Hey fellas, want to make your date feel super hot? Of course you do. And it's just one $9 cocktail away. The Gilded Lily, a seductive cocktail of Plymouth gin, yellow chartreuse, orange flower water, and a hint of demi-sec bubbles, awaits at ~THE ALEMBIC~. After a few tastes, the gold leaf that was shimmering in the lovely stemmed glass will slyly end up on your date's lips. Lemme tell ya, the ladies will go from girlie to glamour puss in three sips. And that's exactly when you say, "Kiss me, goldie." This drink's nickname should be the lovemaker. (Gents, you can thank me later with a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15 year, meow.)
The selection of bourbons and whiskies here is thrilling indeed, be still my beating heart, but first, it's time to get your clothes caught on the Barbed Wire Fence: graham-cracker infused bourbon, house-made rhubarb soda, and a strawberry that will make you snicker (hint: it goes "pop pop").
You'll also wonder if there's something else the bar slipped in your drink, because as you nibble away at the bacon cracker jacks ($5), which is netting my award for bar snack of the year, at the bottom of the bowl cleverly lined with the Red Vic Theater schedule you find, wait, what is up with the little patterned baggie in there, normally relegated to contain other Haight Street illegal pleasures? Whoa, how did that get in there? No, it didn't fall out of your fifth pocket. It's your prize, yo! (Sorry, it won't be a bud, so stop dreaming. Mine was a mini plastic chicken. Bwok.) Let's just say popcorn, oolong caramel, spiced cashews, rendered bacon... you do the math.
Since the Alembic's opening chef, Eddie Blyden, has headed to the East Bay (he's now running the show at the gastropub Henry's), the latest co-executive chefs to come on board are Jordan Grosser (formerly the chef de cuisine of Postrio) and Ted Fleury (of the dearly departed Winterland). And they are rocking it.
Start with the pickled quail eggs ($1), sporting a shocking violet hue, or the blistered shishito peppers ($5) with a flourish of house-smoked salt--I love praying for a hot one, you never know.
Are you really eating white asparagus in the Haight? Uh huh. Along with toasted hazelnuts and mache ($8), how fabulously bougie! I normally find white asparagus unnecessarily fussy, but this dish made me reconsider that stance. A touch overdressed, but delicious.
You like smoky? Order up the Baynes Sound clams ($10), a bowl of tender, meaty monsters in a fresh corn broth, with chunks of smoky bacon, topped with a scattering of scallion and threads of togarashi--definitely one of those "I am going to finish every last bite of this" kind of combos.
Oh yeah, and then there's the long bone o' bone marrow ($9) with a fat-cutting but sadly not fat-burning caper gremolata. Who knew bone marrow would pair well with a cocktail? It sure does. Kind of like oil and vinegar--you need one to help with the other. You eat because you're getting tipsy, and you drink because, well, you're drinking. Especially here.
A few dishes playfully push the boundaries of the "gastropub" style, integrating Asian ingredients like the delectable miso-glazed black cod ($10), brightened up with a tangy side of pickled shimeji mushrooms and radish. Loved this dish. Or the sesame that shows up in goat cheese croquettes ($8) with pickled beets. (See, your liver isn't the only thing getting pickled.) Actually, the dishes are constructed like the cocktails here, with layers of flavor, top notch/shelf ingredients, balance, wit, and they're seasonally driven. Everything is about appetizer sized, so plan on grazing on at least a few plates.
For dessert, don't even try to pass up the Eagle Rare chocolate pudding ($8), thick and rich and bourbon-y, with "tipsy" cherries and the crunch of smoked salt, all tucked into a little Mason jar. Yeah, dangerous. Because where's there's smoke... there are lemon cupcakes ($8)! So darned cute. All three of them. And topped with cocoa nibs, quite. The handiwork of pastry chef Jenna Hodges, who worked with Boris Portnoy at Winterland, and Campton Place.
So, a few insider tips. This place is a small shotgun room, with only a few tables in the back, so in order to do some crowd control, the weekend will most likely entail a wait (like most places around town). Ah hell. I like the mellower pace of mid-week, or swing by in the late afternoon on the weekend for a little hair of the dog--and if you sit at the comfortable bar, you can even get a good spirits education. Since the kitchen serves late, that's another bonus factor to keep in mind.
I've always liked the style here, with the atmospheric lighting, spiffy vintage vibe, and don't even get me started on the wall of shimmering bottles. (If you want to read more about the look, take a peek at my original "fresh meat" review.) The Alembic is top o' my list for a place to bring visitors to experience the SF-craft cocktail scene--the folks who work behind the bar here are some of the country's best. Wicked talent. And the drink descriptions are their own particular brand of entertainment. But watch out, because odds are you'll find yourself needing a taxi after perching here for more than an hour. And if you're lucky, someone will have a hint of gold leaf on their lips.
1725 Haight St.
Cross: Cole St.
San Francisco, CA 94117
Kitchen closes at 12am
Lunch Fri-Sun 12pm-5pm
Small plates $8-$12
08/09: Chef Jordan Grosser has departed, and the menu is now from chef Ted Fleury.