So this is when I confess to being a bad blogger. I should have pictures, menus, exact wine names and all of that. But, I don't. There is something about a nice meal with a lovely friend that makes me want to focus on the food and wine and company and not distract myself with extensive note taking and camera flashes.
That said, those who know me know that I have birthday issues. Being born the week before Christmas can be trying for many--combined gifts anyone?--but when your family is in retail, the fact that your birthday may very well be the busiest shopping day of the year can be challenging. I'd like to say I have outgrown this, but, as an adult, my birthday dinner has come to have great meaning for me. When I first moved to the Bay Area, Boulevard was my birthday restaurant and then Jardiniere and finally, for many years, Chez Panisse (Guess what all three have in common?) Then there was the regrettable Disney Land year followed by take out Chinese last year (admittedly followed by a lovely meal and cocktails at Beretta a few days later.)
This year has been a rough year for me. Not all bad, but some true challenges, including the loss of someone truly dear to me. Rather than ramble on, suffice it to say that this year I really needed a treat. Luckily, I found just the place.
Tonight at Commis I was greeted with sparkling wine and sparkling water while I waited. One of the things I really enjoy is the open kitchen and watching the three chefs works. I don't use tweezers often in my kitchen, do you? Once seated we were presented with menus, choice of any 3 of the 10 items listed. Mix and match as you please, which means, I suppose that you could have an all dessert meal.
Our first taste was an apertif of lemongrass soda. Refreshing and fragrant, it was a perfect start. That was followed by one of my favorite tastes of the year. A slowly cooked egg, served over date puree with an onion cream and some granola for texture. This is one of the dishes that ends up being far greater than it sounds. The combination of flavors and textures is compelling. This was served with a French hard cider.
My appetizer, which came after we were presented with house baked rolls and house churned butter, was a black barley with pork jowl. Having had pork the last time we were at Commis I knew that I had to order it again. The barley, a food I rarely cook at home yet often enjoy out, was cooked perfectly, with just enough "chew" left. The pork jowl was crispy and a perfect foil to the grain. Lisa's cardoons with crab and oyster was wonderful in its own right, but I was very happy to have ordered the barley.
For our entrees we were both paired with reds from the Languedoc. My entree was guinea hen, served several ways: cooked sous vide, in terrine and confit with chanterelles, potatoes and the most amazing Brussels sprouts I have ever eaten. I did not know it was even possible for a Brussels sprout to melt in the mouth, but these did. I am imagining that long, slow cooking and lots of fat were involved.
Lisa had the Bison steak with cabbage, sour cherries and cranberries. One of the interesting things about watching this dish prepped was noticing that the chef salts each slice of meat individually after plating.
Our desserts were paired with two very different wines. Mine a sparkling rose and Lisa's a jurancon. This course the highlight was Lisa's kabocha custard. Served with pumpkin seeds, licorice cream, and root beer caramel, it was truly magical. My apple-huckleberry tart was lovely and intriguing with its cheddar ice cream, but the custard was amazing.
After dinner we were presented with absinthe gelees, which, given our membrillo experience we may need to replicate at home.
Often I find that at restaurants with the degree of creativity and artistry involved at Commis, the food is wonderful, yet too intellectual. At Commis, I can marvel over the flavors, but the food still feels comfortable. My mother would be happy there, as well as my restaurant groupie friends. The service is marvelous, managing to be both professional and charming. I've been pleased by the wine pairings on both visits. Both times I have come home with a wine to seek out.
It stands out as the best find of the year in a year when I had much good food and drink.
Thanks again Lisa!