Wednesday, December 18, 2013


An unassuming store-front on Mission St, covered with graffiti hides an intimate and cozy restaurant, Commonwealth. Billed as a progressive American restaurant, I really had little idea of what to expect when I made the reservation.

We arrived there for our 545 reservation and were promptly seated by a very friendly waiter. We'd already decided to have the tasting menu, so the only decision was whether we wanted to add anything else that took our fancy from the a la carte menu; of course we did.

Seaweed house-made chips, malt vinegar mousse
It was refreshing to see that the 'bread' basket wasn't actually a bread basket. Instead, we were treated to a bowl of house-made chips, accented with slightly salty specks of seaweed but what made it interesting as the malt vinegar mousse. Much less sour than I expected, the combination ended up being a very moreish snack that was reminiscent of salt and vinegar chips, but classier.  

Somehow I missed out on a picture, but there was an amuse bouche of fluke with smashed artichoke with fermented blackberry. A simple bite to pique our interest. 

The first course of the tasting menu was an interesting spin on the classic oyster starter.

Oysters poached in their shells, asian pear, horseradish, sorrel, fingerlime
I've never had oysters poached in their shells and it turns out that the flavour is very similar to fresh oysters, but lighter. I think I would have preferred fresh oysters in this dish, simply because there wer a lot of elements that overpowered the oyster, namely the sorrel and horseradish. It was a fun dish nevertheless with the nashi pear adding unexpected bites of sweetness and the fingerlime adding a slight citrus tang (and just looking awesome, and it's from Australia so extra points). 

THe next dish was one of the highlights of the night.

Dungeness crab, sea urchin, buhhda's hand kosho, sea grape, shellfish custard 
The custard was just so silky smooth and the flavours were just luxurious - it's hard to go wrong with quality crab and sea urchin. I'm fairly sure the menu had 'Buddha' spelled wrong, but the waiter informed me that Buhhda/Buddha's hand kosho is a citrus pepper fermentation, which would explain the simultaneously tangy and spicy flavours the little cubes added to the dish. A brilliant dish that is simultaneously memorable and restrained.

I'll be honest that I liked the next dish quite a bit less.

Fromage blanc with chicories, pomegranate, walnuts, mint, and persimmon leather
The bitter taste of the chicories overpowered everything; the pomegranate and persimmon were only slightly sweet, and the nature of the white cheese underneath meant that it was never going to have a strong taste (although the texture was lovely). I struggled to figure out what the crumbled white things were on type as they had an almost indefinable taste but melted as soon as you put it in your mouth. They know how to keep things interesting at Commonwealth. 

We took a slight diversion from the tasting menu with a choice from the a la carte menu.

Sweetbreads poached in beeswax, hearts of palm, cardoon, pear, truffle, chestnut cream
Eating brains makes you smarter right? Even if they don't, this dish was delicious with the very tender texture of the sweetbreads accented by the creamy truffle and chestnut sauce poured at the table. The cardoon is that celery-like thing in the picture, that tasted more like artichoke. What a strange vegetable. Turns out eating can make you smarter - or in this case, broaden your general knowledge.

I was looking forward to the next dish quite a bit, but it didn't quite live up to expectations.

Grilled venison, pumpkin, kale, black mole, huckleberry jus
Everytime I see venison on the menu my heart does a little dance of joy. While the flavours in this dish worked relatively well, I found the meat a little on the tough side. I so really wanted this to be a brilliant dish, but it only ended up being good. Crispy kale chips are always a winner though.

Celery sorbet, verjus soda
To refresh the palate was yet another unexpected combination of flavours - celery sorbet is just downright strange. The verjus soda was slightly sour as expected and after a while, the slight sweetness of the sorbet which seemed lacking at first, was just right. We wouldn't want to overload the tastebuds when there was an spectacular dessert to come.

Beer meringue, chocolate ganache, pretzel crumble, crème fraîche ice cream
I love this dessert so much that I want to recreate it at home, perhaps in tart form. I couldn't taste the 'beer' in the meringue, but I don't think that's much to worry about. The chocolate ganache was smooth and obviously used the best quality chocolate available and who can argue with dark, dark chocolate? A great combination of textures and flavours and finished the meal on a very high note.

Not to say there weren't small treats to send us on our way.

Smoked paprika caramels and ginger orange marshmallows
More interesting flavours in the sweet, not-too-sticky caramels and lightly fluffy marshmallows.

Commonwealth is a great place to have a meal, and it appeared like the majority of diners chose the tasting menu which has the option of letting you try a little bit of lots of textures and flavours for a very reasonable price. There are some not so brilliant moments, but overall, Commonwealth knows how to exposure your palate to interesting combinations and to put on a show. The service is friendly and efficient and the ambiance is relaxed yet classy. A winning combination, but be sure to book ahead as they're busy.

2224 Mission St, San Francisco
Sun-Thu 530pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 530pm-11pm

Commonwealth on Urbanspoon