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Oct 21, 2006 04:12 AM

Alembic report

Just finished dinner at this new spot in the Upper Haight (Haight between Cole and Shrader). Alembic is the sister restaurant of Magnolia on Haight and Masonic, and is sort of a gastro-pub with a "library of small-batch, artisan distilled spirits, domestic and imported craft beers, premium sakes, and unique, limited production wines library of small-batch, artisan distilled spirits, domestic and imported craft beers, premium sakes, and unique, limited production wines" (according to the opening announcement).

The menu features small plates and desserts. We started with a mushroom and white bean cassoulet and charred squid. The cassoulet was hearty and flavorful; the squid were incredibly fresh and tender. We continued on to goat cheese fritters and "sliders," Moroccan lamburgers. Both were excellent. Finally, we finished up with a delicious Bourbon bread pudding that was warm and airy- not dense or heavy as bread pudding can be.

The restaurant was packed and while the bar was noisy, we had no problem carrying on a conversation at our table (one of only ten or so located at the back of the restaurant). Service was friendly and knowledgeable. Prices are reasonable - entrees run about $10, wines by the glass $6 - $12 or so; there's also an extensive list of beers and spirits that we didn't have a chance to peruse. This restaurant is a great addition to the neighborhood, and we plan to be back often!

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  1. We went a couple nights ago as well, and had:

    -grilled squid in coriander lemon butter sauce
    -spaetzle with cheese, fresh corn and rabbit
    -brussels sprouts with diced bacon
    -moroccan lamb burger sliders
    -bourbon bread pudding

    Everything was delicious, and relatively well-priced (small portions, good for 2 people to share, but no more) - they ranged from about $8-14.

    Great beer/wine/spirits and cocktail list. We had a "Bone" (rye whiskey, tabasco and lime juice) and a Floridita Daquiri. They were fine - the Bone was great, actually. But the size of the cocktails was silly - very small. You pay the same price at Aziza for a cocktail but literally get about 2-3x the volume. We then had a huckleberry cider (delicious) and a glass of some spanish white (dont remember the name, but it was unusual and the price was $8).

    Same deal as the cocktails for the food - all good, but it's hard for me to get past the feeling in most small plates places, that they are charging a couple dollars less at most for a serving size 1/3 of an entree size, and getting away with it by calling it "small plates." I definitely don't need a huge amount of food, but its the feeling of being gotten over on that bugs me.

    I was impressed by The Alembic and I will likely return, but I didn't like the overall ungenerous feeling I got.

    1. My BF and I went there last week and enjoyed it as well. Being a native of the Haight, I had to see the old Kezar bar. The reclaimed wood has a nice finish and cozy feel to it.

      While I thought the quality of the food was very good, and the very long bar list, I too thought the portions were a bit small in food and drink. Although, when my glass of port spilled, the waitress replaced it free of charge. We had the seasoned fries, cassoulet, fried goat cheese and the burbon bread pudding...all delicious!

      What I do like is that the menu is different and more creative than Magnolia's Pub a few blocks away (it's the same chef and owners.)

      2 Replies
      1. re: Sebby

        I think these guys would do great if they would also offer some actual entree-sized entrees.

        1. re: Maya

          Sebby's BF here...

          Agreed that the quality was good on our visit, and we felt a little taken as we walked out. Loved the cassoulet, but I wouldn't have minded paying a bit more for a larger portion. I guess the small plates leave plenty of room of the pricey cocktails and/or dessert, eh? :)

          They make a very good Sazerac (I liked it better than NOPA's although both were great, and I'm new to that particular cocktail), but it was, at most, half the pour it should have been.

          Still, we look forward to returning as we live very nearby and it's a breath of fresh air to the Upper Haight dining options.


      2. I've not eaten there yet, but it's already become our regular Upper Haight watering hole. They've got a decent single malt selection from all over Scotland, not just the usual slew of Highlands and a single Islay.

        1. we had a friend in town last thursday and decided to check the alembic for the first time. we're semi-regulars at magnolia, so we had high hopes that the alembic would be good. the decor and atmosphere are definitely a bit more modern/sleek than magnolia. it can be a bit of a pain to get to the back of the restaurant where the tables are when the bar is crowded. nonetheless, as we sat down and began to peruse the menu we thought we had made the right decision.

          for the three of us we ordered:

          ~ Herb and Spice Dusted Frites with lemongrass, garlic, aromatic mayo ($5): these were the smallest "frites" that i've ever had. really they were more like shoestring fries. they were very crisp. i thought they were ok. my gf thought they were dried out. the mayo was tastey, too, but next time i'm craving fries i'm much more likely to hit NOPA where the portion is much larger and the fries are more like frites.

          ~ Spaetzle "Gratinee" braised rabbit, hobbs' bacon, sweet corn, dijon mustard and tarragon ($13): this sounded interesting enough. i've certainly been interesting in trying as many rabbit dishes as i can find these days. i can't really attest for what this dish looked like. the bar is quite dimly lit. so much so that we had to pool together the candles from both our tables so that we could all read one menu together... this dish wasn't bad per se, but it wasn't great. small chunks of tender, but not very seasoned rabbit, interpersed with bits of bacon & corn. there probably was some cheese mixed in, too, but definitely don't remember it being especially melty. if i didn't know what the ingredients were for this dish i might have thought it was some sort of white trash casserole.

          ~ Lancaster County "Cheesesteak" oxtails slow braised in porter and burgundy, welsh rabbit ($15): this dish was a mess. i think there were two pieces of bread with meat in the middle and on top. although the braised beef was tastey, the bread was a sopping, soggy mess. there was a bit of cheese sauce on top of the whole thing, but not really enough to consitute a cheesesteak. a shame as i was excited for this dish.

          ~ Sliders moroccan lamb burgers, harissa aioli, roasted peppers, tapenade ($10): these weren't half bad. they're sliders so there were small, of course. but the lamb was cooked a nice red medium. although they were served on small pieces of toast instead of mini buns or rolls. i thought that was rather odd. also 2 of these for $10 just seems like a rip off. i felt there should be 3.

          we also each ordered a different bourbon to sample. our waitress didn't ask us how we wanted them. they were served in these weird little glasses, like the kind you might drink a dessert wine from. i would have prefered mine on the rocks. but i should have specified. even still, these glasses were pretty darn small and so i don't know if i'd bother to order a drink here next time.

          i'm sorry if this review seems a bit harsh. i really was hoping this place would shine. i love the good folks at magnolia and i think the food there has definitely improved with the addition of chef blyden. obviously this place has just opened and they still have to work out some kinks, etc. i'll probably give them another shot in a few months.

          2 Replies
          1. re: brian j

            Yah, they should ask how you like your drink, but those little glasses are often used for neat whisky. Riedel, for instance, makes a similar weird little glass for single malt scotch.


            I'm with you, though, I'd rather just have it in a tumbler, even if they have to charge me more for a larger portion.

            1. re: brian j

              I saw the Cheesesteak on the menu, and was tempted, but didn't get it. I thought I remembered it being described as some kind of "rarebit"? that would explain the cheese sauce over it like you describe.

              I have to say I loved the spaetzle, both the flavors and the textures. I didn't consider it white trash at all.

              While on the subject of the bar, I forgot to mention in my post that as we were leaving, my companion asked the bartender where the Desert Juniper (?) was from. Bartender just shook his head and said he had no idea. In my book, if you're trying to bill a place as a top-notch, premium liquors bar, you hire bartenders who know their stuff, no matter what shift. I was suprised that the bartender unabashedly knew nothing about it - even if it's a new place, they should have experienced bartenders or at least put them through some rigorous training beforehand.

            2. I've been here a couple times and like it a lot-- I just moved from New York and this is exactly the kind of place everyone told me I'd never find here. The recent move may also explain why I'm so confused by the reports that the drinks are small/overpriced. Seemed normal-sized and bargain-priced to me-- I haven't been to many comparable places yet, but Bourbon and Branch and Cortez seem similar-- where are the bigger cheaper drinks? Can you get bigger cheaper drinks that still have fresh juice?

              I went in Sunday at noon-- they open at noon sat. and sun. for. . . brunch? It's the same menu, so far-- they said they'll have more brunchy things soon. But I had the bread pudding and the house-cured salmon and it was a great meal for me. I stayed for a long time and had a lot more drinks than I should have--

              1. Brandy Alexander, the best I've ever had; great brandy, and not too sweet, and it came with a cookie on the side, which totally won my heart.

              2. A Ritz cocktail, which I'd had at the Pegu Club in New York, my favorite place. It's the only cocktail I know where you get the taste of maraschino liqueur and champagne, both.

              3. A Northern Spy, which used fresh apple cider and was really crisp and fall-tasting and delicious.

              4. A Sidecar. This wasn't on the menu, but I decided I trusted the bartender and she made a great one, again not too sweet, with a nice superfine sugar rim.

              I saw the Desert Juniper gin on the shelf and remembered this post, Maya, so I asked about it, and the bartender told me it's made from wild juniper in oregon, and she took the bottle down so I could read the label, and she poured me a tiny taste. I don't know whether it was just so quiet she had time to talk to me, or if the service is really that uneven-- hopefully they'll sort that kind of thing out, because I agree with you on the importance of bartenders who know their stuff. I talked to the bartender about New York bars and west coast spirits, and she also let me taste the York Creek grappa. Both were boozes I'd never heard of, local stuff, that I will definitely order sometime-- the Desert Junipero was less like gin and more like a camping trip in Maine. Very interesting-- I can't wait to try it in a French 75.

              1 Reply
              1. re: dorothy gale

                Indeed you can get larger cocktails with fresh juice/ingredients for less:


                And that's just restaurants - ask for bars, you'll open up a whole new world - Rye is a great newish one, for instance.

                It's funny what you said about coming from NY - while telling folks about our experience later they said "This is not Manhattan - stingy pours for the same price just doesn't fly in this city!" :) I guess we're spoiled. I love the statistic that San Francisco spends more on booze and books than any other city in the US. But quality and generosity is imperative! Haha.