Never judge a restaurant by its graffiti sprawled sprayed glass exterior. For inside it, there could be art being crafted on a plate.
This was the most apt description of Commonwealth, tucked on a rather dicey street in San Francisco, one of my favorite foodie cities talked about before and even before, though known for having luxurious restaurants in risque places. Chef Jason Fox describes it as serving progressive American cuisine, with a name that owes to the fact that $10 from the sale of each tasting menu goes towards local charities. Armed with SLRs that foreshadowed comical connections with neighboring diners, Gastronomypix and I indulged in a six course tasting menu. Plus a few extra interspersed edibles that stretched it into a gourmet trip through a whopping 10 course meal!
The chips, while freshly baked, had the shape and texture of long forgotten supermarket one, slightly overridden by the seaweed coating, and made extremely sour by the vinegar foam. Despite hunger pangs of anguish, I avoided this as best as I could.
An espresso cup of cold green soup was a welcome dose of liquid freshness, despite the fibrous granularity. But its petite portion made it lickable without being filling, a perfect pre-course to a larger meal.
Yet another pre-course was petite, made even more miniscule with its wide spanning spherical plating. Yet it was extremely tasty, with a baby mushroom alongside a sour foam, and a pickled baby pea stem. Almost like it was made for the Borrowers, my favorite childhood read, I picked at it in miniscule bites and was still done in three.
The best looking plate of the evening was the official first course, reminiscent of a mermaid lagoon. It was a salad constructed with long shaved carrots and radishes, with yuba, yellow beets, cilantro, and my favorite part: crispy chickpeas, reminiscent of an Indian delicacy. The audible crunchiness of the entire dish was intoxicating, and the droplets of cilantro and mint sauce added to the freshness.
The second course was opulent looking, mandating a panoramic view. The textural contrast was impressive on this one, though it fell short on taste. Spring peas were topped with tapioca, accompanied with fresh curd, lemongrass broth, and accompanied by a poppadum style bread tuile and sprinkled with pretty lavender florets. The peas were rather under seasoned, which when chewed with the wetness of the curd and tapioca, made for a rather bland swallow. The tuile itself begged for more salt, too. Clearly a case of divine beauty with a lackluster soul.
Halfway done! And as the late sun began to droop into a sunset, our iPhone’s needed a glimpse of us instead of the food!
The next course was a flavor orchestra in my mouth. The green salad arrived on a black plate littered with golden flakes, making it look like pixie dust on Peter Pan’s linens. Yet another childhood dream! Black radishes swayed with green strawberries (lacking the cloying sweetness of their overripe red counterparts), which were placed alongside goat cheese circles that were smeared with fennel. The sour greens contrasted with the briny cheese which picked up bits of the speckled bee pollen for a punch of sweetness that cut the flavors so well.
The fourth course had my new favorite seasonal vegetable, asparagus, served alongside a sunflower seed risotto with shiitake mushrooms, preserved lemon and wood sorrel. Very green in nature, the sunny spots of sunflower petals were a welcome visual treat. While prepared perfectly, it lacked some sort of seasoning, for all I tasted was the rawness of broth, the bitterness of mushrooms, and the lovely natural taste of asparagus, all of which however had nothing that was sour or spicy enough to elevate the dish to a wondrous level.
A welcome palette cleanser was the creative celery sorbet, which washed down the richness of the previous courses. It was perfectly spherical and doused in verjus soda in a cocktail glass, adding to the whimsy and making it playful to gobble up.
And the finale was what looked like a definitive love for my chocolate infatuated palette. But for once, I couldn’t be more wrong. A peanut butter semifroddo with a chocolate ganache sounded enchanting, but the ethereal brush of caramel was bitter, rather reminiscent of burnt, and the denseness of the cake made me feel that this should have preceded the sorbet. Accompanied by (nitrogen) frozen popcorn, which while innovative, felt like I was eating congealed butter.
The spicy marshmallow that came as a suffix to the meal concluded my palette aptly, evoking the desire for smores. The spice almost crackled in my mouth, owing to the freshness of the marshmallow, and left a paradoxical joy in my mouth, leaving me gasping for more. An extra portion would have definitely been gobbled up!
After being interrogated by both sets of neighboring diner pairs as to why Gastronomypix and I were incessantly documenting every morsel, we simply smiled coyly and shrugged into friendly conversation.. for who can articulate the depth of true love in mere words?