Saturday, October 18, 2014

Chad White's House, Comun

Chad White with the Birthday Boy
Over the last several months there has been a lot written up locally about Comun Kitchen and Tavern and its Chef Chad White.  I chose to go there on my birthday to see what all the commotion was about.  The noise that had most intrigued me was that other Chefs in San Diego and South of the Border were saying that Chad's restaurants were the place to go.  Comun is in the East Village of San Diego.  East Village is not a tourist area but one of the faster growing urban areas in downtown. Comun is similar to other new restaurants that you find across the US, communal, open, comfortable, designed for function with street art and craft funk decor.
It is a Wednesday night in San Diego no conventions, no ball games most restaurants are empty but Comun is full of local people.  The kitchen is the center of attention it is a bright light like a food operating room, people in white and stainless steel.  Chad is not a chef that hides back behind the action but he positions himself as the center of the action.  When we walked in I noticed him with a knife, cutting board and an aluminum bowl carefully cutting pieces of bread into croutons.  I asked to be sat at the counter so we could be entertained by the action.
The menu is simple only one page but I took the opportunity to ask him what he would recommend at first he said that is like picking who your favorite child is but then he eased into the answer and one by one went over each item in detail of why he was proud of the dish.  It was easy to imagine at that point that the meal was going to be great.  Chad's story is simple was trained to cook in the Navy, got his first exposure to fine dining at the Hotel Del Coronado Prince of Wales, got on the job training in managing a restaurant at a local hotel country club, hired to take free rein as Executive Chef at a local Top Chef Contestants Fish House. Started his own pop-up food business and started getting involved in the Baja restaurant scene.  When you add all that up and you combine it with being a culinary artist with very distinct values you get a chef like Chad.  In our conversation throughout the evening what struck me was his conviction to sustainability.  Every beast he buys for the restaurant has a pedigree, the Albacore is wild and line caught off the coast of Baja, the Mutton is fed the barely remnants from a local brewery, the entire animal is used to create dishes on the menu and when it is finished the ashes from the remnants are used as a spice to bring flavor to his next dish (note the Chicarrons).

Let's get to the food we shared several snacks, the Chicharron, Elotes and the Radishes. The Chicharron is a deep fried pork rind that is filled with a Albacore Belly Tartar with Sesame, Lemon and Ash.  The Chicharron is used as a mini edible spoon the star is the Albacore bite.  The Elotes can be described as Savory Mexican inspired Cream of Corn.  Aioli.  Your initial reaction is wow it is colorful, that looks pretty basic, hmm did I make the right choice.  But the first bite tells you otherwise it is refreshing, there is not a lot of heat from the radish there is just enough sea salt to give it a pop and when you add the Aioli you think wow this is great and so simple why isn't this done more often?
Elotes and Radish
The bite is sweet, savory, rich with a little bit of heat at the end.  I save the simplest but most creative for last.  If you go to a steak restaurant in the East or Midwest they occasionally have this large dish of Carrots, Celery, Radishes and Cherry Tomatoes your initial reaction is healthy something to keep your mouth busy till your salad comes.  In this case you get a bunch of Radish that looks like it was just plucked out of they yard, with it's stalk all the way down to that thread like trailing root.  the Radish has been lightly sprinkled with sea salt flakes and situated next to a spoonful of Coriander
On to the main dish my family got the little Tostadas, my wife had the Octopus and our daughter had the Chicken.  The story here is not about the protein solely even though the Octopus was prepared perfectly tender.  It is all about the individual ingredients that are present in each Tostada to make it a standout dish.  The Octopus was accompanied by Black Romesco, Queso and an avocado relish, the Chicken was with Hominy puree, Chile Guero and a Salsa Verde.  The point here is how enhance the flavor of the protein.
Based on Chad's overview of each dish I went with the Lamb.  This is a dish he serves in his TJ Baja cuisine.  It comes in two stacked Blue pots with a Kale Salad on the side.  The Lamb is in the pot on the top, the tortillas are steaming in the pot below.  The process is simple grab a fresh steamed corn tortilla and spoon in the Lamb and Black Bean stew and go to town. The bite breaks down like this, you get the taste of the freshly made tortilla then a savory sauce that has a hint of heat with bites of Lamb and Black Beans.  What stood out was the how the taste progression went the sweetness of the corn tortilla, the richness of the salty Lamb bite, the heat from the chilis in the Chorizo and the fresh bite of the cilantro.  This was a great simple dish with very complex flavor combos.
Lamb Stew 
restaurant so it has the authenticity of Mexican Cuisine.  The Kale Salad was unexpected the leaves were tender and from my perspective it is served to cleanse the Palette.  It was the first Kale Salad that I have enjoyed.
To finish it off since it was my Birthday Chef gave us each a Paletas which are Baja Popsicles flavored each to imitate a Mojito, Watermelon with Thai Basil, Dolce De Leche.  A very good way to finish dinner.
I am glad we went, although the food was great my memory will be my opportunity to talk to Chad and listen about his passion for cooking great food.  Chad also hosts monthly pop-up dinners with guest chefs.  I need to go to one and try more good food.