[San Francisco, Mission] Commonwealth surprises and delights

There are Californian cuisine restaurants that serve the standards- Berkshire pork chop, Liberty Farm duck, etc.

And then there is Commonwealth.

Saturday night I found myself in a last minute and unexpected situation of looking for a meal at a very late hour. As I perused the menus of a few places of the type that I don’t often eat at in recent years, Commonwealth’s menu caught my eyes (I had not been):

Squid noodle with egg yolk jam?

Sprouted rye porridge with vanilla?

Sweetbreads cooked in beeswax?

These dishes are either ones that are trying too hard to stand out, or the wonderful work of an unconventional kitchen that has the courage to chart a different course.

To be fair, I only tried 1 our of the 3 dishes above, but the entire meal so satisfied that I am quite inclined to believe that the latter is true.

Here’s what I had:

The amuse-bouche was dungeness crab meat with an oyster mousse with a nori cracker on the side. The mousse stood out with a deep herbal flavor delivered by a delightful combination of tarragon, parsley and other herbs.

Sea urchin squid noodles. The ‘noodles’ were squids cut into fettucini-width strips, coated with ink with the tempting option of mixing together with the decadent, sweet, creamy and savory urchin. The cubic jam was egg yolk congealed with dashi broth with the help of gelatin. A little acidity in the sauce livened up the dish.

Chanterelles- The pine smoked chanterelles covered with a light and tart dressing, along with the crispy pureed potato strips, did a fine job of scooping up the delicious mashed potato at the bottom. To call the puree mere mashed potato seem to be a rather big injustice. The puree, infused with the cool herbal and smoky flavors of burnt pine oil, combined with the rest and resulted in a complex, smoky and savory dish.

Sablefish- The kelp paste recall memories of seaweed, but was seasoned much more mildly and added a very savory touch to the dish. The radicchio invited a slightly bitter and salty dimension while the bright lemon sabayon brought creaminess, richness and saltiness to the delicate, flaky and perfectly cooked sablefish.

Huckleberry compote came with a light, sweet and tart lemon curd with a tiny hint of coconut, while the strips of frozen granitas added a very tart and bright flavor to the sweet huckleberry-sauce combination at the bottom. The compote easily won the heart of this diner who’s not normally eager for dessert.

The salted caramel with sea salt sprinkled on top was dense and slightly bitter. Its neighbor was the very tart, sweet, and very excellent calamansi pate de fruit. This pate de fruit, should they one day decide to sell them as boxed confections, would make a popular and fine pate de fruit. Easily comparable to or better than my favorite ones made somewhat locally- Made in Oregon.

The calamansi kombucha was mildly sweet with a touch of tartness.

Potato chips with aleppo pepper and malt vinegar foam.

The meal, while certainly not cheap in absolute terms, was in my eyes a rather wonderful steal among the finer Bay Area kitchens. The dishes were highly adept technically, but they all were very reasonably priced relative to the quality delivered. They were modest in size, but the prices (~$20) allow one to sample a good portion of the menu. A sizable portion of the tasting menu cost is donated to a local charity.

The one small fault that I found with the meal was the service. Server was friendly, but struggled with the details of the dishes. Perhaps he’s new? He also misunderstood and left out one of the dishes in the order. When the server asked about dessert when dessert wasn’t yet expected, its awkward for me, at their closing time, to inquire if its too late for the kitchen to fire up that dish. Despite not always getting it right the first time, the server always fixed it on the second try with enthusiasm. So I gave him credit for that.

This meal reminds me of a long-ago-meal at the now-defunct Ubuntu. Unexpected combinations of ingredients and flavors that looked like they might be too risky but somehow worked and combined brilliantly to more than sum of their parts. Jason Fox of Commonwealth may not be related to Jeremy Fox of Ubuntu. But these Foxes certainly share the common trait- a willingness to take risks in the kitchen and come up with daring dishes that may be too unusual in some eyes. But I am very grateful they choose/ chose to cook in the Bay Area.

I came across this review from Peter Lawrence Kane after I started eating, and I have to agree with Kane- Commonwealth is not that common.


ETA: Also just saw Bauer’s recent praises:


Great review - loved the read and your photos!

Let us know what you think if you went/ go! I am sometimes guilty of chasing the next shiny thing, but Commonwealth I think is a case of ‘if its good, its good’.

Returned to Commonwealth a couple of months ago, this time for the 15 course extended tasting menu.

Amuse Bouche- Salty dried squid with wasabi. Didn’t taste the wasabi. Dish was alright.

Smoked date from San Marco Farm. The date was smokey and had this intensely complex caramelized sweetness. Very good. This coming from a guy who doesn’t like eating dates much.

Smoked trout with tart tapioca balls on top to provide a sharp contrast with the sake lees adding a touch of bitterness to the dish. Good.

They then brought a course not on the menu:
Squash and squash blossom with smoked yogurt. The charred rice added a lot of unexpected umami, and became for me the focus of the dish. Nice.

Savory course from the sea. The sweet and rich uni sat side by side with the brightly tart rhubarb granita, with a few sweet and savory trout roes. The chrysanthemum gelee was subtle. The panna cotta yogurt was slightly tart. Good dish.

Seared scallop sitting on top of a corn pudding, essentially a corn-tasting sauce. The scallop combined very well with the mildly sweet corn pudding, with the slightly bitter chives adding a little crunchy texture. The seaweed butter was smooth, full of umami, and infused with savory seaweed.

Amberjack tart contained lightly cured amberjack, bitter greens, spicy citron kosho on top of some bland fava and a crumbly pastry crust that was salty and highly savory.

Huitlacoche and Oaxacan cheese ‘bun’. The cheese were in the middle. The huitlacoche provided a corn-y and earthy taste. Mixed with the slightly tart tomatillo sauce at the bottom, it was delicious.

The sweet nasturtium sorbet was salty and sweet. The charred peach was bland. The celery was intentionally salty to bring out the flavors. Sunflower seed was made into a pesto and charred.

Shrimp-y shrimp mousse with sweetbread cooked in beeswax. The sweetbread was sharply savory and not sweet. It was awesome. The popcorn puree tasted like, popcorn. The yuzu kosho milk at the bottom was tart, sweet and spicy at once. Pretty good dish.

Seaweed coated jowl was fatty and had plenty of umami. I didn’t like the texture of the seaweed coating the top of the mouth, however. Rice was crispy and toasty. The kimchee brought a pungent spicy flavor and the pork jowl was marinated well and cooked tender. The jowl was delicious.

Beets trio. The dried beets was salty sweet. The fresh beets was soft and sweet. Then there’s the slightly pickled beet. The sorrel sauce at the bottom was very good, and among the pickled beet, there’s also the pickled cucumber. Quinoa was puffed then placed on top of the ricotta.

The duck, sprinkled with licorice root, was salty and very good, and worked well with a smoky sweet cherry molasses underneath. The pistachios were chewy, however.
Pickled sour cherry on the side.

There were also some extremely salty shredded duck with a crispy top layer, moderated by the cauliflower cream.

Celery sorbet was mildly sweet and came with a tart verjus. Refreshing. The texture of their various sorbets stuck to the tongue a bit.

Apricot sorbet with a fragrant, mildly sweet and excellent lemon blackberry balm tea. The almond milk was laid back. The sorbet was mildly fragrant with crunchy granola sprinkled on top.

Salty sweet chocolate on top of a salted caramel icecream sitting on top of torched cream. The matcha was sweet and airy. Very good dessert.

Marshmallow and salted caramel

Overall, the dishes were mostly good to very good. The kitchen’s use of tartness is refreshing and adds a dimension to the dish that’s not often found in other local kitchens.

Had a glass of 2017 Clarksburg Chenin blanc, and a glass of 2015 Boniperti Vignaioli Carlin.

The extended menu was, as one may have noticed, a, lot, of, food. I looked at what came out of the kitchen to other tables that looked like tasting menu dishes, and I think they don’t scale the portion down for the same dish in the extended tasting menu. Tasting menu is 7 courses. Extended tasting is 15 courses. And I was full halfway through the menu and slogged through the rest of them. Tasty, sure, but it was again, a lot of food, and I had a light lunch before and came very hungry already. Skipped breakfast the next day (I never skip breakfast). And I say this as a guy who ask for extra rice when I buy a burrito. Just don’t even touch the potato chips at the beginning if you are doing the extended tasting.

Probably better to stick with the ala carte menu or just the tasting. Can’t even imagine people doing pairings on top of extended tasting.

It was a long meal. 3 hours total. As you can see, at first there was still sunlight, which faded entirely at the end.

But, going back to the food, they really are good. Can’t believe for the level of cooking, you can walk into the restaurant Saturday evening and just eat at the bar. And can’t believe the most expensive item on their ala carte menu is $22. Twenty two dollars. That’s Cheesecake Factory prices. I talked to someone about this and its said that Commonwealth’s dishes are not mainstream enough, so diners have a harder time figuring out the dishes.

Chef and sous were not in the kitchen that evening.

The menu:


A piece on Commonwealth’s wine to match its quirky food.

‘However, Commonwealth’s lease runs out in September. According to chef-partner Fox, negotiations with the landlord have reached an impasse, with the two sides being unable to agree on terms. As a result, the space is on the market for $9,000 per month, which is roughly double the current rent. Fox says they’re not giving up, but they’re not hopeful, either.’

Oh no.

The space in that part of the Mission for $9k a month seems a bit much to me. Commonwealth to me is still the most creative and daring restaurant for its price. And the price is absolutely low for the quality they deliver. Just look at the menu. In the era of $30-$40 mains and $1x apps, the value they deliver is outstanding:

beet tartare, blood orange, yogurt, wild greens, crispy wild rice, beet chips 16
carrots roasted over hay, salted date ice cream, kumquat, sesame seed, cilantro, nettle puree 17
fluke crudo, seaweed tart, spruce, fresh curds, fermented mushroom, lemon balm 21
sea urchin, squid noodles, chrysanthemum, spring garlic custard, sea beans 22

- -

asparagus poached in their own juices, brandade tuile, cured egg yolk, herbs 19
sunchokes, brussel sprouts, parsley pesto, yuzu, brown butter, yuba, nutritional yeast 18
shrimp mousse, sweetbreads cooked in beeswax, popcorn purée, yuzu kosho milk, pea tendrils 21
black trumpet mushrooms, parsnip nest, black truffle, red mustard, crispy soft cooked egg 24

- -

sablefish, baby fennel and leeks, hazelnuts, chickpeas, shellfish and achiote broth 23
young hen, artichoke, fava bean, romanesco, eucalyptus and pistachio 23
grilled beef tongue, potato, grilled lettuces, malted onion puree, anchovy cream 23

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