First, a few caveats. The dishes I tasted were part of Commonwealth's preview weekend. The restaurant knew who I was, and like everyone else invited to the preview, I didn't pay. Still, even if there are bumps in execution tonight, it was clear that Fox, chef de cuisine Ian Muntzert, and front-of-house manager Xelina Leyba (all with previous connections to Bar Tartine) had done something sort of extraordinary. The old El Herradero taqueria on Mission at 18th has become a polished urban eatery that exudes self-confidence, without totally losing its sense of fun (see: glittery disco ball visible through a hatch cut into Commonwealth's drop ceiling).Ex-Tartine chef Fox has assembled an opening menu that displays a probing intelligence in dishes with muted, earthy flavors. Browned potato gnocchi ($11) had the irresistible texture of a slack lower lip, and a quality of introspective sweetness from a mixture of tiny corn kernels and maitake. Squid ($12) stuffed with finely textured, tamarind-seasoned pork sausage, set on a purply smear of pureed black garlic with stiff shell beans, radiated both delicacy and a kind of funky pungency that made me think of Filipino cooking. And a combination of miso, mint, and Asian eggplant ― dramatically blackened and shrunken in the fire ― at once heightened and softened the taste of offal rippling through grilled lambs' tongues ($12).
What can you tell about a restaurant before it opens? In Commonwealth's case, that this is a team that respects each other enormously. Oh, and that this is one restaurant that promises to have a huge impact on dining in San Francisco.
By the way, Commonwealth's much-blogged-about charitable mission consists of donating $10 from the six-course chef's menu ($60, $90 with wine pairings), to what promises to be a rotating selection of nonprofits.
Commonwealth: 2224 Mission (at 18th St.), 355-1500.