and served as a great vehicle for the malt vinegar foam.  Next was an amuse bouche of raw fluke, popcorn, and coconut, a really nice bite.  The actual tasting menu then started with caviar served on waffle potato chips with potatoes, creme fraiche, scrambled egg foam, and fines herbs.  The presentation was beautiful and a new way to enjoy a classic combination of flavors.

The next dish, Foie Gras with Brioche Soldiers was my favorite.  The foie gras is rolled in an oat crust, and the texture of the oats provides contrast to the creamy, fatty foie gras.  Each little bite of a combination of the foie gras, crisped, buttery brioche, and rhubarb jam was perfect.  In between bites there was pickled rhubarb and ginger candy and the beautiful Hearts of Fire leaves.

The next course was a shaved carrot and radish salad with ash-coated goat cheese, quinoa, and herbs.  Beautiful presentation again.  The menu is very thoughtfully planned, as this course was a nice change of pace from the rich dish before.

Sweetbreads, which are calf thymus, a single prawn, fava beans, and pasta in a smoked ham jus was next.  I was a little apprehensive at first about eating the sweetbreads, but they had a very mild flavor.  The ham jus (broth) was really tasty.  They have a very liberal substitution policy with the tasting menu, so we were able to taste several dishes from the a la carte menu in addition to the ones on the tasting menu, including a sturgeon with pumpernickel crust and brussel sprouts, and lamb’s tongue with artichokes and meyer lemon sauce.

Next was a palate cleanser of blood orange sherbet and chantilly creme.  The attention to detail was quite impressive.  For example, liquid nitrogen was used to chill the glass serving dish for the sherbet course.  This was followed by dessert, a peanut butter semifreddo in a chocolate ganache, caramel sauce, and frozen “popcorn.”  We also had another substitution, bruleed banana and frozen chicory mousse.  The mousse was dipped and rolled in liquid nitrogen, making a hard shell.  When the shell was cracked open, the soft mousse inside was revealed.  This was a great dessert, with the slight bitterness of the chicory contrasting with the caramelized bananas.  Finally, some delicious truffles with intense coffee flavor were sent over with the bill.

The tasting menu price is $65, $10 of which goes to charity, which made me feel a little less guilty about spending so much on one meal.  That being said, the tasting menu is a good value considering the exceptional quality of the six courses served, especially compared to other restaurants in the Bay Area.  New dishes appear every week, and the tasting menu turns over quarterly.  There is an optional wine pairing for $30, where a generous pour of wine accompanies each course.  The provenance and composition of each wine is explained as well as the reason the wine was chosen for the pairing.  Also available is an a la carte menu where similar sized portion plates are available for $12-16.  The decor is clean, modern, and inviting, and the service is very friendly, knowledgeable, patient, and accommodating of special requests.  Highly recommended.

Link to restaurant website here.

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