Let us begin by saying that the food at The Alembic has always been pretty solid, particularly after 2008 (following its initial debut in 2006), when co-chefs Jordan Grosser and Ted Fleury took over the kitchen as co-executive chefs. Fleury remains there today, and he has upped his game considerably since we were last there to eat. Where the menu was once focused on flavorful bar bites, clever uses of offal, and simple small plates to complement the stellar cocktail menu, what we found on a recent rainy-night visit was akin to a more refined dining experience. We'd even say it was on par with some meals we've had this year at other ambitious neighborhood gems like Frances, Sons & Daughters, and Outerlands.
The jerk-spiced duck hearts, a staple for the last several years, were more tender than we remembered and just as well spiced. The bone marrow, smothered in a pile of acidic caper gremolata and roasted garlic, is as balanced and great as ever. And new dishes like a squid special; a rye cavatelli pasta with braised duck; and an exquisite preparation of applewood-smoked sturgeon were all equally interesting, satisfying, and beautifully plated.
The service was top-notch, dish prices reasonable, and the cocktails still perfect, with a few new additions to the list. Our only complaint might be too few wines available by the glass (several reds on the list were out of stock), but this feels like a minor quibble with all the available beers, whiskeys, and well mixed drinks.
Experienced as a whole, The Alembic now feels like not just a welcoming, bustling bar with good food, but like it's risen to the echelon of the inventive, mid-priced, neighborhood restaurants that make this city great. Fleury is coaxing big flavors out of excellent ingredients, and finding winning new flavor combinations too.
See our slideshow of highlights, as best we could capture them our photos this time around are not going to adequately capture the dishes. And you should probably think about swinging back there sometime, and braving the crowd for one of the few tables in back. Sometime next year, at long last, we should see the expansion of the bar into the next-door lobby of the former Red Vic, and that will alleviate some of the crowding.
The Alembic - 1725 Haight at Cole - 415-666-0822