Jason Fox, chef-owner of the late Commonwealth, was one of the city’s most celebrated chefs during his the farm-to-table restaurant’s nine-year run, during which it earned a Michelin star and a sparkling reputation for its attention to ingredients and affordable tasting menu. Before the restaurant’s much-lamented closure last year, its $105 tasting menu remained one of the better bargains among the city’s high-end prix-fixe options. And now, Fox is back — this time to head up the kitchen at the San Francisco Proper Hotel.
Fox closed Commonwealth in October, following a bitter dispute with his landlord, who listed the space for $9,000 per month, or double what he’d been paying for rent. “They said they were ‘committed to not leasing to Commonwealth,’” Fox told Eater at that time. (Intriguingly, that landlord seemed to have no trouble turning over the space, promptly filling it with Prubechu, the new Guamanian spot.) For his part, Fox took a month off, before stepping into a wildly different setting starting this past October.
Now Fox is ready to make that news public. For the past few months, he made the transition from being a chef-owner of a single dining room, serving a thoughtfully curated tasting menu, to now managing a multi-level hotel with four different restaurants, from decadent brunches at Villon and rooftop happy hours at Charmaine’s.
Fox says he considered continuing with Commonwealth, and had plenty of offers for new spaces, but ultimately declined. “After a decade of running my own business, this feels like a fresh start,” Fox reflects. “A big hotel has the opportunity to do different things, and frees me up to be more creative. From fine dining to more relaxed and casual settings, lounge burgers to bar snacks, breakfast and brunch, it’s limitless. There is no one style.”
Proper Hotel currently has four different eating and drinking spots, including Villon restaurant, Charmaine’s rooftop bar, La Bande coffee bar, and the lounge on the first floor. Fox joined in October, and has been quietly updating the menus over the past couple of months. Diners can expect a stronger attention to ingredients, specifically vegetables and seafood, sourced not just from Fox’s favorite local farms but also foragers.
Downstairs at Villon, the dinner menu has been totally overhauled, and now looks way more wild and intriguing, featuring Dungeness crab with green goddess and pickled kohlrabi; shrimp agnolotti sunk in dashi and topped with crispy chicken skin; a chicory salad with nasturtium sorbet made from the edible flowers; and a sprouted grain porridge with wild nettles and fennel pollen. It’s all a la carte for now, although we’ll see if the chef is tempted to come back to his longtime tasting menu format.
Up on the rooftop at Charmaine’s, fire-pit revelers will still be able to get their favorite cocktails and baby cheeseburgers, but the new menu elevates the bar food. Fox says he’s excited to highlight fun snack foods from Tokyo to Mexico City, including tsukune chicken meatballs, seasoned with miso and cured egg yolk. A smoked mussel dish with a squid-ink potato cracker that looks like the mollusk’s shell, for an unexpected play on moules frites. Across the rest of the hotel, additional menu changes will be rolling out, as Fox promises more changes to come to La Bande coffee bar and the lounge, as well as breakfast and brunch options.
Fox is also joining some strong talent. The cocktail pros behind Trick Dog and Bon Voyage!, of the Bon Vivant Hospitality Group, crafted the original wine and cocktail lists in 2017. Pastry chef Sohrob Esmaili is a New York transplant coming from Gramercy Tavern and has already putting out beautiful desserts, including a full afternoon tea service, over the past couple of years. Proper Hotel has five locations now, including LA, Santa Monica, Portland, and Austin — the Santa Monica location, in particular, is home to Onda, the new restaurant collaboration between chef Garbriela Cámara of Cala and Jessica Koslow of Sqirl. So while this is a big hotel group, it’s one that’s hip and forward-thinking and has already made a habit of tapping strong culinary talent.
- Commonwealth to Close in August After Failed Negotiations With Landlord
- Villon’s Modern Aesthetic Brings Lively Contrast to an Historic Space in Mid-Market
- Cheating the Fog at Charmaine’s, Thursday at 8 p.m.