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Miracle Mile's Commerson Aims For A Pared-Down Dining Experience That Makes You Feel At Home
Commerson has opened at LaBrea and 8th, within the same building that houses the health-conscious Lassen's. Named for French botanist Philibert Commerson, it aspires to be a neighborhood restaurant; the type of place where locals can hang out when they don't want to think about where to go. Menu options include large seafood and meat entrées, but also burgers, salads and lots of bread and cheese. Chef Sascha Lyon says that, when opening this passion project, one of his main goals was to let people eat the way they eat at home.
Lyon lives in Ventura, but grew up not far from Commerson, near Orange and 2nd. His first gig was working at L'Ermitage under Chef Michel Blanchet when he was a teenager, which he describes as being exactly like the Pixar film, Ratatouille.
"It was the epitome of a French kitchen," he says.
He would later study at the Culinary Institute of America and go on to work with chefs Michel Richard and Alain Giraud at Citrus in L.A., and at Chef Daniel Boulud's Daniel, as well as Keith McNally's Balthazar in New York. He returned to Los Angeles and debuted Delphine Brasserie at the W Hotel in Hollywood, where he worked with Commerson pastry chef Liz Sencion.
But before any of this, Lyon was traveling the world with his family. Lyon's father, Ronald Lyon, produced the '80s iteration of Ripley's Believe It or Not hosted by actor Jack Palance. As such, Lyon's family was always being carted off to far-away destinations in search of the world's oddities and curiosities.
"It didn't matter the distance, my father would always prefer to rent a car and drive versus flying from hotel to hotel," he said.
So, Lyon grew up eating across Europe, with meals consisting of ham sandwiches from roadside vendors one day, then truffled eggs in a hotel the next. He also spent a year of his childhood in Paris. Yet, while these meals of his youth inspired the dishes Lyon likes to prepare today, the single best meal he says he's ever had was in a small town north of Zurich, Switzerland in a friend's home. It was boiled potatoes, bread, cheese and cold coffee. After eating, they finished the meal with Swiss pear brandy, made via a process that begins by fitting the bottle around a young pear and allowing it to grow inside the glass.
"That's eating," Lyon says. "It was the best eating experience I've ever had. It was contextually perfect. That's how you eat at home, but how do you do it in a restaurant?"
The approach relies on a few key elements. For starters, Commerson doesn't try to do everything in house, and instead relies on trusted suppliers for certain items. Their salami, for instance, comes from Olympia Provisions, while their bread comes via Culver City's Lodge.
Commerson also maintains an intentionally uncomplicated space, with that signature industrial look: polished concrete floors, exposed ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, bare tables. The space was designed by Lyon's wife, Rita Lyon, who took her inspiration from French modernism. Its simplicity is one way in which Lyon believes he can translate the way he eats at home to a commercial endeavor. By not washing linens or ordering expensive uniforms or fussing with carpet, Lyon can maintain a lower overhead than the French kitchens where he cut his teeth. Therefore, he feels he can afford to charge less for better meats and produce.
"If I'm spending $13 on a burger it better be organic, all-natural, no preservatives or [added] sugar," he says with a laugh.
But more seriously, he says, "I want to give people the experience at restaurants that they deserve. I love good food and I consider myself really fortunate to, my whole life, have had access to the best food in the world. But what good food is now is changing. It's not just caviar and foie gras or something rare. It's high-integrity, all-natural, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, humanely raised, organic food. That's how we eat at home and how we feed our children. And I believe that everyone should have access to that and it shouldn't come at a premium. So to me, a neighborhood restaurant delivers that high-integrity food at an affordable price and figures out on their end what they need to do to make that possible."
Perhaps most interesting to the hungry consumer, Lyon also aims to serve big portions of a few things versus small portions of several things. You won't find a tasting menu at Commerson, but you will soon find something they call Bread Service. It's a simple menu of bread, butter, meat and cheeses, where each is served in prodigious amounts.
"When it comes to high-end exclusive things, I want a lot," he says. "...I think eating dainty portions of bread and cheese is unfortunate. When we eat cheese at home, we buy a piece of cheese—a whole thing of cheese. We don't buy 30 different, little 1-ounce portions of cheese. We buy one hunk of cheese, one really nice loaf of bread, we sit down and we eat."
The bread service menu can range between $9 and $34, depending on what the customer elects to add on, but begins with quality Lodge bread and beurre de baratte, a rich butter from Normandie.
Cheeses include the Surfin' Blu, a Quattro Portoni cheese aged in Italian IPA for at least 60 days, buffalo milk cheeses from Italy, Taleggio, and smooth triple- and double-cream cheeses that perfectly compliment the warm, grilled bread.
Other menu items include A Parisian Diversion, which is a play on a sandwich Lyon encountered on the Left Bank. He said it was meant to poke fun at American food, and would consist of a baguette, topped with a hot dog, fries and an ample amount of salt. His sandwich is a gluttonous one, which takes a baguette and tops it with French fries, garlic butter and escargot ($12). Elsewhere is a shrimp and chorizo burger ($15) and that aforementioned $13 organic grass-fed burger, topped with roasted tomato, arugula, caramelized onion and garlic aioli. Vegetarians could choose their Reading Raclette sandwich, made with Reading Raclette cheese, crimini mushrooms, spinach, red onions and whole grain mustard aioli on Lodge bread ($13).
Large plates range from $16 for the Atlantic haddock and up to $38 for the filet mignon. One particularly interesting dish is the Loch Duart salmon filet, which comes on a bed of eggplant confit and peppers with a garlic toum. To enjoy this dish, you must really love garlic. This toum's sharpness puts the stuff you get at Zankou to shame.
Dessert items come via pastry chef Liz Sencion (W Hotel, The Peninsula Hotel, Beverly Wilshire). A standout is her warm apple crostata, made with Braeburn apples and sultanas (golden raisins) topped with a honey parsnip ice cream. She also makes a Valrhona chocolate coupe, made with Valrhona p125, which contains a lower amount of cocoa butter and can therefore be used by pastry chefs in a variety of ways. The dessert is served in a glass, and consists of a chocolate pudding, chunks of brownie, vanilla whipped cream and almond cinnamon crumble, plus squares of house-made "fudgesicles," which have the frozen texture of the popular childhood treat. It's a very rich dessert that lends itself to sharing.
If you feel like drinking, the restaurant does offer a full bar with beer, wine, sprits and craft cocktails. The cocktails are a bit less pretentious than other mixology-focused bars; there's not much on the menu that your average imbiber won't recognize. Their wine list is fairly extensive and is curated by sommelier Sam Rethmeier.
Also, Commerson stays open late, offering dishes and drinks until 1 a.m., and has free parking.
Commerson is located at 788 S. La Brea Ave in Mid-Wilshire, 323-813-3000.