Saturday, April 21, 2012

Tasting Menu @ Commonwealth

A few weeks ago, I went to Commonwealth for the first time, and thought it was great - an incredible and rare mix of a casual setting, great service, reasonable prices, and serving interesting, tasty, seasonal food.  And, they are even open on Mondays!  So when my visitors wanted to eat some great food, and get a unique San Francisco experience, this seemed like a perfect fit - and it was!

On my first visit, we just tried a few items off the regular menu.  This time we were headed to try out the tasting menu.  It is an incredible value: 6 courses, plus chips, two amuses, and parting truffles for only $65 (and out of that, they donate $10 to local charity)!  Complete with complimentary house sparkling water!  Insane value, as it isn't like the courses are made out of cheap ingredients - this is high quality, good portion sizes, and includes ingredients such as caviar and foie gras.  Even more incredibly, they are extremely accommodating with switches to the tasting menu.  They offer the standard tasting, or a pescatarian version, or a vegetarian version, but if you want to just switch out a single item, they'll do that too.  In fact, every person in our 6 person group changed up something (sorry for being so difficult Commonwealth!).

Continuing in the insane value, you can add wine pairings for only $30!  This includes a pairing for every dish plus a sparkling wine paired with the amuses.  And continuing the theme of being incredibly accommodating, they allowed two uf us to split a wine pairing, pouring us each separately.  While this in itself is notable, what is even more amazing is that the two of us had different courses (since we'd each switched out something on the main tasting menu), and they even gave us totally different wines.  The drink pairings were nicely done, and I really appreciated that the server would explain to us, in detail, why each drink was paired with each course, describing elements of the dish and the wine, and how she felt they'd compliment each other.

Just like last time, I loved the atmosphere.  Open, bright, casual, relaxing.  It just feels really great to be there.  Service was again spot on, with elements of formality like clearing our silverware between courses, but also completely comportable.  The entire experience just matches itself so well, quality but not stuffy.  I'm really not sure how they pulled off getting everything so right here!

I will certainly return, for the regular menu or the tasting menu.  I just wish it were in my neighborhood!
House made potato chips with nori powder and vinegar mousse.
Every table receives some chips and vinegar dip when they arrive.  These were the same as last time, so I won't review them again.
"Naughty Eskimo": grapefruit, Fino sherry, tarragon, litsea, liquid nitrogen.  $11.
One member of our group ordered this "cocktail", intrigued by the ingredient of liquid nitrogen listed on the menu.  This was much more of a slushie than a drink, and was best consumed with a spoon.  So not what he was expecting when he ordered it, but quite fun!  Nicely sour too.
Amuse bouche #1: fluke crudo, grapefruit, fava, onion blossom.
This was a fun start to the meal.  The grapefruit component was a gelee used to wrap the entire bite.  Inside was the fluke, which was a decent quality piece of fish, a little bit soft, but very mild in flavor.  The sourness from the grapefruit gelee complimented it well.  On top was fava puree and a couple onion blossoms.  I didn't quite get the grapefruit + fava + onion combination, but it was clearly seasonally inspired and fresh.  The onion blossom was shockingly full of flavor.  I had my first chive blossom in an amuse bouche at Alexander's Steakhouse a few weeks ago, and felt exactly the same way.  I never knew little blossoms could pack sooo much punch!
Amuse bouche #2:  Chilled pea soup, lemon oil, aleppo pepper.
Another seasonally inspired dish, as peas have just come into season!  As you raised this up to drink it, the aroma from the aleppo pepper immediately hit.  It was really a fantastic scent.  I had high hopes for this, as I love fresh peas, but unfortunately the pea flavor wasn't quite as strong as I was hoping for, and the soup was fairly thick, a consistency that didn't work that well for drinking.  It did have a nice minty flavor to it that almost balanced it out in a refreshing way, but didn't quite hit the mark.
Meyer Lemon-Tarragon Soda.
I recently read about how Commonwealth makes their own house sodas, so one of the non-drinkers ordered this.  You can find the recipe online.  The tarragon flavor was really intense, so do not order this if you aren't into tarragon!
Course #1: caviar, textures of potato, crème fraîche, fine herbs, scrambled egg mousse.
There were so many components on the plate, I had a fun time trying to combine them in all sorts of interesting ways.  I just love constructing that "perfect" bite!  There were a lot of great flavor combinations to be had here!

The "textures of potato" were potato in four forms: crispy chips, potato puree on the bottom of the dish, and then chunks of purple and white potatoes simply cooked.  The chip was really, really good.  Perfectly crisp, perfectly salty, and actually really full of potato flavor.  I thought these were outstanding (which is interesting, because the house potato chips that they give everyone as a starter weren't that special).  The potato puree was basically creamy mashed potatoes, I think the crème fraîche was in there as well.  The pieces of cooked potato were the least interesting thing on this plate, and they didn't really add anything to the dish at all.

In addition to lovely edible flower petals, the herbs included very flavorful fresh chives and dill, which complimented the potato really well.  Now I remember why my mom puts dill in potato salad, and why people top baked potatoes with sour cream and chives!

The scrambled egg mousse was really delicious, and had a smoky flavor to it

The caviar gave a good salty flavor to everything, and of course, a fun little textural pop.

So what was the perfect bite?  A chip, dipped in the potato puree and scrambled egg mousse, with a little of the caviar and fresh herbs.  Fresh, salty, delicious!  So many flavors popping all at once.  I'm not sure if I was really supposed to be eating this with my hands, but it was really fun to create that bite, and how else do you eat a chip?  I really enjoyed this dish, it was my second favorite of the evening, and I'd gladly eat it again.
Course #2: oat crusted foie gras, rhubarb, brioche soldiers, hearts of fire, ginger.
Of course, this was the dish I was most excited about, as I've been rather obsessed with foie gras lately.

The foie gras was a generous slice of torchon.  It was creamy, salty, and just absolutely delicious.  Topped with some big chunks of incredibly flavorful salt as well.  The oat crusting was a little lost on me, but I loved this so much that I didn't really care.

The rhubarb came in two preparations: plain chunks and a sweet compote.  The compete was really well balanced, both sweet and tart, and went perfectly with the foie gras.  The rhubarb pieces I didn't care for, but I historically have not liked rhubarb (you can read all about why on my last encounter with a foie gras and rhubarb pairing at one of the foie gras dinners at Alexander's).

The brioche soldiers were warm and toasted.  So crisp and buttery that they almost seemed fried.  I thought they were absolutely delicious, but several others thought they were too buttery and rich, particularly when paired with the foie gras.  I really liked them.

The hearts of fire were cute I guess, but I didn't think really needed to be there.  I didn't detect the ginger.

This was all paired with a sweet white wine, that was delicious and again, complimented the foie gras really well.

This was the best dish of the night for me, I absolutely loved it.  So balanced, and that foie was just sooo good.  I want more of this now!
Pescatarian course #3: bacalao croquetas, almond gazpacho, seaweed salad, grape, saffron oil, espelette.  $14 if a la carte.
The pescatarian menu included this dish off the a la carte menu, rather than the foie gras.  I didn't get a bite of the croqueta, but did try the seaweed salad, which was flavorful, fresh, and crisp.  The almond gazpacho was also tasty, and I used my extra brioche soldier to soak it up.
Course #3: shaved carrots and radishes, ash coated goat cheese, quinoa, walnut, dill.  $12 if a la carte.
Wow, what a beauty!

The base of this was a slew of fresh, crisp assorted micro greens, herbs, arugula, and flower petals.  The dill again really stood out as fresh and flavorful.  It then had the thinly shaved carrots and radishes, which were raw, added some crispness, and were surprisingly flavorful given how thin they were.  The goat cheese was a soft style, crumbled.  I really don't like goat cheese, but everyone else loved this component.  The quinoa seemed toasted and was integrated throughout, adding nice little crispy texture.    The walnut was in a powder form, which I didn't really detect.  Finally, the salad was lightly dressed with a carrot puree based dressing.

I thought this was pretty and creative, but didn't really enjoy it much, perhaps due to the goat cheese, or perhaps because I was coming down off my foie gras high.  It also seemed like a strange placement in the meal progression, it would have been more appropriate before the foie?
Course #4: sweetbreads, prawn, favas, horseradish, fregola sarda, smoked pork jus.
This was the main dish from the standard tasting menu.  I'm not that into sweetbreads, and the a la carte menu had a dish I really wanted to try, so I subbed this out.  However, once everyone else at the table started exclaiming how amazing it was, I had to at least try a bite!

The sweatbreads were just perfectly cooked, flavorful, a good texture, and had a really nice crust.  One of my dining companions, who has eaten a lot of sweatbreads in his day, said this was perhaps the best preparation he has ever had.  I think this dish could make anyone who was squeamish or uncertain about sweetbreads change their mind!  It was served with well cooked fregola and a really delicious light broth as well.

The pescatarians at the table received a beautiful looking piece of cooked rainbow trout.  Unfortunately, they all ate it before I could get a bite of the fish (or a photo!), but I did try the accompanying components, including ramps and miner's lettuce, more seasonal vegetables that were just impressively crisp and fresh.  There was also some mushroom that was nice and earthy and balanced out the freshness.  The hollandaise sauce had a strange mouthfeel to it that I wasn't a fan of, but perhaps it worked better when enjoyed with the fish.
Alternate course #4: sea urchin, sea beans, kumquats, quail egg, brown rice cracker, pickled wasabi leaf.  $16 if a la carte.
Along with foie gras, I've been on an uni kick.  I guess this makes sense, as uni is "the foie gras of the sea"!  The tasting menu did not include any uni, and I had to fix that!  So, I subbed this in as my main dish.

It is hard to see in the photo, but there were three generous chunks uni.  The flavor wasn't quite as good as you would get at a high end sushi restaurant, but it was pretty nice and creamy.

The sea beans, herbs, flowers, and pickled wasabi leaf were all pretty, but I didn't taste them much at all.

There were plentiful kumquat slices, which I really enjoyed.  They were super flavorful, tart, and a good balance to the uni.

The quail egg was hard boiled.  It was cute, but not all that flavorful, and I didn't really think it mixed that well with everything else in the dish.  It wasn't bad, it just didn't really seem necessary.

The brown rice crackers added a good crispy element.

The perfect bite?  A brown rice cracker, topped with uni, topped with a few slices of kumquat.  Crunchy, creamy, rich, tart, all at once!  Again, I probably wasn't supposed to be eating this with my hands, but it made for such a great bite, and how else do you eat a cracker?

At $16 on the normal a la carte menu, this was a really good value, given the amount of uni on the plate!
Palette cleanser: blood orange sorbet, chantilly cream.
This was the same palette cleanser that I had a few weeks ago, since our waitress brought us the palette cleanser from the tasting menu that day.  It didn't blow my mind quite as much as last time, perhaps because I had high expectations this time, but it was still really quite good.

The sorbet was fruity and quite flavorful.  The chantilly cream was creamy and just downright delicious.  I love the contrast in this dish of the icy, cold, somewhat sour, sorbet and the creamy, sweet cream.

This is a fantastic palette cleanser, refreshing from the sorbet and sweet enough to leave you craving the real dessert course!

The Australian visitors thought this reminded them of a "fancy splice".  The splice is classic ice cream bar,  vanilla ice cream wrapped in pineapple and lime sorbet shell, on a stick.  It was one of my favorite treats while visiting there, and I can totally see the comparison!
Dessert: peanut butter semifreddo, chocolate ganache, frozen popcorn.
This was the same dessert I had last time as well.  When I had it before, I had no expectations at all.  This time, I went into it knowing that last time I thought it was the best dessert I'd had all year.  It didn't live up to those expectations, but it was very good.  Same salty, awesome, frozen "popcorn", sweet delicious caramel, and of course, the very rich peanut butter semifreddo, encased in chocolate ganache, and sitting atop a chocolate base.
Alternate dessert: yogurt, meringues,  kumquat, hibiscus.
This was an alternate dessert ordered by a fellow dinner who wouldn't have much chocolate at night due to the caffeine content.  I was also concerned about caffeine intake, so I split this with him.

The yogurt came as a frozen yogurt sphere that really was just ... frozen yogurt.  It had a very strong, tangy, yogurt flavor to it.  It was perched atop a crumble, I'm not sure what it was made from, but it had gotten kinda soggy and wasn't that good.

The meringues had a strange mouthfeel to them, and I didn't really like them.  I forget what flavor they were.

The kumquat slices were covered with a sweet syrup and were delicious.

The hibiscus came as marshmallows (the purple disks), that were fluffy, sweet, and quite good.

Overall, there were a lot of flavors and textures at play in this dish, and I can't really pinpoint anything wrong with it, but it wasn't really anything I'd want again.
Coffee truffles.
And ... a little parting chocolate.  This was really quite good - a strong coffee flavored creamy filling, dark chocolate shell, and rolled in cocoa powder.
Commonwealth on Urbanspoon
Related Posts with Thumbnails