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Uncommonly Good in San Francisco

Until recently, contributor C.C. has been neither friend or foam (get it?) of molecular gastronomy, but a trip to Commonwealth, one of the past year’s rising stars of the Bay Area restaurant scene, changed all that….

There is nothing common about Commonwealth SF; it is an awesome “Progressive American” (as they call it) dining experience offering food, wine, and an atmosphere worthy of the 1% caliber at prices appealing to the 99 percent, and which donates ten dollars of each tasting meal sale to local charities. It consistently earns high ratings and was named one of the “Top Ten Best Restaurants in the U.S.” (2011) by Gayot. What’s not to like? Answer: Nothing.

C.C. isn’t really equipped to talk about all the wonderful things happening at Commonwealth; for her, a visit to Commonwealth must be like an expedition to Galapagos is to the average hiker—who’s the booby now? C.C., as you recall, is just a bit of a non-foodie, and so in Alanis Morissette terms, of course C.C.’s close friend M. is friends with the Commonwealth’s executive chef Jason Fox. This is like saying you’re not at all spiritual but your friend is buddies with the Dalai Lama, so you go to the temple to sample the enlightenment….

The tasting menu and wine pairings were divine, heavenly, elevated—(and at six courses for a mere $65, $10 of which is donated, you really should do the charitable thing and order two). Having spent time in Japan, C.C. was not entirely out of her element here, as the Japanese influence is notable.

There are other influences that would be notable for those in the know, but that would exclude C.C. who has only a new, vague awareness of that whole “foam thing” which she gleaned from a skimmed-over Vanity Fair article that said something or other about molecular gastronomy before she turned to ridicule the Photoshop efforts of advertisers and the like. But the Commonwealth website covers it nicely with phrases like “holistic approach,” “refined, distinctive, satisfying,” and “harmonious, layered.” Or in the most edified discourse that C.C. can muster up: OMG, yum!

C.C. has never been a fan of lamb, but the lamb cheeks with shishito peppers and black sesame spaetzle were incredible: tender and marinated and set off by the flavor and texture of the black sesame. She may be converted. And the charred octopus with smoked marrow (which everyone mistook for fingerling potatoes due to their similar texture) was the most compellingly edible savory smoky flavor C.C. has ever experienced.

As for desserts, C.C., being strictly a chocolate and caramel kind of gal, loved the peanut butter semifreddo with chocolate ganache, frozen popcorn, and caramel. The “frozen popcorn” was fascinating, moreover as it was created using liquid nitrogen—there’s that good ole molecular gastronomy for you.

At this point in the meal, perhaps overstimulated, much as one traveling in a new land would be by the foreignness of the tongue, perhaps tippled by what she seems to recall was a Barbera, C.C. admits to being somewhat baffled by the cardamom sponge cake, pear sorbet, hazelnut streusel, huckleberry fool and wished she liked the frozen chicory mousse, bruléed banana, candied maple, clove yogurt as much as it sounds.

And as she gazed up at the ceiling, full and a bit disoriented by the new ground her taste buds had covered, she was comforted by a familiar sight: a giant disco ball that the new owners had found in the attic when renovating and kept as a nod to the building’s prior incarnations. Its glittering lights reminded C.C. that she would not step into this same river again, but would return reincarnated as one who now knows sunchokes, spaetzle, and smoked marrow, oh my! If only for this meal, C.C. has been illuminated.

Commonwealth on Urbanspoon

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  1. Thanks for alerting me to someplace new to try close to home. I’ve never been sold on the whole foam thing; it just fizzles away in your mouth and is usually too subtle to add much flavor. Interesting to hear another take on that.

  2. Hey Melanie: I haven’t eaten here yet either. Should we put it on our list of places to check out? Thanks for the reminder. The thing with SF: So many restaurants in such a small town, but Commonwealth stands out, as you note, on several measures.

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