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by Josh Sens | San Francisco Magazine magazine | November 21, 2011

In assessing Oakland’s rise as a serious food city, it’s hard to overstate the impact of Commis, as the city’s first and only Michelin-starred restaurant and, more important, a departure from convention. James Syhabout freed high-end dining in the East Bay from the strictures of the same old rustic Cal cuisine. Like all self-respecting menus, his fivecourse prix fixe is seasonally driven—but between the farm and the table, the kitchen performs an intervention. One constant is a signature amuse, a slowcooked egg that cracks its sunny smile through a cloud of onion cream. Dates add sweetness; steel-cut oats contribute an earthy crunch. But almost every week brings fresh inventions. Cured mackerel with shaved daikon in a tuna-confit broth is the kind of combination few cooks would consider. Syhabout makes it sing, as he does a lamb saddle, the meat swaddled in lamb belly, then set, along with chanterelles and sunchokes, on a smear of a pistachio-thickened sauce. Horseradish-like horse grass gives the green purée its kick. The dining room is quiet, monochrome and monastic, offering little to distract from the pleasures of a meal whose price ($68, plus $42 for a flight of well-matched pours) is a pittance in a market that can command that much for a pizza and a few glasses of wine. Melonand- raspberry chiffon, with cooling white-corn ice cream, puts a fitting close on an artful evening. Any restaurant can fill you up. Only a rare few leave you this fulfilled. $$$$ DRW ★★★★


Our review policy: To ensure that we get a typical consumer’s experience in a restaurant, our writers dine anonymously; all expenses are paid by the magazine. Reviews are pulled from our listings two years after the review date or any time personnel changes at a restaurant render a review invalid. Our admittedly imperfect star ratings are based on food quality, variety, service, ambience, and value. 

Staff reviewers and contributors to our restaurant guide include John Birdsall, Susan Bryan, Stett Holbrook, Rachel Levin, Jan Newberry, Josh Sens, and Lisa Trottier.

Average price of an entrée:
$ = $10 or less
$$ = $11–17
$$$ = $18–24
$$$$ = $25 or more

D = Dinner only
R = Reservation required/recommended
C = Cash only
V = Valet parking
W = Wheelchair accessible

★★★★ = superlative
★★★ = excellent
★★ = very good
★ = good