3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611 | 510.653.3902 | website
Mr. K and I came here to celebrate our 5-year anniversary last week, and since I neglected to note the actual address, we walked right past the unmarked restaurant. It gave us a chance to walk along Piedmont Avenue, which has transformed into a vibrant destination with César, Cato’s Alehouse with Dopo and Adesso further down the street. Commis is a couple of doors down from Bay Wolf, an iconic foundation of the low key neighborhood for over 30 years.
There’s been quite a lot of buzz about the new restaurant of James Syhabout, who was named one of the Chronicle’s Rising Chefs in 2007. He followed three years of working at Manresa with apprenticeships at Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli and the Fat Duck outside London, returning to SF to help open Coi. He earned an impressive 3-1/2 stars from the Chronicle when he was the head chef at Plumpjack Cafe. His chef de cuisine is Zack Freitas, formerly of Manresa in Los Gatos, 231 Ellsworth in San Mateo and WD-50 in NYC. Desserts are by pastry chef Carlos Salgado, formerly of Coi in San Francisco. (This is only a summary gleaned from the interwebs)
The dining room is dominated by an open kitchen with a chef’s counter where you can watch the action up close. The meticulous attention to detail is apparent as everything is made in house, even the creme fraiche, yogurt and ricotta and the chef forages in the Oakland hills for pollinating wild fennel. Be prepared to indulge your tastebuds with unusual ingredients that will challenge jaded palates.
The only dining option is a three-course prix fixe for $59, up $10 from initial reports. You can choose to pair with appropriate wines for an additional $29.The menu is short, offering 4 appetizers, 3 entrees and 2 desserts.
Our server said we could select any three dishes for our meal and since we had a big fat chocolate mousse cake waiting at home, we chose from the savory appetizers and entrees. I decided to go with the wine pairing. It’s always fun to see what they serve you but hard to remember later… and I must say that our server was very patient with all my picture taking, she even held each bottle up for me to photograph! I began with an aperitif that I believe was a tea made with something alcoholic and made flavorful with a slice of fresh ginger. It was slightly sweet, fruity and refreshing.
Then came an amuse bouche which delighted both the eye and amused the mouth. It still makes me smile just looking at it… It was a corn pudding topped with a clear bubbly foam which held two tiny roasted cherry tomatoes and adorable tiny little blossoms. Flowering thyme?
There were bits of fried corn that added a delicious crunchy texture to the incredible pudding. I was just sorry that it was such a petite little thing and over so soon.
The rolls and salted butter, all made in house, were ridiculously tasty! I must have had three or four during the course of dinner. Each time I finished one, a server came by with another. The delectably warmed roll had a chewy crust and tender spongy interior that the fresh butter melted into forming golden pools to bite into. I stared into it mesmerized… oh sorry, did you say something Mr. K?
The first splash of wine was a French Rose (Commanderie de Peyrassol 2008) with flavors of fruit and minerality balanced with acidity. It was paired with the Soup of Ronde de Nice Squash, poured over bay shrimp with delfino basil with samphire, which is dark green and looks like a spindly cactus without pins and has a delicate crunch. The sweet tender shrimp were so fresh they should have been kicking.
Monterey Bay Sardines, lightly cured then smoked with green tomato confit in rhubarb juice, bronze fennel and pollen. When they say lightly cured, they mean lightly – it tasted like sashimi to me. The sleek silvery filets were wrapped around crisp curls of cucumber and dusted with golden sparkles of aromatic fennel pollen.
My next glass was a lively French chenin blanc (2007 Domaine Fouet Saumur Blanc) which was paired with the much talked about Soft Farm Egg with potato and alliums, fermented black garlic and pork jowl. That egg was gorgeous! It was like a quivering cloud that released the thick creamy yolk when I cut into it with my fork. The yolk was thick and viscous like liquid gold which added wealth and glamor to everything it touched. Supplying a dramatic backdrop was a squidge of fermented black garlic which added an unexpected sticky thick texture and sweet and savory flavors that left a mellow velvety wisp of garlic on my tongue.
Along with the crisped pork jowl where two squares of pork belly that were like an ethereal creamy pork custard. It was scandalously decadent when dragged through the golden egg yolk… What an interesting dish, at first glance it looked like a breakfast – a plate of ham, eggs and potatoes but when you dig in, you realize this is something completely different.
I couldn’t help myself and even ate the frizzly roots of the allium…
Morro Bay Cod with Brandade, mussel liquor and vermouth, padron peppers. The skin was translucent and crispy and for once I was okay with the foamy liquid. Our server said they call the padrons roulette peppers because sometimes they are fiery hot. We played and I lost because mine was mild and Mr. K got the hots… Underneath the fish was the brandade, pureed potato with salt cod nestled in the mussel liquor along with two plump and frilly mussels.
The final pour was a Spanish Temperanillo (Bodegas Victoria 2005 Pardina) that was spicy and smoky to go with the Slow Roasted Lamb Loin which was served in a classic pairing with mortared mint, over a stew of summer beans and sprinkled with edible ash
I didn’t get the inclusion of ash, even as a dietary supplement… it adds a gritty texture to the meat, perhaps to emulate a messy barbecue? Anyways the meat was flavorful, tender and juicy and surrounded by springy layers of fat. I loved the mortared mint on the lamb.
Corn fed Chicken, poached then roasted in summer savory, served with crushed english peas. Hmmm, interesting to see the reviled words cornfed after all the negative press but who am I to complain? I was enamored with the chicken which was drenched with flavor and swimming in an elegantly rich sauce of cepes emulsified with foie gras. It looked so pretty with paper thin slices of tokyo turnips that resembled flower petals strewn about the plate.
We shared a pot of Golden Tip Pu-Er ($6). The raw leaves are harvested from the renowned Six Ancient Mountains of Yunnan China. The tea was smoky with an earthy aroma and we enjoyed it with the buttery Financiers that finished the meal.
I’m very glad that Chef Syhabout chose to open Commis in his hometown Oakland which is undergoing a restaurant explosion. We had a memorable meal with inventive and delicious dishes and I’m still thinking about that egg plate… The service was friendly too, we felt very pampered and well tended. Of course we’re going back, I just hope they will keep the three course format if they expand the menu.