Forget the fact you have to park in an auto repair shop across a busy stretch of Glenoaks Boulevard. Ignore that this hard-to-find eatery is next to a hectic multipump gas station. Overlook the limitation that it's only open at night. Just get yourself to Commonwealth, an outstanding little restaurant recently opened in Burbank.
Commonwealth is the brainchild of co-owners Ryotaro Isobe and Peter Park. They used to run a similarly themed restaurant on the Westside but recently brought their efforts to our valley. Loyal customers have followed them and newbies have discovered them so getting a table at the diminutive restaurant might be a challenge. The reason is simple. Isobe and Park's aesthetic is clean, modern and thrilling.
Hesitant to come here at first due to my unreasonable bias against small plates (little plates equals big bill plus empty belly), I discovered I actually prefer this style of eating. Commonwealth reminds me of two of my favorite restaurants, Altaeats and Racion, which also happen to serve "plates to share." The difference here is Commonwealth's interest in global, not regional, flavors.
There is a palpable Asian sensibility here, particularly Japanese and Thai. But you'll also find nods to French, Italian, Mexican and classic American techniques and flavors. It is not, as I feared, a world buffet smorgasbord. Instead, chefs Ryan Eleco and Mario Lopez create dishes that synthesize flavors in a new way. They wander into the bitter and acidy realm. There's crunch, freshness, creativity and wonder in every bite.
The menu is well-edited and well-known by waiters (most of the staff came with them from the Sawtelle location). They help you formulate your dining experience and suggest serving dishes in a particular order, from lightest to most full-bodied, as with wine tasting.
While my husband and I studied the menu, a complimentary appetizer arrived: toasted baguette with avocado-goat cheese spread and sun-dried tomato bruschetta. Delicious. Per our waiter Kevin's suggestion, we started with the Albacore Scoops ($12). Four tender endive cups are filled with chopped herby greens, sushi-grade albacore, jalapeno aioli and tiny bits of kalamata olive — refreshing and well-balanced with a glass of their rich, fruity sangria.
Warm shishito peppers were next, those flavorful, not-too-spicy long green peppers, roasted and tossed in a balsamic syrup with delicate puffs of goat cheese and the crispiest bits of prosciutto that I've ever had the pleasure to taste ($8).
Our duck course was next, not last, as I expected since it's typically so rich. This preparation blew my mind a little. Sonoma duck breast is seared then chilled. Slices are fanned out in a tangy sake soy broth with small dollops of yuzu kosho. Not unlike sashimi, one uses chopsticks to pick up the duck then sandwich it around the yuzu, a paste made with chiles and Japanese citrus zest similar to kaffir lime. The fat in the duck is cut by the acidity of the broth and citrus in a beautiful balancing act ($11).
Finally, the coup de grace, warm grilled octopus and earthy Brussels sprouts in a dense Thai vinaigrette with mint and chilies ($12). Every bite was a little different, keeping it exciting to the bottom of the bowl.
Our bellies were in fact full but the bill wasn't too big yet so we asked for the dessert menu. A sucker for family traditions, I went with the Mama's Cake ($7), the owner's mother's recipe. This sweet bread with fruit chunks takes 30 days to make. You can taste the extra effort in the first bite. There's a fermentation to the dough, similar to sourdough, that gives it a yummy kick, especially when eaten with the accompanying vanilla ice cream.
The atmosphere at Commonwealth is trendy but warm and, I suspect, designed on a budget. Tables are typically built for two but larger parties can be accommodated. It's on the loud side, though we found it more energizing than annoying. I'd say it's a great spot for first dates or anniversary dinners. If you forget to make a reservation, six stools stand at attention at the wine bar for drop-in diners and drinkers.
Where: 222 S. Glenoaks Blvd., Burbank
When: Tuesday to Saturday, 6 p.m to 10:30 p.m.; Sunday, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Prices: globally inspired small plates, $6 to $15
Contact: (818) 845-2225, restaurantcw.com (reservations recommended)
LISA DUPUY has reviewed area restaurants since 2008. She can be reached at LDupuy@aol.com.