Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Commune Social - Review

Location: Shanghai, China

Alright, so i'm not going to start this off and pretend that i'm familiar with the world (or lingo) of food blogging and reviews. This post will contain metaphors that aren't entirely accurate, and me being in complete awe that food this tasty can be made and appreciated by someone whose taste buds have been tuned to my amazing (read: sub par at best) cooking in college.

The Commune Social. The whole place gives off a very nonchalant, relaxed vibe. No splashy signboards or loud promoters that we're used to in the competitive streets of Shanghai. The Commune Social is located on a quiet street, with a blink-and-you-miss-it sign. This place doesn't do any reservations, so you just have to cross your fingers and hope you get seated quickly! The whole restaurant seems to be set up reminiscent of the railroad apartments, whereby you'd walk through each room to get to the next. The style quickly goes from clean and polished, to comfortable family seating area, to the kitchen and bar-esque.

We were fortunate enough to be seated in the final section of the place, although my father seemed dismayed that we had to sit in a row. Always awkward for groups more than two when everyone is craning their neck to see whats happening down the line. Either way, we weren't too bothered as you feel as though you are in their kitchen. This isn't an exaggeration. The chefs were right in front of us. I don't know how they deal with nosey customers like me sitting right there because i was clearly infringing on their private space with my camera phone all up in their business. Massive props to them, because i was not making it subtle that i was taking dozens of pictures of them while they're at work.

I wasn't kidding. This is basically the best seat in the house. You can't get closer to the food than this. Also, you get served by the chefs (yes please!). In case you didn't know, each dish is of a relatively small portion as they're served in tapas style, so you would have to get quite a few dishes to really fill yourself up! As we were there around 1pm or so, we decided to get the 3 course meal, where you had a choice of a selected part of the menu. 

Being pretty Asian, all of us shared each relatively small dish so at least we got to try many different dishes!

First up - Spanish breakfast omelette with chorizo. Looks simple, but had so, so much flavour. The yolk was essentially perfectly runny and the chorizo gave it just the right amount of kick to take the dish to another level.

So my brother and I am just completely predictable and we both went for the seared salmon with a miso purée and bok choi. Right, my brother and I have definitely hopped on the all-hail-Salmon bandwagon, and we have tried it cooked in so many different ways. You name it, we've probably had it. Now this salmon was perfectly done. I wish i could just feed all of you guys a bite of this because this was hands down the best salmon i've ever tasted. Granted, about 50% of the salmon i've tasted has been cooked by myself, so that's not an awfully high standard to beat. If this salmon had a race with all the other salmon that i've ever tasted, this salmon would've acheived Usain Bolt status. The top was seared just the right amount, and the inside practically melted in your mouth. It was cooked lightly on the outside, and essentially raw on the inside. The flavours from the miso and the bok choi just worked in such perfect harmony together, and it all made one very, very happy Celin (and brother). How does one achieve perfection like this!?

I tried so hard to take a picture of this without a shadow, but it just wasn't happening. I'm sorry guys, first food review and I can't even take good food porn pictures. Forgive me please? #incompetent.
Again, I have failed you guys by not taking down the actual name and components of this dish. You guys will just have to settle for foie gras with almonds and grapes, with crispy (seemingly sweet?) bread on the top. I'm going to address what you're probably thinking - how complex looking is this!? It just looks like it's got so much going on (i.e. the opposite of me in a dish). I'm not a huge foie gras fan but this really converted me. Who would think of combining foie gras with grapes and almonds? The geniuses at The Commune Social, obviously. Thank you Chefs, I am now a converted foie gras appreciator.  Everything about this dish was spot on - including the portion size. This would be the size that Goldilocks would've chosen to eat. It wasn't too much to be overwhelming, but it wasn't too little to feel unsatisfied.

Check out the angles on this picture. I tried just to avoid the shadow (I failed). Anyway, this dish was served in the most adorable frying pan with the duck egg on the bottom of it. Once again, we ordered this off the cute kitschy chalk boards that aren't part of the actual menu and they got taken away before I had the opportunity to take a picture of it. So, those carrot looking things are actually super-sized croutons (I can hear you salad eaters cheering in the background - croutons are my favourite part of a salad). Also, upon further analysis the top leaf actually looks like a praying mantis. What's the difference between a normal egg and a ducks egg you say? Well...based on my culinary expertise (none), all i can tell you is that this seems a lot tougher to cut. This dish was certainly not meant for sharing, as we destroyed it a little (Sorry Chefs!) by trying to split it between us. Either way, this dish was still very enjoyable even after it was destroyed by us.

So, picture this: You're a struggling college student whose diet essentially consists of poorly made sandwiches, dumplings and pasta. What's the logical dish choice when you're in a fancy Spanish restaurant with your parents? You've guessed right - Mac and Cheese. I can already hear the gasps of bewilderment from the crowd. Mac and Cheese!? Why? This would be the time to give a good reason as to why i chose Mac and Cheese. To be honest, the logic behind this decision was that if a place like this serves Mac and Cheese, i'll put all my Nutella sandwiches on the line to say that they probably didn't make it out of the box. Once again, with absolutely no exaggeration - this is the best Mac and Cheese i've ever tasted. It wasn't just plain ol' mama's recipe. They took the closest dish to my pasta-fied heart and just blew it out of proportion (in the best way possible). 

This dish has three layers. On the top layer, there is a soft boiled yolk. A little tug with my fork and knife and you see glorious golden yolk coating the next middle layer of Mac and Cheese . The bottom layer, the good stuff, is beef. I can't tell you exactly what sauce it was soaked in except for the fact that it was probably liquid gold. Such a simple dish re-imagined and taken to a whole other level. Genuinely, probably my favourite main dish along with the salmon.

So about now, we still weren't particularly full and as we are sat right by where the chefs prepare the food, we saw this beauty leave the kitchen. I don't normally believe in love at first sight, but this really took my breath away.

This wasn't part of the 3 course meal we chose, but we had to have it even if it was on the side. This, my friends, is potato fries with rosemary, garlic, tomato and chorizo brava. I'm stumped as to what a brava is, but if i had to guess, I'd say it probably was referring to the dipping sauce we had. Isn't it beautiful? So, as we all know, when we get fries like this, you'd normally have a ton of garnishing on the top, and we you get to the bottom of the pile, you get the sad, soggy, ungarnished fries. They're like the fries equivalent of the last picked in gym class. This, however, was not how it went down. The Commune Social does not do half-assed, unevenly garnished fries. Me and my belly are very happy to report that there were no sad, soggy and ungarnished fries present. Everything was top of the class - and perfectly garnished.

This brings me to our last course - dessert.

They've always said that we have a separate stomach for desserts, and I'll say that you have to try their dessert. It's not an option. It's an order (Pun, anybody?). Before we could even select our desserts, we got served with this, absolutely free of charge:

I'm not sure how well you can see this, but they're smoking. I'm not 100% sure of this, as we couldn't hear the waiter when he served this smoking plate of popcorn, but we believe this is nitrogen frozen popcorn. The plate was icy to touch, and the popcorn was actually, surprisingly good and cold. Not something you would normally expect! But hey, it's free! What more can you ask for. This was a great way to ease our palette from our savoury mains to desserts.

This was my brothers pick - Lemon meringue cake with a basil sorbet. You heard that right, basil sorbet. As in the herb basil. The thing that looks like the lime? That's the sorbet. This was so spot on. The cake and the meringues weren't too sweet (exactly how I like it). The real star of the dish was the basil sorbet though. It really confused my taste buds at first, but the more i ate it, the more strangely addictive it was. It tasted exactly like basil in a sorbet texture. This may sound bizarre, but it genuinely was so good. 

How pretty is this dish? Right, this wasn't on the specific dessert menu either so I'm down to guesswork. I believe that is a sesame mousse with a berry-like sorbet (?). I'm so sorry for messing this up, it was like my only job, I know. Please accept these very good food porn pictures to make up for it. I wish I had more to say about this except for the fact that it has such a good balance. The sesame helped to ease the sweetness of what would otherwise be a very sweet dish. The texture of the mousse was so light, I didn't feel an ounce of guilt eating this dish. 

Okay, this is hands down my favourite dish. You'd be doing yourself and your tummy a massive disservice if you leave this amazing restaurant without trying this dessert. This is what the interwebs dub the 'deconstructed pb&j', and what the dessert menu calls "Peanut ice cream, red fruit and salted peanut caramel". The peanut ice cream had such an amazing crunch to it, which was well balanced with the berries. There's a reason all kids love pb&j, and this is what I like to call the grown up version of it. I could not stop eating this dish, and once again felt absolutely no guilt eating this as it just felt so light and fruity. No one likes trudging through a thick mess of chocolate cake only to come out feeling as though you have gouged yourself and your body is drowning in sugar. These desserts all have the opposite effect, and they are so unbelievably glorious.

Full disclosure, I know it sounds like they have paid me to do this but they really have not (Although, The Commune Social please do holla @ me). I just loved their food so much I've decided to dedicate this entire post to how they basically make food that might as well be made out of the tears of baby angels.

If the food didn't convince you enough to go there (Are you even human), the atmosphere of the place should. It may have been because I had the opportunity to watch these chefs do what they love, and do it so well. The chefs were so cheerful and executive chef was cheerfully singing along to Imagine Dragons and even managed a cheeky wink.

So, I really hope I did convince you to hop on over to The Commune Social because I can guarantee you, the food will not disappoint.

The address is:

511 Jiangning Lu, near Kangding Lu Jingan district

I hope you all have a lovely day!