1725 Haight St.
Cross: Cole St.
San Francisco, CA 94117
Kitchen closes at 12am
Lunch Sat-Sun 12pm-4pm
Small plates $6-$15
23, 2007 | SAN FRANCISCO
stopped eating in the Upper Haight a long time ago—my twenties
ended, and so that was it. Meeting up with friends at Cha Cha Cha,
Kan Zaman, and El Balazo (man, can their staff be icy—I had
to boycott them years ago) went the way of Bruno at Aub Zam Zam
(rest in peace, old guy—SF's original martini Nazi).
Yes, the food at Magnolia can offer a safe haven, and breakfast
at the Pork Store can function like a SWAT team on your hangover,
but otherwise, the only thing that could get me to saddle up and
head on over to this neck of the panhandling trustafarian woods
would be the promise of bourbon and some bites at ~THE ALEMBIC~.
Alembic is a second project for Dave McLean, who is the kind owner
behind Magnolia Pub and Brewery just down the street at Masonic—he
also brought on Chef Eddie Blyden to oversee both kitchens (Blyden
was formerly at 21st Amendment and Sneaky Tiki). Eddie is one friendly
chef—he likes to say hi and hang out with his customers (this
man needs an exhibition kitchen!), and since he's lived all
over the world, he always has some good stories.
also think Eddie is hell-bent on getting you fat since the menu
is an unabashed paean to cheese and pork (bacon, pork belly, you
get the picture). Or perhaps he just has your best interests at
heart, because he knows you'll be in need of some fat molecules
in your system to counterbalance the booze you are about to consume.
just any booze, mind you: small-batch, artisanal, crafted booze.
Hello bourbon. Yes, whiskey, I am winking at you. Hey, it's
time for a cocktail. Take your pick from classics like old-fashioneds
and sazeracs and Manhattans, or "new school" numbers,
like a redux of the daiquiri, the mint julep, and then there's
"the bone," reportedly a turn-of-the-century gambler's
drink. (All are $9.) Like Bourbon
& Branch, this is not the place to order a cosmo.
are well represented, including some of Magnolia's brews on
tap, some independent Cali breweries, and bottled Belgians. Plus
a pleasing selection of wines by the glass for those who prefer
the grape. And there's also sake. Oh heck, if there's
something you like to drink you'll probably find it here.
(Unless it's Budweiser, then they simply can't help
joint is small: the bar has room for ten or so, and there's
also a bar rail up against the wall where you can sit, plus some
tables in the front and back of the space. It used to be Sweet Heat
and then Maroc, so for those of you who remember, yes, the place
is petite. Think boîte. Don't come here with a pile
of friends because you'll just get frustrated, which is not
the idea. This place is about hanging out. The bartenders are happy
to educate, and however long your cash (or liver) can sustain you,
you'll want to kick it at the bar and continue earning credits
toward your alcohol higher education.
highlights on the Southern-gastropub small plates menu: the jerk-lacquered
chicken wings ($9) come in a pile (like six or seven), and pack
some kick, almost like they're a little mad at you. Which
is where the cool yogurt dipping sauce comes in. The tender lamb
sliders ($10) with harissa aioli and tapenade are quite tasty—my
sole regret about them is you only get two. (Some guys might also
say this about breasts.)
the spaetzle ($13) comes loaded with braised rabbit, Hobbs'
bacon, corn, and while a bit under-salted on two visits, it's
a hearty serving that's good enough for three to share. (Unless
you're a big starving drunk boy who is totally hangry.)
ready to turn that richness dial to 11? Let's do it. How about
barbecued pork belly and deviled duck eggs nestled in a bath of
grits ($15)? The temp on this (rather messy) dish wasn't quite
hot enough despite the presentation in the Staub cast iron dish,
and I actually wanted the eggs to be runny instead of deviled, but
it still has appeal in its own funky little way.
County "Cheesesteak" ($15) shows Blyden at his most
sinister: oxtails are slow-braised in porter and burgundy, and served
up as a two-cheese Welsh rarebit (with cheddar and Gruyere), plus
thick-cut toast to sop it all up. Mwah hah hah! Pure evil.
is committed to the local/sustainable/organic trinity, so yes, the
price-points are a little more than some will want to spend on small
plates, especially any post-millennial hippies. Vegetarians can
take their pick from goat cheese fritters ($9) to start, plus a
vegetable "stack" ($9/sporting more goat cheese), and
a cassoulet ($13) made with vegetables instead of the classic meat-fest.
Stewed mixed greens ($6) tasted a little thin and not gutsy enough—perhaps
the Niman bacon is what they needed.
haven't made it in for the lunch/brunch service on the weekend
(12pm-4pm), but the list of "prosecco pick-me-ups" (try
all four, I will!) and seeing a Ramos gin fizz on there make me
happy. Also seeing Daniel/Danny/Dan Hyatt (whatever you personally
call him) behind the bar makes me happy too—he was formerly
at Winterland, where came up with the best drink names ever, like
"I Lost My Necktie." Yes, he understands.
space has an old school and almost East Coast vibe (pressed tin
ceiling, wood floors made from reclaimed food from a barn in Pennsylvania,
mustard walls, suspended Edison light bulbs over the bar) and there
are also some thoughtful touches, like hooks under the bar (bless),
super-padded barstools for your bum, and individual hand towels
(yes, real towels) in the bathroom. I love the late-night hours—it's
a cozy and cool spot to hang out at after 10pm, when you just might
get lucky and score a couple seats at the bar.
small point of trivia about the bar: it's actually made from
bleachers from Kezar Stadium. Oh, and trivia point number two: if
you are wondering what the hell an alembic is, it's the original
distilling apparatus that dates back to Persia from 800 or so—some
small-batch distillers use one to this day. Feel free to impress
a date with these random factoids, you can thank me later.
the end of the night, when it's no longer allowable to serve
you anything, the bartender will lower the massive chalkboard that
lists all the spirits (it's rigged up with wheels and a line)—it
then obscures the beautiful glimmering shelves o' spirits,
like the curtain dropping at the end of a performance. Clap clap!