Restaurant Review

Commis, Oakland – Restaurant Review

Commis, Oakland - Restaurant Review

This is normally where I would put a little quote from the restaurant’s website describing their vision or what they try to convey with their food. Ya…Commis doesn’t have anything like that on their site. They do have an extensive list of directions on how to get there from pretty much anywhere in the Bay, though. ;)

Side note about the dress code at Commis…there was none! Before our reservation I searched high and low for any hint of the dress code at Commis only to come up with just a little blurb from some random website about dress codes that recommended business casual. Well…no. While there were patrons who came in business casual, most would be in what I would call “church casual” – a step up from casual but not exactly Sunday best. There were even people who came in straight up jeans and hoodies, so – no dress code.

But enough about that – let’s get to the food! Commis serves one menu of what they say is eight courses.  After the meal they gave us a copy of what we were served, and even accounting for the amuse and assuming all three sets of sweets count as one dessert course, I still count nine courses. *shrug*

We were lucky enough to snag a couple seats at the chef’s counter, so you’ll get to see both the dish and a glimpse behind the scenes as well. Fun!


caramelized onion financier with bee pollen

crispy maple syrup, mustard and whipped chicken

Again, I have to mention that they left us a signed card greeting us on our anniversary. So sweet! Now I have a collection.

But on to the amuse. The plating was an interesting choice. I can’t say I understand it, but I thought it was fun anyway. We got our amuse bouche on the rocks. ;) *ba dump chshh!* The financier (the little round cookie looking thing) was just okay. Savory but not special enough that I remember much about it. The crispy maple syrup bite I liked, BUT I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that it was maple syrup if I hadn’t been told. The whole thing tasted like a bite of something that was savory and slightly sweet with a bit of that nasal hit that good mustard has. I like good mustard.


  smoked trout roe with fermented apple and frozen sorrel

standout: smoked trout roe

The smoked trout roe was so good. It was strongly smoky and salty but not too fishy. Everything else…was difficult to taste in comparison. I could not taste the frozen sorrel at all even though it’s obvious where it is. The fermented apples we had to dig for, but when we did find a piece, I thought the flavor combination of the tangy apple with the smoky roe was awesome. I was disappointed there was so little of it. And the cream/foam? I don’t know what it was. If it had flavor it was really light.


  late summer tubers with sea urchin, asian pear and avocado

standout: sea urchin

How pretty is this thing? This was easily the winning dish of the night for both of us. Funnily enough, it was also the most balanced dish flavor wise. Sea urchin in and of itself is a strong flavor, and I thought the pear and radishes countered it really well. The avocado hiding at the bottom brought out the smoothness in the urchin. All around a winning plate.


sunchokes with red flame grapes, hazelnut and douglas fir milk

standout: sunchokes

The sunchokes were definitely the star here with their roasted, woody flavor. The hazelnut was interesting because the flavor was similar enough to the sunchokes that it ended up being an enhancer rather than a complementing flavor. Does that make sense? I couldn’t taste the douglas fir at all.


stew summer beans, mussels, kafir lime and onion bouillon

standout: mussels

Confession (I feel like I’m always confessing my dislikes during restaurant reviews) – I usually avoid mussels when I can. I have so many childhood memories of mussels tasting muddy and these big mussels with nasty colored insides. These mussels? They were sweet! In as much as seafood can be sweet, if you know what I mean. I think I took one bite and turned to Aldwin and said, “Oh my gosh, I don’t hate it!” So the mussels were good, and they were even better with the kafir lime. The beans I didn’t quite get (what’s with this seafood and beans thing??), and the bouillon was savory but mild.


red snapper with sweet peppers and eggplant, tomato jus, oregano

standout: eggplant

You would think that in a fish course the predominant flavor would be the fish. Well, in this case, it was the eggplant. The fish was cooked perfectly – moist and flaky with crispy skin, but the dark, smoky eggplant stole the plate.

Also, that guy rocked the dolloping. He was like the dollop king of the show. Really, he was pretty much a plating rockstar. He had a hand in plating almost all the dishes we saw go out.


tisane of button mushrooms

standout: mushrooms (I should hope so)

When there’s only one ingredient listed, it better be the star of the show, and in this case, it was. How have I never had a mushroom tisane before? Because no one makes mushroom tisanes? Psh. That’s dumb. These need to be everywhere so that I can have them wherever I go. Super concentrated mushroom flavor in broth form. Well, hello there. Let me take you home. Because that’s not creepy at all.

Also, I’ve included a photo of the bread and butter because that’s what I do.


beef cheeks with grilled chanterelle mushroom, kale and lovaage

standout: beef cheeks

Okay, I gotta be honest here. This was the weirdest plating I’ve ever seem. These guys spent time using their tweezers to get every single mushroom at just the right spot, and then they cover it with a huge kale leaf? *insert confused face emoji* (note: I removed the kale leaf for the bottom right and top photos. The middle right photo was how the dish was presented to us.)

The beef cheeks were flavorful, soft, and juicy. They tasted slow cooked and infused with flavor. The chanterelles tasted like grilled mushrooms, which is always a good thing, but I was expecting more, I think. The kale leaf…was a kale leaf. Well, a salted and oiled kale leaf. I’m assuming the sprinkling of green at the bottom of the plate was the lovage, but with how strongly flavored the beef was, I couldn’t taste it. Really, I think the beef over-powered everything else on the plate, but by now, I was starting to think that was the point.


sweet onion pie with goat and sheep’s milk cheese

standout: ?

I have a love hate relationship with this little bite. I love goat cheese and sheep cheese, and I once had a delicious sweet onion jam that I’ve wanted to replicate for years. This was both of those things. BUT it was about the size of a quarter. We all know I love a good cheese course (see here, here and here), so after eating this little bite and realizing it was probably their take on a cheese course, I wanted to cry. Okay, maybe not that drastic, but when cheese is one of your favorite things, you really do want a full course of it. *sigh* At least it tasted good.


peach sorbet with almonds and honey cream

standout: honey cream

When something looks this pretty, you expect it to taste pretty, too. This tasted…nice. The honey cream tasted exactly like I imagine something called “honey cream” should taste – creamy with strong but smooth honey flavor. The sorbet, on the other hand, was so lightly flavored, Aldwin and I couldn’t tell what it was supposed to be. We both didn’t catch the “peach” part when they were presenting the dish, and we pretty much spent the entire them trying to identify the flavor.


huckleberries with corn sorbet and marjoram, white chocolate sucree

standout: huckleberries

Corn ice cream is one of my favorite flavors. It’s a flavor I grew up with. There was a gallon of corn ice cream in our freezer pretty much all the time. In comparison, this corn sorbet didn’t quite hit the spot. The corn flavor was present, but very light. Not nearly as strong as the corn ice cream I’m accustomed to. However, I do think it went well with the tarty sweet huckleberries. The white chocolate sucree was super, super mild. I didn’t know something as mildly flavored as white chocolate could be made milder, but Commis achieved that. That’s a talent.

Also, I included a picture of a squeeze bottle of olive oil. Because I take pictures of everything.



Admit it, you just Googled “mignardise.” It’s okay, so did it. ;) One of the first definitions that came up for me was “bite-sized, pretty desserts.” Hmmm. Bite-sized? Check. Pretty? Maybe it depends on your definition of pretty. o.o Anyway, what do looks matter if they taste good, right? Hrmmm. The red jellies in the back were not memorable for me at all. Aldwin said he didn’t like them, but I just don’t remember them. That’s never a good thing. The chocolates were dark with a hint of salt. Good, but not as richly chocolatey as other dark chocolates I’ve had. The tiny cheesecake bites were pretty good, but neither of us could identify the fruit topping. Seems like a trend with fruit here. The cream puff – an extra treat for our anniversary –  was my favorite of the bunch. Light pastry with strawberry cream filling. Unfortunately, Aldwin is allergic to strawberries (which we informed them at the beginning of the meal), so I enjoyed this little puff by myself.


Sitting at the chef’s counter was so much fun. Maybe I’ve watched too much Hell’s kitchen, but I was expecting it to be much louder. These guys were so quiet! We could tell things were getting intense once the restaurant started filling up, but they still always spoke in hushed voices. Very professional, and I commend them for keeping their cool throughout the whole service (that we were present for). In the photo above, the left shot is from the beginning of service. We were the first to be seated, and the chef carefully set out the vegetables and pears for the sea urchin course in neat little rows. The photo on the right was near the end of our meal, which was probably closer to the middle of service. The tray is put together much more haphazardly – a testament to how much more rushed this guy was feeling.

An interesting note was that there wasn’t all that much cooking actually going on. The fish were cooked on the flat top by the tattooed plating rockstar, and the beef cheeks were grilled by the rockstar and the sea urchin guy. Everything else was already prepped and just plated as needed. This was our first chef’s table type experience, so I’d be interested to see if this is common.

Overall thoughts? Initially I tried to compare our meal at Commis to other great restaurants we’ve dined at, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that you can’t fairly compare food of completely different styles. It’s like trying to comment on how good or bad a pho restaurant is by comparing it to a ramen shop. They’re completely different cuisines. So instead of comparing, I tried to see if I could figure out what the chef’s intention was. Sounds bourgie, but bare with me.

So looking back at some of our favorite dining experiences…

The French Laundry was all about finesse – every component done to technical perfection with each dish in perfect balance.

Manresa was all about the surprise and whimsy – each dish had one unexpected ingredient that brought an otherwise refined dish to another level.

Commis seems to be all about the ooomph – each dish seemed to highlight just one ingredient. If you noticed after the description of each course I also added what I thought the standout ingredient of the dish was. That one ingredient would be more intense in flavor while everything else stayed muted in the background. It was definitely a different take, as our default is to expect flavors to be balanced, but is it a bad take? I wouldn’t say so. It was surprising and a bit confusing during the meal to be sure. Aldwin and I kept saying, “Component A tastes really good, but I can’t tell where Component B is.” Except we wouldn’t actually say “component” because that would be weird. :P Anyway, it’s only in looking back that I realize that that was probably intentional.

So with that in mind and assuming that it really was the intention of the chef to highlight just one component and have the others just play background, I’d say that this wasn’t a bad meal. The desserts were pretty disappointing for me, but I loved some of the other flavors throughout the menu. Overall, though, Commis didn’t leave me itching to come back the way Manresa did.

You can visit the Commis website HERE.

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