Monday, April 13, 2009

Alchemy Restaurant (San Diego, CA)

Alert Alert!~!: Found great new restaurant that has entrees for under $17 that doesn't taste like over-sauced garbage like most restaurants in North Park (cause.. it's in South park!). They serve deliciously inventive cocktails, have spot on service, and most importantly gives you a good meal without ruining your wallet.

Our friend Joey came from out of town and we were looking to get a few drinks and get our chow on . I first looked at Tractor Room, but my lifestyle change to a pescetarian diet wouldn't let me eat ANYTHING there. Starlight was closed for Easter Sunday. After browsing the web for a bit, I fell upon Alchemy in Southpark. Opened 7 weeks ago, the restaurant has an urban ambiance, it'd fit right in place in West Hollywood with the clean art decor and soft warm colors of the walls/floors/counters.

The restaurant's focus is on creating well portioned dishes with quality ingredients at recession proof prices. A generous wine by the glass section as well as a by the bottle wine list (corkage is $15) accompany a specialty cocktail list. The restaurant walls are adorned with modern photography/art as well as a giant tree sculpture in the middle of the restaurant. The name Alchemy is rather fitting, taking ingredients from all over the food/drink pyramid and combining them into an attractive and appealing concoction.

If I overheard the owner Ron Troyano correctly they worked the restaurant around this sculpture to make it the center of the restaurant.

After being seated, a couple of my friends and I ordered a few cocktails while waiting for the rest of our party to arrive.
I'm so tired of drinking rum&coke, 7&7 .. where you have some random bartender make you a drink that's either far too strong or far too sweet. I just want a drink that's well made, that I can enjoy. I believe Alchemy hits the spot. Btw I am not a booze hound, I just tasted a few sips of every drink to get an impression =P

I ordered a Keeps Pleasure

Skyy Vodka, Tangerine, bing cherry, and fresh mint.

Vodka is a great spirit to use as a blank canvas. It does its job of matching whatever flavor surrounds it. In this case you get really bright sweet cherry with hints of mint. The cherry has a wonderful fleshy flavor to it that is accented by the tangerine flavor. I was first curious why they didn't mash all the mint into the drink, but it was perfect the way it was. The mint didn't overpower the layers of flavor the cherry and tangerine imparted. I hate to use a comparison to a Mojito, since the only thing similar is a mint... but the drink was refreshing and a great start to the meal.

Allen ordered the Red Derby

Michters rye whisky, grapefruit, honey

For me, this was without a doubt the star of the night for the drinks. Normally when you have a drink you don't sit there pondering the finish or what's on the mid palate like you do wines. But in this case, the finish was sweet honey and a bit of bitter rind that just sat on your tastebuds for 20-30 seconds. It was incredible! The rum itself was a bit strong at first (who's complaining about a little bit more alcohol?) but I really enjoy the inclusion of grapefruit juice in any drink, that bitter sweet citrus adds a certain tang to alcohol. The drink got better as you got to the bottom of the glass as the honey and juice settled and mixed perfectly with the rum.

Frank ordered the Rosemary Negroni

Tanqueray 10 gin, Rosemary, Campari, Cinzano sweet vermouth, blood orange

A slice of blood orange is dripped over the cocktail which adds acidity to the bitters from the Campari. I like the inclusion of the vermouth that adds a primary herbal note to the drink that then becomes accented by the Rosemary. The drink is floral and fresh with just a touch of sweetness.

Also enjoyed a bottle of 2005 Sojourn Cabernet Sauvignon Home Ranch

Slim notes of blueberry and vanilla appear on the nose with slightly pronounced heat. Dark rich fruit mixed with very prominent blueberry and black berry and still has the toasted oak mouthfeel. Still a big tannic wine, might need some time to settle in and let the tannin integrate with the fruit.

The rest of the party arrived so we chomped down on a few appetizers.

Started off with Ceviche of fresh sea bass $8

pickled mango / toasted coriander seed/ plantain chip

I really enjoyed this ceviche. The fish was fleshy and light, not overly saturated with citrus. The sweetness of the mango mixed with the spice of the coriander made for a playful salsa flavor that permeated through each of the bites. You can then scoop some of the ceviche with the crisp plantain chip to add that little bit of pottasium we all need =P.

We also ordered Parmesian fries $4

shoestring potato fries / parmesan cheese garlic aioli

Good fries, not as crispy as I'd expect with shoestring fries. The aioli was teetering on the fine line between flavored aioli and mayo. Someone at the table said these were like high end McDonald fries, it was meant as a compliment. Personally, when I think shoe string I think thin fries that are super crispy and almost well done cause they are so thin. These have a good amount of potato/starch still in them, so unless you fry them in oil for 10 minutes (yuck) they won't get that crispiness that I love.

I enjoyed the flavor of the fries, just the right amount of parmesian and herb on the fries. Some places (Oceanaire) are heavily seasoned and it detracts from the fries itself.

Next up the San Diego Sliders $8

three grilled mahi tacos / shredded cabbage / salsa verde americana / corn tortillas

I have read complaints about this dish on Yelp, this once again shows the craptastic taste of many many users on Yelp, but this dish was SPOT ON. This is an appetizer, it's meant to be small. Three tacos just the right size, three bites per taco. I like the use of Mahi Mahi in tacos, they are light and delicate and do not have a strong fish flavor so they compliment well with whatever condiments are served with it.

Shredded red/purple cabbage that has more of a bite than your normal raw green cabbage with a flavorful salsa verde and a dallop of sour cream.

Everything about this appetizer screamed light and filling. All the ingredients were perfectly sized to give you the most flavor in the small manageable bites.

cocktail break: Alchemy Margarita

Cuervo 1800 tequila, orange, lime, agave, black salt

I liked the smokiness from the use of the black sea salt along the rim of the margarita. I really really like the inclusion of fresh citrus juices in the drink. I hate concentrated juice.. it adds an odd sour flavor to the drink but the lime and orange worked well to balance out the bitter spice that comes from the tequila. One of the better Margaritas I've had.. but I'm no expert on Margaritas =P.

After watching "she who shall not be named" break a wine glass and the very attentive wait staff clean it up like MOP in Wall-E We got our entrees.

I had the Pacific Halibut Sous Vide $15

Carmelized brussel sprouts and toasted walnuts are layered within a herb oil and walnut reduction mix with a piece of sous vide halibut on top. Sous vide fish is done in a vaccuum sealed bag at a low heat for a long period of time. It creates a very controlled environment for the meat to cook in. The fish was prepared in the bag with a slice of lemon to add acidity to the fish.

The halibut was cooked perfectly, flaked right off but the best part of the dish was the walnut "sauce" that was at the bottom of the dish. It mixed perfectly with the Halibut and Sprouts. At first the fish itself didn't have much flavor, but when eaten as a complete dish it was astounding, it was nutty and sweet with some nice bitter sprout to balance it out.

Allen ordered the Crispy Skin Jidori half chicken $16

This was easily the best dish of the night. The chicken was perfectly cooked, crisp skin and tender moist meat, served with bokchoy, shitake mushroom dumplings. There are few chicken sources that restaurants provide that give the same consistent quality and excellence of Jidori. It's always flavorful and tender and the restaurants that make good food end up putting forward astonishing pieces of bird. The rest of the dish has a heavy Asian influence. A "Ma La" pepper spice mixed with a sweet reduction with flat Shitake mushroom dumplings. The Shitake mushrooms were diced into the dumplings and you have a very rich earthy mushroom flavor.

Joey had the Burger $10

Big fat juicy burger , Joey said "very good". Sorry for the lack of info, I didn't try the burger.

Frank had the Cocoa Rubbed Niman Ranch Pork Tenderloin $17

Slices of pork tenderloin that was roasted and rubbed with cocoa powder served with sweet potato/yam (not sure which, website says SP, owner said yam) mash and asian pear Mostarda. Incredibly tender and flavorful the pork had a great partner in the cocoa spice rub. The sweetness from the cocoa was matched with two very good sides. Poached then diced Asian Pear and a pureed yam mash. The yam mash was exciting, just a smidgen of sweetness from the sappy yam with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg(?). I just kept reaching across the table to scoop from Frank's plate.

Finally, Sharon had the pan roasted local seabass $14

Fennel and EVOO with a cherry tomato sauce accompanies the Sea Bass. I love the use of capers in a dish, it adds a certain amount of saltiness that enhances the flavor of the fish and fennel. The EVOO tomato sauce was light but full of flavor. I enjoyed the flavor of this more than my halibut but I enjoyed the preparation of the halibut more. I thought the fish could have been cooked better, it was a little rubbery at the center but I found the taste of the fish well executed with laser focused flavor.

After letting our bellies rest we ordered two desserts to share.

Spice Roasted Pineapple Brulee $6

A dallop of fresh pineapple sorbet sits on top of the pineapple. The pineapple is made in the "creme Brulee" fashion. It's first spiced and then coated with sugar and then seared to create a hard shell around the top of the pineapple. This was a good dessert, it was fresh and airy.. also made me feel healthy since it was a piece of fruit right? (hehe). The problem with this dish, is it had to come along with one of the best desserts I've had in awhile.

Cranberry Bread Pudding $6

Served with a very generous scoop of Vanilla Gelato and a caramel pistashio sauce. First, the bread pudding was perfectly executed, I was initially afraid that the cranberry would be overwhelming but it was a nice compliment to the soft moist bread pudding. Full of sweet cinnamon flavor, the bread pudding was outstanding. The best part of this dish? The Gelato. Creamy and dense and packed full of vanilla bean flavor. *yummmmm*. Everyone at the table was raving about the gelato.

I really enjoyed this restaurant, I'm glad that they opened. I feel they are still working some kinks out, my fish was a little below warm but everyone elses dishes came out spectacularly. I can see this place being an absolute STUNNER by the end of the year. The service was spot on, quick and attentive but not hovering and Ron's wine service was superb.

I can't wait to go back!

And... I didn't wait long to go back. 6 days later

Had a couple of new things here. (sorry no pictures)

roasted california almonds: Like eating little bites of healthy bbq fritos. I love bbq frito twists. I was nibbling at these all night.

"cabernet" marinated local olives: don't like olives =( Everyone else liked them.

berkshire pork piquillo relleno:Couldn't eat the pork, but the part everyone liked was the vegetables under the pork. Edamame with Mustard green with some sort of Parsley/Herb Oil infusion. Very tasty. I picked all 3 plates clean of the veggie.

Ravioli: I was a bit worried when this was ordered, cause I dont' usually have good experiences with Ravioli at non-italian restaurants. These are two very very large Ravioli's stuffed with Goat Cheese Ricotta. The rich sweat cream like sauce from the beet mixed splendidly with the sharpness of the Ricotta. The ravioli was appropriately thick in which it didn't detract from the cheese and sauce with too much dough.

I was utterly amazed by the sauce.

duo of cypress island salmon: An interesting play on Negi-Toro. Instead of Tuna Belly they used Salmon belly mixed with green onions. Served alongside house cured salmon. I've always liked the thick consistency of Negi-Toro and this was similar but with a silkier salmon taste. (not as fatty as Negi-toro of course)

Japanese 75: Plymouth gin, yuzu, sparkling wine: Yuzu juice is one of my favorite additions to food and drink due to its complex citrus flavor. Added in with the lightly woody gin and the acidic and sharp minerality from the sparkling wine it created a thick textured mouth coating drink that stayed in your mouth sip after sip.

Service was spot on as usual. Around 8:00pm the place was packed. Not an empty seat in the house with 3-4+ tables waiting to be seated.

Alchemy Restaurant
1503 30th Street
San Diego, CA 92102



suzanna said...

Sharon was just raving about this place... it looks awesome! The food combinations seem really creative. This place is going on my to-do list.

Charlie Fu said...

Suzanna: Yeah, we enjoyed it a lot. The prices are right and the ambiance is good, really not much to complain about here =)

Anonymous said...

Wow looks great! Nice find!

Charlie Fu said...

Anonymous: absolutely, I read on yelp about price increases from when they initially opened. If so that's interesting that prices have been raised within 7 weeks. Hopefully they don't go up again anytime soon.

Tracey said...

Great review - I'm putting this place on my "to try" list. Yelp is totally unreliable...

Charlie Fu said...

Tracey: Yelp has its benefits at times. You can find out about a lot of new restaurants. But reviews based on price/portion size are always seriously flawed because you and I don't know what in their mind is a "cheap" or "expensive" dish.
At the same time, we don't know where they frequently dine so we don't know what portion size they are used to. If you go to anything that resembles a fine dining restaurant you're expecting to eat small portions, you can't go in and expect CHeesecake factory size portions.
Nor do we know what style of food they like? Would you listen to someone about a local whole in the wall taco shop when all they eat is fine dining? or vice versa?

We unfortunately can't see that when they make a review.

Fortunately I didn't follow the very mixed reviews on Alchemy, but decided to try it anyways.

romo said...

great review, charlie. two questions:

- how did your party like the sojourn HR cab? if you like sojourn, they are having an 05 cab sale this week.

- how does alchemy compare to Urban Solace (which i see you gave only three stars on yelp)?

Charlie Fu said...

Romo: I've had really mixed feelings about the 05 Home Ranch. I'm not sure why but whenever i drink the home ranch with Craig , the wine is outstanding @ the price.. but the three times I've had it, it's been a bit disappointing. I feel the alcohol, oak, and tannins overwhelm the fruit, it's very big and ripe. It needs almost a day for all that to settle.

The 05 sonoma cabs are different, much more subtle with soft 2ndary characteristics and bright cherries. Easy to age wines I believe. I'd love to get some @ $28 but a case is wayyy too much for me.

in regards to Urban Solace: Almost every dish came lukewarm, the food was average at best, the fish was dry, the beef cheeks dry and flavorless, fries limp and cold, incredibly slow and unattentive service. I'm not even sure why I gave it a 3, it deserves far less. There is creativity behind their dishes, but the execution is flawed because many of the ingredients don't work together (their san diego monte cristo sandwich with a baked pear)

Half the people I went with refuse to go again.

Alchemy on the other hand was well received, food came at a great pace, inventive and great tasting.

romo said...

i agree on the sojourn. i got the mailer and another case of 05 sonoma cabs is too much for me, too. though, i'll split a case of the reserve cab if you're interested there. the 40% deal is good til 4/21.

we're gonna try Solace this week and look out for your points. we've eaten at the bar before on a monday night and promised to go back. besides, i've got an 03 Pax i need to drink and Solace menu looks like more of a comfort food match.

Charlie Fu said...

Romo: Thanks for the offer, but i'm holding off on buying Cali Cabs for now =).

Hope you have a good time at Urban Solace!

kirbie said...

Wow, this place looks yummy and the prices seem very reasonable. I especially want to try the ceviche and some of the drinks you ordered. Another place to add to my evergrowing list of restaurants to try.

romo said...

ok, ok, i've learned my lesson: never doubt The Fu!

urban solace was good, but not great. your points were spot on, though we did not order beef. the char was undercooked, and though the food did have flair it did not have balance.

and, those sweet potato fries are good soggy, crispy and everywhere in between. i checked.

on to Alchemy!

Anonymous said...

As usual, a great find, clayfu. Keep it up!

caninecologne said...

hi clayfu
great post. this sounds like a cool place to try out, like really soon! my husband would love that seabss...

Charlie Fu said...

Romo: Hope you'll enjoy Alchemy more than Urban Solace!

Anonymous: thanks =)

CC: It gets really busy around 8pm on friday so keep that in mind if you want a table!

Peyton said...

Charlie, hope you can make it to the Media Preview night at Alchemy on 5.7.09 7-9:30pm.



Little Miss Contrary said...

My friends were raving about Alchemy the other day ... Looks like it got your approval as well. Must try it soon!

Jack said...
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