The next day, my wife and I went with my parents to go see Matilda at the Benedum Center as part of the PNC Broadway Series.We decided to all grab an early dinner afterwards at The Commoner. My wife and I had previously been there and enjoyed the meal, so we decided to take my parents and see if that quality could be repeated with their new menu. We were very impressed with all of the dishes and had quite an enjoyable meal.
We all got our own cocktails and I opted for the Fortunato. Made of Milagro blanco tequila, fresh lime juice, Cherry Heering, Lustau amontillado sherry, cream soda, and served with a fortune cookie clipped to the side of the glass, it was smooth and creamy, sweet and tart. There wasn’t too much tequila, which was good due to the inclusion of the heering liqueur and sherry. It was delicious and refreshing, without being overly sweet.
My father and I shared the Mussels as an appetizer, but it could have been a meal. It was at least 30 huge, meaty, fresh mussels served with large chunks of homemade mild chorizo, fresh corn, fennel, and an outrageous white wine butter sauce. The mussels were all perfectly cooked, with large open shells filled to the brim with the chorizo, corn, and sauce. The mussels themselves were only slightly briney, with that wonderful oceany, creamy texture, and separating easily from the shells leaving only the smallest neck. The meaty and porky chorizo went excellently the sausages bff fennel, as well as with the mild mussels and super sweet corn. The waiter brought over a plate of grilled bread, which we allowed to soak up the sinfully rich white wine that had collected at the bottom of the pot. Easily shareable by 3 or 4 people, this was a magnificent portent for the rest of the meal.
My mother went with the Butter Lettuce Salad and opted to add the shrimp as a protein. Huge leaves of fresh Bibb lettuce, julienned green apple slices, dotted with grape sections, toasted buttery cashews, strong pungent blue cheese crumble, and lightly dressed with an aged sherry vinaigrette. The shrimp were huge and wonderfully cooked, standing up to the boldness of the blue cheese and the sharp crisp apple. The grapes stood in the for more standard cranberries and provided a nice vibrancy to the dish that was further elevated by the dressing. The cashews, again a stand-in for the common walnuts were a welcome addition, adding depth of flavor and even more buttery notes initiated by the lettuce and bleu cheese. Each note worked in a lovely symphony to create a cohesive dish, when many salads are happy to be a conglomeration of ingredients tossed together and bonded only by the lettuce they sit upon. This was a salad that cared.
My father went with the Shepherd’s Pie. A classic pub dish the savory stew of ground lamb, peas, carrots, and gravy were topped with a luxurious layer of whipped and broiled potato mash. The mixture within was nice and thick, but still close enough to a traditional savory pie filling to invite, but not rely upon, the binding of the mashed potato crust. The vegetables were nicely crunchy and not overcooked, which is difficult to do in a savory pie, and held up nicely against the nicely herbed lamb and salty gravy. Not my first pick for a Sunday supper in Summer, but still enjoyable overall.
My wife went with the Vegetarian Tikka Masala and opted to add grilled chicken breast to it. Composed primarily of sweet potatoes, with a sauce of tomatoes, onions, and chilis, studded with chickpeas, and topped with yogurt, cilantro, rice, and some homemade naan/flat bread. An overly generous portion of onions made up the body of this dish, which sometimes clashed with the creamy, stringy sweet potato. The spice mixture of the traditional garlic, ginger, turmeric, garam masala, coriander, and cumin came through the competing root vegetables and worked in harmony to create the cohesive traditional British dish. Far more Oxford Center than Oxford, I would have liked some stronger flavors or a different take on the vegetable mix, but it was still very enjoyable and tasty. The spice was a welcome addition, daring to be far bolder than most “Americanized” ethnic dishes.
My entree, naturally, was the Amish 1/2 Chicken. Magnificently roasted, the meat just fell right off of the bone. I was especially impressed with the leg, prepared confit, with the traditional fat and gristle sections melting into the meat and becoming a soft and tender piece of meat when many 1/2 chicken dishes choose to toss it to the side with the wing. While advertised as having and orange and chili brined breast, those flavors unfortunately didn’t come through all that strongly, forcing me to resign myself to a delicious and fresh plate of beautifully roasted chicken. The roasted fingerling potatoes were lovely and crispy, with a soft, mashed potato inside, holding up to the generous jus drizzled over the plate. The bitter greens (I believe collard, possibly kale) had crunchy stalks and leaves tossed in the jus and chicken stock for a saucey and crunchy bite, very similar to a well-cooked bok choy. An excellent dish that honored its protein, it was everything I want in a Sunday dinner and more.
Absolutely unheard of in the usual population, the Commoner is actually located in the lobby of the Hotel Monaco, a chain of 65 boutique hotels located in 35 cities around the country. Far be it from me to look down on restaurants located in hotels, there’s definitely a certain stigma that comes along with the locale. Please leave those preconceived notions with the hipster doorman. Top-notch, well-paced service, from a personable and attentive waiter with a delicious meal to match, it was disappointing to find the restaurant a ghost town on a Sunday early evening. I recommend it highly and look forward to exploring the rest of the adventurous and varied menu.