Oh, Commis, why couldn’t you have been holding down your current patch of Piedmont Avenue when I was spending much of my time in a teensy one-bedroom nearby? Then I could have swung by and experienced your wonderful food on a regular basis, that much sooner.
Here in this spare, elegant, moderne space, you get a three-course prix fixe, period -- but what an often fabulous fix to be in. On a recent evening, I got to sample the dishes that earned Oakland native chef James Syhabout -- a veteran of renowned molecular gastro epicenters El Bulli, the Fat Duck, and Mugaritz, as well as Coi and Manresa -- a Michelin star. It’s the only one in the East Bay apart from Chez Panisse’s -- and you can see, and taste, why the inspector was seduced.
The meal unfolded with a housemade soda and amuse-bouche: this time it was a light and lovely hibiscus and lime soda. The amuse-bouche: a much-commented-on regular that wittily mimicked a poached egg but subbed the white for an onion puree with a sprinkling of granola -- it was a kind of unveiling, a brief tribute to breakfast, and you immediately yearned for more.
I coveted my neighbor’s incredibly complex, flavorful cabbage soup, poured over with a green garlic custard. It was much more interesting than my own appetizer: sweetbreads that were rich and meaty but not intriguing enough to surpass the soup. My entree, however, was all mine, thankfully: the duck, rare slices and shredded sections from the leg, was utterly delicious and perched on a bitter counterpoint of pureed parsnip. Black cherries and arugula offered small explosions of sweet and peppery flavor. I could take a pass on my savory dessert of warm Carmody cheese on a kind of pastry, accompanied by still more arugula -- instead I would have gladly tucked away my dining companions’ delightful, refreshing panna cotta and chocolate tile with vanilla ice cream and yet more signature crunchy bits. The absinthe gelee made the perfect little finish. All said, Commis is challenging -- as befitting Syhabout’s time with chefs like Ferdinand Adria (read: foam alert) -- intense in its flavors and whimsical in its textures, at moments incredibly delicious, and an actual bargain at $59, judging from the epicurean ride you’re taken on.
3859 Piedmont Ave., Oakl.