Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Cocktails, snacks, and desserts @ The Alembic

Friday evening I was sitting at my desk at work, having just devoured a ton of food at "TGIF".  I was planning to head home soon, for a quiet evening at home, and just eat a light meal.  My plans were thrown out the door when one of my co-workers/friends/best-dining companions swings by and says "Hey, we are going to The Alembic for drinks and some bar snacks, want to join?  The uber will be here in 2 minutes."  I take a moment to consider it, but he is already headed out the door.  My hey-don't-leave-me-behind instincts kick in, and without thinking things through at all, I'm quickly chasing them down.

I'd never been to The Alembic.  I didn't enough know what part of town it was in, just that we apparently needed to take a cab there.  Adventure time!

The Alembic was unlike any bar I've ever been to.  I should have known, given who I was joining, that this wasn't going to be a dive, but I still never expected to be writing a raving food blog post about the place.  "Bar snacks"?  Um, the menu included bone marrow, cauliflower mousse, bacon dashi, caper gremolata, garlic confit, and horseradish soubise.  A plethora of spices, like honey-cumin, sumac, zaatar, and house-smoked salts.  The eggs were cooked souz vide.  Seafood cooked "a la plancha".  This was no ordinary bar food.

The cocktail menu was equally intriguing.  Amazing sounding drinks, massive list of liquors available, knowledgeable bartenders.

We were able to walk right in and get seated at a table.  The atmosphere was incredibly relaxing and casual.  Service was friendly and more attentive than many restaurants.

The Alembic is a fantastic place.  Casual, friendly vibe, great food at totally reasonable prices, and fantastic cocktails, all in one?  It is easy to see why my friends used to be regulars here.  I wish it were in my neighborhood!  And did I mention, one of the top desserts I've had all year?  I'll be back!
Pickled quail eggs.  $2.
These were great - tiny little pickled quail eggs!  The flavors were far more intense than I expected, with a good level of vinegar from the pickling, and awesome salt on top.  The most surprising part was how much I tasted the yolk, I wonder if quail egg yolk is just more intense than chicken egg?  I haven't noticed that before, but I think it is possible I've only ever had raw quail egg before.

These were tasty little bites, and I'd gladly get them again.
Shishito peppers with house-smoked salt.  $5.
Fairly standard shishito peppers, but well executed.  Oily, but in a good way and not too oily, with a nice salt level that made them addicting.  We were a little surprised by how spicy they were, aren't only 1 in 10 supposed to be spicy? It seemed like every one of these was!

I was shocked by how quickly these arrived, I think they were on the table within just a few minutes of ordering!  If I was in the mood for these, I'd order again.
Jerk spiced duck hearts with pickled pineapple and thyme salt.  $5.
My first time (I think) having duck heart.  If I'm going to eat their livers all the time, I may as well eat their hearts too ...

These were more tasty bites!  Nicely grilled, and the jerk spicing on them was really quite delicious.  The jerk flavors paired nicely with the pineapple, and the pineapple also served as a good sweet compliment to the earthy, mineral flavor from the hearts.  It was a shame to have just raw slices of pineapple though, why not grill them as well?  Or spice them in some way?  Or better yet, caramelize them?

I probably wouldn't order this again, but it was an interesting dish to try.
The Poop Deck: Cognac, port wine, blackberry brandy.  $11.
My cocktail.  I was encouraged not to order a drink from the menu, and rather just tell the bartenders what I liked, but this just sounded so good I couldn't resist.

I loved it.  It was a very well balanced drink.  Sweet, but not too sweet.  The blackberry flavor was intense - there was absolutely no doubt that you were drinking blackberry!  The frothy foam on top made the experience of drinking it enjoyable as well.

I'd order again in a heartbeat, but so many other cocktails sounded good too, I'd like to try them as well ...
Kona Kampachi Crudo: compressed cucumber, jalapeno, shiso, lemon.  $13.
When my friends ordered this, I couldn't help but thinking, "who gets crudo at a bar?" (But, then again, what bar serves crudo in the first place?)  But as soon as I saw this, I realized that this was really, truly not ordinary bar food.  Beautiful plating and edible flowers?  This is about as fancy-pants of bar food as I've ever had.

It was as good as it looked.  The kampachi was really high quality fish, on par with that I'd get at any sushi restaurant.  The jalapeno was sliced super thin, so a bite that included it wasn't overwhelmed by the spice, but rather it enhanced it oh-so subtly.  The cucumber, radish, and flowers added to the light and bright feeling of this dish.

I'd definitely get again, you know, when I go to a bar wanting crudo ... and at $13, this felt like really a great deal.
Crispy softshell crab: Ajo blanco, pickled green strawberry, radish, charred avocado, mitsuba.  $15.
Softshell crab season just began, so everywhere is featuring it these days!

This was the least successful dish of the evening.  The charred avocado was visually very off putting, as it looked somewhat like it was just avocado that had been cut up too far in advance and left to oxidize.  The fried crab was kinda meh.

I found the pickled green strawberries fairly addicting, with a strange tartness, sweetness, and sourness all at once.  The sauce was an ajo blanco, which seemed like a strange pairing with the crab, but was tasty enough on its own.  It needed more vinegar or maltiness to really compliment the crab, and was a little too thick.

I'd skip this in the future, but it was a creative dish, and I give them credit for that.
Caramelized Brioche: strawberries, ice cream, foam.  $8.
OMG.  That is really all I have to say here :)

I was full and had already eaten at least 6 desserts that day, including one just an hour before that was an amazing caramelized bourbon bread pudding infused with Bailey's and topped with whipped cream.  I really didn't need more dessert.  And if top restaurants can rarely make desserts that impress me, how on earth would this place?  But, one of my dining companions told me that I needed to order this, and it doesn't take THAT much convincing to get me to order dessert ...

It didn't even sound that good - "caramelized brioche"?  Meh, that sounded just like another bread pudding, right?  Wrong!  This was the lovechild of a bread pudding and a crème brûlée!  And you know how obsessed I've been with crème brûlée!  It was awesometastic.

The brioche was insanely moist, served warm.  It leaned far more on the custard side than bready side, just bready enough to really hold its form.  And the top was caramelized like a crème brûlée, giving it an intense flavor and slight bitterness from the burnt sugar, rather than the typical sweetness you get from just a caramel.  I'd have preferred that the brûlée layer be thicker, and more like a shell, rather than slightly soggy as it was, but this thing really was just incredible.

Also on the plate were some chunks of fresh strawberry and a sweet strawberry puree, adding a seasonal aspect to the dish.  They were fine, but not memorable.  I didn't catch the details on what the foam or ice cream were, but they were both fairly sweet.  I didn't really like the foam with the brioche, as it was kinda just too sweet and the textures didn't play together all that well.  It did go nicely with the strawberries however.  The ice cream had poppy seeds in it, and was a great cold compliment to the warm brioche.

This really was a fantastic dish.  It combined so many aspects of things I love - custard! Sweet and bitter! Warm dessert paired with cold ice cream!  One of the best desserts I've had all year.  I WILL order this again :)  Also, $8?  Most desserts I've had lately have been $12, and nowhere near this good!
Cheesecake in a jar: meyer lemon curd,  huckleberry jam,  candied coconut.  $8
I had just a bite of this, as I was far too busy with my amazing dessert to notice it much.  It was pretty good - decent creamy cheesecake layer, tart lemon curd layer, sweet huckleberry jam, and really crunchy shards of coconut on top.  The flavors all paired together really nicely, and the crunchy coconut was a really fun contrast to the other creamy layers.  While the jar was a cute presentation, it was a little hard to eat this way to get all of the layers at once.  The first bite I took was just coconut, jam, and lemon curd, making me think that it was a really poorly done cheesecake, as I didn't taste any cheesecake at all :)
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