His restaurant Commis in Oakland, has propelled Chef/Owner James Syhabout to culinary stardom. He won a Michelin star for it in 2010, just one year after opening. Ironically, Commis is French for the lowliest of chefs in a kitchen, but once you’ve watched James work behind the counter of his open kitchen, irony becomes common sense. He is quiet, meticulous and had I not seen his face many times in various magazines and online, I would have never guessed he was the owner.
We came to Commis for a birthday dinner last Saturday. This was our second time, but having toasted our anniversary with several bottles of champagne before dinner the last time, we hadn’t really remembered much…Commis is not the kind of place to go with a rowdy crowd, or when you want to have loud, political debates. Go to Commis with a loved one or two that you can be quiet with and sit at the counter if you can. It’s like watching a ballet. All the chefs have a special apron that has a pocket for tweezers and most of the work is tweezed into place with an eye towards artistry.
I find more and more that I appreciate the prix fixed menu, especially when that’s the only thing on offer. I like putting my palette wholly in the hands of a chef I trust. It’s like letting a stylist to the starts do your hair and makeup and dress you from head to toe. Commis offers an ever changing $75 8-course prix fixe that is dictated by what’s to be found at the market. The only things that never change are the “rocks” appetizer (cheesy cracker nibblets coated in ash)-
and the famed poached (or more accurately sous-vide cooked egg). Sous-vide means under vacuum and it is a cooking method that requires a pricey device that cooks food very slowly at a very low temperature in a sealed, pressured environment. The result is incredibly velvety texture and rich, concentrated taste. James serves the slowly-cooked egg yolk over a puree of dates and creamy onion soup (that resembles egg whites) with toasted steel-cut oats to add crunch to the list of flavors and textures. The result is yum. So yum that even through our champagne haze this was the only dish we remembered from last time.
I will not bore you with minute details of each of the ingredients of each of the gorgeous dishes we were served, but my absolute favorites of the evening were the rich egg, the delicate as sea foam oyster, and the raw sea scallop perfumed with fresh bergamot. I also loved the fact that dessert was light and refreshing (not to mention that it was the best frozen yogurt I’d ever had). So here, without further ado, is the meal in pictures in the order in which we had it. I highly recommend you try it for yourself!