Joy is back in town. She’s spent the past four months in Victoria Canada working on a kid’s show with dogs. Joy is a Hollywood dog trainer. On occasion she also trains other animals too like cats, pigs, bears and otters. Just an ordinary, boring 9 to 5. Back from shooting we finally get to catch up, naturally over wine and some nibbles. There’s no debate; the place to go is obvious. Just as I park my car I see Joy pulling a K turn to nab the spot in front of me. A well earned reunion hug and we’re around the corner and slipping into our favorite, Commonwealth.
It’s not much to look at. Situated on Glenoaks Blvd in Burbank, Commonwealth is a rather modest sized restaurant; maybe forty dinners maximum at capacity. It feels more New York than Los Angeles in this regard. The restaurant juts out onto the street, like a thrust stage pushing out to greet it’s arriving audience. A wall of glass windows defines the front, exposed brick on the sides, wood bar, walls and trim complete the simple, subdued decor. No decorations hang on the walls. Dimly lit, it evokes a slightly upscale romantic vibe. A perfectly pleasant space that in no way detracts from the star of the show, the food. As has become the fashion, Commonwealth serves a range of small plate dishes deriving from no one specific cuisine. The website writes “globally inspired”. The food is sublime and what keeps bringing us back, with special attention paid to the sauces. Sauce. We’re about to ruminate on, “thick liquid served with food, usually savory dishes, to add moistness and flavor”, (thanks Webster). The sauce(s) is what struck me most during our first visit. The food well cooked, pleasing and inspired combinations of flavors abound, but what coats these proteins is magical. The first time there it’s all Joy and I could talk about. I remember hounding our waiter for the ingredients to sauce that marinated the grilled octopus as we threatened to drink what liquid remained after the tentacles were gone. And what components comprised the delightful base hosting our mussels which Joy literally eats by the spoonful like it’s soup? The waiter, (lovely 30 something Asian gentleman who we see each time), just agreed with us. We gushed and then he gushed cause it’s that notable. Commonwealth made me stop and contemplate sauce; contemplate Sauciers. I’ve taken them for granted. Are they magical? How can I learn more? How come the French word is saucier and sauce chef is the American equivalent and so much less sexy? I vote sexy every time. A middling, amateur cook in my right, I made mental notes, must focus more time on learning more about dressing, gravy, relish, coulis, dip, jus….sauce.
First, of course, wine. I order the Paco & Lola Albarino from Rias Baixas Spain. In my WSET class (Wine Spirits Education Trust) my teacher told us how these vineyards press up against the ocean and during inclement weather sea water can actually spill onto the vines. I close my eyes as I sip and try to find the brine hiding within. Green apple, citrus, stone fruits, mineral and a hint of salt. Swirl, smell, sip. Oh look; the oysters have arrived.
The small plate dining proceeds in this order; 1/2 dozen oysters, Rainbow Beets Salad, (seasonal orange, avocado, candied hazelnuts, cranberry vinaigrette), Grilled Octopus (crispy Brussel sprouts, cilantro & mint, Thai vinaigrette), Steamed Mussels (white wine, chili butter garlic sauce, garlic bread), Muscovy Duck Confit (crispy skin, sauce Charcutiere, pickled green papaya, grilled bread), New Zealand Lamb Chops (mint & garlic rub, lamb jus, thyme roasted veggies), and Grilled Eggplant & Burrata (balsamic syrup, garlic oil, parmesan, oregano bread crumbs). Hungry yet? The octopus, mussels and lamb are particular tried and true favorites. I dream about them at night. Joy fills the conversation with stories of her time on set, friends made and funny dog anecdotes. One by one each plate arrives. We devour, and celebrate with a song of yummy groans to express our enjoyment. As witnessed by the one photo of food I actually managed to take of our last dish, it’s too exciting to think about anything else but diving in when the plates arrive. A garbled, “Shit, I should be taking photos” escaped my lips as I sucked on my lamb bone. But hey, drink in that eggplant readers.
Somewhere along the way I order a second glass of wine. I stay in Spain for the Montana Riserva Rioja. Dark cherries, plum, leather, cedar, spice and a slight smokey finish highlight this Tempranillo driven blend. Somewhere along the way we laugh and chatter and chomp our way through another outstanding meal at Commonwealth. In today’s celebrity chef culture I find it interesting there is no Executive Chef listed on the Commonwealth website. And what about the Saucier? No one at all. It simply says “we”, devoid of names or bio’s. Maybe it’s all fairy dust, spun together from spices and flavor. If you’re a foodie and live in LA give Commonwealth a try. You can thank me later. I can’t wait to plan a trip back myself.