Sherman's Food Adventures: Commune Cafe

Commune Cafe

Being able to stay in a hotel room in one's hometown is somewhat of a treat. It's like getting away without really going anywhere. No planes, trains or automobiles. Well, not really. I did drive and ended up paying an exorbitant fee for parking. The attendant might as well wear a mask since it's highway robbery. I digress. Anyways, back to the hotel room. It was our annual conference in Downtown and I was lucky enough to be provided with a room at the Sheraton Wall Centre. Hence, I could "relax" all I wanted and still be around for the second session of activities the following day. Well, our relaxing was a bit too aggressive and we barely were able to wake up for breakfast. Let me rephrase that. I was able to wake up for breakfast, Snake Eyes struggled. And the best thing for that is a good meal to start the day. No fruit, no croissants and certainly no granola. I suggested the Commune Cafe since they had real food such as breakfast sandwiches and omelets. Furthermore, they only use natural free-range meats & eggs, organic produce, milk products and 100% sustainable locally-sourced seafood. Snakes Eyes seemed content on that idea and off we went. As we walked into the place, the long shared table is front and centre. Well, the place is named Commune Cafe. Why not a communal table? Simple colours, simple decor with a no-nonsense approach, Snake Eyes and I liked the place without even trying any food. Of course that would be a tragedy in every shape and form for myself, so...

Not knowing what to order, I merely asked for the 2 most popular breakfast sammies. The first one we got was the Turkey Sausage & Egg. This sausage was the star of this sandwich and everything complimented it. Not rocket science for sure in making a breakfast sandwich; yet, it was good and reasonably-priced at $4.00 (this is Downtown, so that's not bad). Since one sandwich is never enough food for me, I also had their version of a McD's Egg McMuffin with Bacon & Egg, cheese and tomato. Again, it ain't complex to make one of these; but it was good. Love the tomato in it which added freshness to an otherwise collection of heavy items. Snake Eyes went for the Ham & Cheese Omelet served with toast and tomatoes. The omelet was a bit on the watery side; however, that is much better than being overcooked. So in that regard, it was soft and fluffy. Again, for $6.00, this was also reasonably-priced.

Now fate would have it, I was contacted by the Commune Cafe shortly after my visit for breakfast. Apparently, they have an all new dinner menu and invited a few people to try it. Well, I was planning on revisiting the place for dinner anyways, so that worked for me. I was lucky enough to be seated across from Mijune (Follow Me Foodie) and we shared most of the items that came our way. However, I let her have most of the desserts. I knew that was a prerequisite for sitting close to her! We started off with the Cheese Plate which consisted of Stilton, Goat Cheese and Aged Cheddar (all sourced from Les Amis du Fromage). It is accompanied by walnuts, celery sticks, crostinis, pickled grapes, sesame crackers and an apple-raisin chutney. Again, not a complex dish by any means with great cheese and condiments. Next up were 2 Sangak Flatbreads starting with the Tomato & Bocconcini. Resembling a pizza Margherita, there were fresh tomatoes, the right amount of cheese and pesto atop a whole wheat sangak bread. This was not bad. Definitely tasted the freshness and of course the ingredients are a natural match. The bread was crisp on the outer edges and slightly chewy everywhere else. The second sangak flatbread was the Bacon & Caramelized Onion. Nothing ground-breaking here since the marriage of smoky bacon and sweet caramelized onions works if done correctly. In this case, there was full strips of tasty bacon with cooked onions. Yah, it wasn't really all that caramelized as you will notice the pale colour. The white sauce was apparently a bechemal which really had no impact. Yet, I still enjoyed this flatbread.

Our last appetizer was the Hummus & Flatbread. Unlike the hummus at Nuba, this one here can almost be considered chunky. It was served warm and it went well with the chewy sangak. It was really mild-tasting with only minor hints of garlic and lots of olive oil. I didn't mind it; but personally, I like my hummus with more kick. Moving on, we were presented with the House Cured Gravlax with a salad of fennel, crispy shallots, arugula with beets and horseradish crème fraiche. I decided to eat the components separately at first and that was a total mistake. Although the salmon was nicely cured, it was quite salty. Then I tried the fennel salad and it was slightly bland. Ah. Eaten together, it achieved some balance. Mijune wasn't a huge fan of the dish; but I found it to decent. Maybe I am a sucker for gravlax? Although, we did both agree that the horseradish crème fraiche did not have any impact at all.

The next item was something different. Described as a deconstructed Warm Chicken Waldorf Salad, the plate consisted of Heritage farm leg, celery salad, apples, pickled grapes and candied walnuts. I guess since not everything was not mixed together, it qualifies as deconstructed? Whatever the case, when all of the components were eaten together (hence, reconstruction), the flavours worked in harmony. Not overly dressed like other Waldorfs, the individual components such as the grapes, walnuts and chicken were discernible. I enjoyed this dish very much. We were presented with Steamed Mussels next in a classic white wine, shallot and cream broth. The mussels were mostly plump and perfectly cooked. As for the broth, it was very mild and light. Possibly a bit too light since there was very little in the way of impact in terms of flavour. With that being said, it was not bad per se, it just could've been better. I did like the accompanying bread, it soaked up the broth quite nicely.

By now, I was so behind in my photo-taking and eating, it was hard to keep track of everything. The food came fast and furious! So fast, I almost missed the Sweet Potato Gnocchi with broccoli florets, confit cherry tomatoes, almonds and sage butter. Luckily, Mijune was there to keep me on task. As for the gnocchi, they were very soft, almost a bit too airy. But then again, that is better than too hard... The entire flavour profile was dominated by natural sweetness; yet by little else. This could be more aggressively seasoned to bring some more balance and "pop" to the dish. Presented on a bed of risotto with smoked bacon, peas and preserved lemon, the Seared Salmon was perfectly cooked. The skin was nice and crispy around the edges while the flesh was moist and flaky. For such a simple product, risotto can be a b*tch to cook and execute. It can range from underdone hard to overcooked mushy. This one was done quite well. The rice stayed intact with some bite left while the rest of it was definitely creamy with a good combination of the bacon and peas. The preserved lemon was a nice addition since it cut the richness of the dish.

Now for the main attraction... The Berkshire Pork Belly served with braised red cabbage,
baby baked potato and apple sauce. Appearing very much like Chinese roast suckling pig, this was a beautifully-produced piece of hog. This was a such a simple execution; but it worked. The skin was crispy while the meat and fat were melt-in-your-mouth sinfulness. The braised cabbage satisfied the vegetable quotient while the baked potato added even more food to an already rich product. The apple sauce was a nice idea; but didn't provide much else. The last of our entrees was the Braised Beef. I guess they really did save the best for last because damn, this was fantastic. Super tender and completely melt-in-your-mouth, this has been better than many other versions from other more expensive restaurants. Simply presented on mashed potatoes with winter root vegetables and a rich red wine jus, this was my favourite dish of the night. The jus was quite flavourful. It could've used a little less red wine since that was quite dominant. Despite this, it had depth and was very "meaty" for a sauce.

After all this, we were presented with a large dessert platter consisting of Brownies, Cranberry Pecan Orange Raisin Cookie, Fruit Salad, Carrot Cake, Chocolate Torte and Biscotti. For me, I liked the Carrot Cake the most. It was was a mish mash of ingredients that included carrots and nuts. Hence it was very crumbly. No matter, I liked the textures. The icing was fairly sweet; but wasn't too much so. As for the Chocolate Torte, I liked the semi-sweet filling; but the pastry itself was quite hard and dry. This was only okay for me. I did like the Cookie though, it was a good combination of flavours which set it apart from the norm. I liked how it was still soft. The Chocolate Brownie was not bad. Although it was very chocolaty, it was not sweet at all. For me, I don't like overly sweet treats, so this worked. There wasn't much in the way of textures other than chewiness. I won't say much about the Biscotti because I had nothing to dip it into. From what I tried it was dry and hard. And the fruit salad was a fruit salad. It was very fresh though. Our last dessert was a classic Creme Brulee. If you look closely, you'll see how thick the burnt sugar top is. It was a bit hard to break actually. Beyond that, the custard was not too sweet and really smooth. A few tweaks and this would be good. In general, the food was pretty decent considering the prices. Sure, there were hits and misses; but that is normal. The dinner items were a bit surprising for a place that resembles a hip cafeteria. With the reasonable pricing, I have no problem hitting up Commune Cafe for eats if I am ever in the area.

*Note: This was an invited dinner where all food was comped*

The Good:
- Reasonable pricing
- Eats are good for the price
- Minimalistic; yet cool dining space

The Bad:
- As the name suggests, there are not a lot of separated seating
- Some refinement needed; but considering the prices, I ain't complaining

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