James Syhabout has a very distinct culinary signature. Combining what he learned in restaurants all over the world with California’s fantastic produce, he managed to make Commis Oakland’s most highly rated restaurant.
The reasons for this are fairly obvious. From the moment you walk in to this little restaurant, you can feel that there really is a vibe to it. Less luxurious and formal than other Michelin-starred restaurants in the Bay Area, it feels somewhat more alive than some of the competitors. No matter if you sit around the open kitchen at the bar or at one of the few tables, there is an energy here that makes this one of the liveliest dining rooms of the area.
Syhabout came to Oakland to open a restaurant that was different, and made use of all he had learned in his time at restaurants such as El Bulli, Coi or Manresa. The outcome is a cuisine that whilst it might be similar in looks to what both Patterson and Kinch cook, leans more towards very delicate and subtle flavours. There is very little that could be called gimmicky to his cuisine, which is all the more interesting as it allows him regularly change the menu.
A menu for instance might start with a dish of carrots. Several preparations of carrots make for a light, fresh and slightly sweet starter that prepares the taste buds for what is to come. Another noteworthy dish would be a sole. Incredibly simple and direct, it really showcases the quality of the fish and the precision of the kitchen. This is cooking of remarkable clarity and focus, and seems to be most fairly priced, given the relatively cheap menu prices here.
With a main course, he goes into more classical territory. A chicken breast comes with girolles and is stuffed with foie gras. Such combinations just work, as they do here. In this case, the foie gras helps to moisten the slightly overcooked chicken and gives it all a little boost. Combined with the earthiness of the mushrooms and the rich jus, this is another simple and beautifully composed dish.
The cuisine of James Syhabout is very much Californian. Drawing on inspirations from all over the world, it remains firmly rooted in the fabulous produce from around the Bay Area. Not every dish at Commis is perfect, and yet this restaurant convinces with its honesty and uncomplicated approach.