Tonight the sig fig and I ate, once again, at Alchemist. Some of you may remember the old Triple D’s, which looked a lot like a sketchy bar from the outside, and probably was. But possibly in the way the Midway looks like that, and look how much fun you can have there! Anyway, Alchemist is clearly going for a more upscale feeling, and they serve actual food. I’ll try to focus mostly on this evening’s meal, but it’s pretty inevitable that bits from previous visits will slip in here and there.
Don’t go on a Friday night. We’d only ever been on weekdays before, and I really have to recommend that plan. We only had to wait a few minutes for a table, but the place was packed, and apparently this made the establishment think they needed to play music loudly enough to entertain the surrounding counties. (The playlist, for the record, can perhaps best be described as “confused.”) They have a big flat-screen TV, which I never encourage since those things tend to diminish my already miniscule attention span, but I suppose if you follow those fellows in the red footwear, well, you’d be set. Other than that, the place has a pretty mellow kind of a fireside feel to it.
Having at least one visible tattoo appears to be a prerequisite for Alchemist servers. This isn’t really a point in favor or against, but I noticed it, so you get to hear about it. Our server tonight wasn’t the best we’ve had, but her service was totally fine. We were seated maybe two feet from where the orders were coming up, so I was able to tell that all the servers and bussers (is that a word?) were working quickly and efficiently together, although a couple of times other servers tried to give us food that clearly wasn’t ours. Like a plate of bread after we’d finished our meal. Also, one of the line cooks seems like kind of a jerk.
I’m not nearly as much of a wine snob as I’d like to be, but I do try to sample new and appropriate things. My Sonoma pinot noir this evening was perfectly adequate, but on previous occasions I’ve really been pleased. On the previous visit I was especially happy with a red I sadly can’t remember, which was recommended by my delightful server to complement the pulled pork pizza.
I was feeling a little underdressed when we came in, but luckily my salad was wearing several layers. Seriously, folks, ease up a bit. The greens themselves were perfectly fresh and fine, but the tomatoes were totally mushy.
I don’t think we’d ordered an appetizer before, but the chips and guacamole (a new menu item) caught our eye. Who could mess up guacamole? Apparently the fine folks at Alchemist could. There are really only two ways I can think of to mess up guacamole: add a bunch of weird shit, or don’t add anything at all. In this case it was the latter. This can really be better described as mashed up avocado. It had zero flavor (is it that hard to add a lime? Or at least an onion?) and was totally overwhelmed by the comically large flour chips, which, while tasty, were only tasty because they were super fried.
I gave Alchemist a second chance at cooking me some lamb. The first time around I think I had like rack of lamb in some kind of a sauce, the sauce being tasty and the lamb being kind of boring. This time I was advertised marinated lamb tips (what part of the lamb is the tip, exactly?) with a mediterranean salad and cous cous. Once again, I was underwhelmed. I’m firmly of the opinion that most cuts of lamb need to come with some kind of marinade (like it says on the menu) or sauce or rub of some kind. At the very least, they need to be nice and lean. My tips failed on both counts. Also, the portion was fucking huge. The only thing worse than bad meat is too much bad meat. The salad was sort of redundant after having a salad proper, although I did appreciate the intense kalamata olives. It’s hard for me to find fault with a starch I can dump a bunch of salt on, but the cous cous wasn’t really anything to write home about either. And the whole concoction was served in a bowl, which is just a ridiculous way to serve something that requires a steak knife to cut.
7. Simple flatbread
The Sig Fig keeps ordering the same tomato basil flatbread, kind of on accident. In fact this evening she went in with the express purpose of ordering something, anything but the flatbread. But then we saw the menu, and they had served up the Trifecta Of Distasteful Vegetarian Dishes: stuffed peppers, pasta, and portobella. (Distasteful by the Sig Fig’s standards, anyway; she readily admits that most vegetarians would probably be pleased to have that many options.) Anyway, it’s a perfectly fine flatbread. The pulled pork version is pretty okay too, although when I had it I wanted the onions to be a little more carmelized.
Overall I just get this feeling like the place is really trying too hard. It’s a little spendy for what you get and they clearly care about presentation in a way that’s actively getting in the way of eating their food. I really want to like the Alchemist, which is clearly why I keep going back, and their drink menu and several of their servers make that pretty easy. Unfortunately the food and prices are working against them. I’d give it a rating of “I’ll probably keep coming back about once a month and being a little disappointed so I’ll feel a little dumb because it’s sort of expensive, but maybe I should just have another glass of wine and it’ll be okay.”