I don’t mean to skip ahead (I will fill in the blanks) but I so enjoyed my meal at The Alembic that I just had to write this one next. Out of all of the meals, this one was a whim. I’d noted it as a great spot in the Haight for cocktails. I hadn’t made much of a note of anything to highlight as far as their food is concerned. Almost a big, big miss. We’d ridden along the periphery of the Haight in our bike ride through San Francisco and over across the Golden Gate Bridge and into Saulsalito, but we hadn’t really gone through the heart of the neighborhood. After doing brunch our final day in North Beach, we decided to wander through this area.
I really enjoyed checking out Ambiance as well as several of the vintage stores along Haight Street. In the process, we saw Cha Cha Cha in the distance and walked by the signage for The Alembic. We were intrigued by what we saw and liked the idea of the menu, so we decided to come back and hope to get in. When we arrived, there was a group of people assembled in the front – making it look crowded.
We were happy to find we could be seated right away. We were amused to look over and realize we recognized the bartender, Daniel Hyatt, from his wonderful whiskey drinks we had enjoyed at Cochon 555. When we saw his hands, we realized that was why he looked familiar!
We decided to start with an order of their appetizer of duck hearts. Actually, it wasn’t an appetizer. It was in their even lighter menu section titled “snacks”. They were jerk spiced and prepared with pickled pineapple and thyme salt. I filed this under the category of adventurous eating while in San Fran and gave it a go. It was only $5 for 5 hearts. The flavor on it was great and I was surprised it had more of a charred than chewy consistency to it. The pineapple was an oddly perfect choice of accompaniment.
For the rest of the meal, we were drawn towards their prix fixe option – $35 for three courses. Great deal. Jaded by too many difficult restaurants in NYC, we figured sharing would be a no go. We figured there’s be some sort of surcharge, “extra plate” fees, or just an outright no. We were surprised when our server said “of course!”.
The soup was only slightly warm, perfect for summer (albeit a California one with temps in the 60s/maybe 70s). I really liked the addition of the cauliflower mousse rather than just some sort of cream. I liked the additional vegetal layer. The dungeness crab was sprinkled throughout and besides tasting nice and fresh, was a welcomed change in consistency from the liquid soup base.
There were so many layers to this dish that if you weren’t careful, you might miss some of the possible combinations. The cubes of steak were a tender medium bordering on medium rare. Depending on where you picked up a slice, it might come with a bit of the chickpeas or a bit of the yogurt, but you almost had to hunt down the date purée, which was a sharp sweet contrast to the meat. Each of the combinations would have made for a fantastic dish on their own, but I really liked being able to try a little of it all in one.
After reading the description of dessert, I think I assumed it would be some sort of float. Isn’t that what’s almost always done with root beer? The beautiful plate which came out was entirely unexpected. You could eat each element on its own, but when combined together the ending flavor was root beer! It was one of the most innovative desserts I’ve had. Nothing gimmicky. Just brilliant.
This was hands down my favorite meal out of our time in San Francisco and it was one of the few that wasn’t previously planned! One of the best meals – both in flavor and creativity – that I’ve had in a long time.
Alembic – 725 Haight Street (b/w Cole and Shrader), San Francisco – 415.666-0822