If Commune Café were located one block east, it would easily be one of the better things to happen in Yaletown in the recent past. That’s not a difficult judgment: in a neighbourhood where tight muscle tees and silicon duck lips still reign supreme, this unassuming new restaurant is a brief oasis in a sea of spray tans.
The restaurant, conceived by Annette Rawlinson (C, Au Petit Chavignol) and Tina Fineza (Flying Tiger, Les Faux Bourgeois, La Taqueria), is set up cafeteria-style, a long communal table running down the centre and smaller two person booths flanking the perimeter. Hours are long at Commune: breakfast, lunch and dinner service is available, snacks and baked goods in between, and coffee, Canadian craft beer and BC wines.
With that said, most of the offerings are ideal for a quick bite, with sandwiches both hot and cold featured prominently throughout all three menus. The breakfast and dinner menus also offer further options to linger over, with standard egg dishes to start the day, and Iranian flatbreads and other entrees to end the night.
We stopped in for dinner on two occasions, mere days after Commune opened, to enjoy the relative solitude of a new restaurant before the inevitable rush that will undoubtedly occur in the coming weeks and months. The expansive menu runs across several cupboard doors, with baked goods from Kreation, Tartine and in-house to serve as distractions.
It’s not often that I care about salad, and it’s even rarer that I rave about one, but the quinoa salad ($9) is something to behold. Locally sourced quinoa is mixed with cucumber, mint and alfalfa to give a refreshing summer bite, with currants and lime to give it a necessary contrast, and smoked sablefish to elevate the entire dish into something substantial and satisfying. Instead of being merely tossed together, here’s a salad that shows true thought and care, one that will make you want to re-evaluate salads offered elsewhere.
Oceanwise fish – on our visit, halibut – is offered as an entrée, roasted and served atop white beans, an onion confit and the occasional sliver of green ($15). The kitchen may still be smoothing out its first bout of growing pains: the halibut was slightly overcooked, though not enough to be unenjoyable, with the beans, rich and glorious, serving as the true star of the show.
A few days later, we returned for sandwiches, which we felt necessary considering they make up a solid half of Commune’s menus. In the interim, we visited Commune’s twitter page, where talk of housemade porchetta piqued our curiosity, a pang that fans of all things porcine should thoroughly understand. There’s few better ways that pork loin can be so honoured than to be slathered with rosemary, garlic, fennel and sage, rolled up in a glory tube and roasted to juicy perfection.
Porchetta’s something to be passionate about: if served in a sandwich, it’s all I want to taste. Commune’s version ($9) comes with mozzarella melted over the porchetta and roast peppers, and there are glorious bites to be had when you reach its fattier regions…well, at least as glorious as porchetta can be without the crackling. That’s the key missing ingredient to the sandwich, which the restaurant is cognizant of: they’re still tweaking the roasting process in their limited kitchen facilities, and leaving it off until the crackling reaches its necessary crunch. Until then, get the roast eggplant sandwich ($8.50), which comes with roast peppers, melted provolone, and hummus, a hearty and substantial vegetarian option.
Commune Café has started off on the good foot, and if that quinoa salad is any indication, there are undoubtedly great things ahead for them. Go in these early days: it won’t be long until the place gets rushed by the neighbourhood that surrounds it. When that happens, don’t say we didn’t warn you.