The most refined vegetarian restaurant in town cooks vegan dishes sure to wow
A restaurant tethers its name to an intentionally misspelled word as an understandable grab for attention in a competitive business. I'd wager that the creative, delicious and prettily plated dishes cooked in Comune would quickly attract attention to the impressive place if its name were only a prosaic self-description like “New Vegetarian Restaurant.”
Comune, a sophisticated-yet-casual, primarily vegan South Side standout that's been booked solid lately, is easy on the eyes and interesting on the ears. Its tastefully spare space features stark white walls, off-white tables with black matte cutlery and black napkins, plenty of plants and windows, date-night-worthy low lighting and a lively modern soundtrack playing at a conversation-friendly volume. Inside the impeccably tidy bathrooms — one is largely decorated in white, the other in black — the recorded voice of author/provocateur Henry Miller expounds on topics such as “theoretical pleasure.”
No, this isn't your typical Birkenstocks-and-yoga-pants-variety health-food restaurant. The small, appealing wine list communicates that with refreshingly uncommon, generally dry selections.
The house cocktails ($12) might sound exotic, but they're based on familiar flavors. For example, the “I Have the Pawa,” with frozen avocado pits serving as ice cubes and “avocado fat-washed” tequila, is like the best paloma around; the deceptively potent “Matcha, Matcha” is essentially a lemony martini with a green-tea finish.
Comune's often-Asian-accented cuisine adheres to a similar aesthetic. Here, Stir-Fried Spaghetti Squash ($12) is actually low-carb vegan pad Thai — a modest-sized but bright and vibrant homerun. The Bread + Spread ($13) is a signature appetizer of house-made, enormous, puffy, koji-spiked and grill-marked pita served with appealing riffs on classic dips such as a recent kimchi-hummus.
I'll admit that reading “Coconut-Squash Soup” ($6) didn't sound like something I'd find especially compelling. The soup's depth of flavor, soothing texture and intriguing nuances — from nigella seeds, vindaloo curry seasonings and pureed kabocha — proved me very wrong.
The best part of the Roasted Acorn Squash ($17) is the lentil dal scented with ras el hanout. But other components — such as sprouted seeds and a stunningly verdant herb jus — lend distinction, too.
Only one item on the eminently manageable menu is identified as a “salad,” but it's a doozy. Squash cubes, romanesco broccoli, pristine greens, sweet nut brittle, blobs of ricotta and more make the shareable Autumn Salad ($14) a memorable ensemble.
Do you like pickles and fermented assorted veggies? The Pantry Love will afford you a bold and colorful fix for just $6.
Probiotic pickled cabbage arrives in a thick ribbon of house kimchi atop Comune's excellent Crispy Fried Rice ($14) cake. The inspired dish is an elegant take on kimchi fried rice with dolsot bibimbap-like textures and a delicately fried egg.
Is sweet-and-sour pork an old favorite of yours? Comune has virtually reinvented it with cruciferous vegetables — and pickled jalapenos — in the Tempura Cauliflower ($10). This creation and the unexpectedly sweet Togarashi Fries ($10) are both good and were popular at my table, but I wouldn't place either on my list of Comune favorites.
That list would be topped by the Fresh Semolina Pappardelle ($22): handmade, silky, wide pasta noodles with a tangy, earthy and dynamic “maitake-walnut Bolognese” sauce. I like the veggie-heavy Dan Dan Noodle Bowl ($13) practically as much. Note: That spicy, wonderful and eye-catching entree is served only at lunch.
Sure, the friendly and personable service could be more consistent and informative. But while digging into a refined vegan brownie with light-and-fluffy whipped coconut cream and bittersweet candied citrus (Chocolate Avocado Cake, $7) after waiting a little too long for it, I consoled myself with this thought: Perhaps “Comune” is spelled like it is because this terrific eatery knows that its diners will audibly supply extra “mmm”s.