Easter Brunch @ Alchemy

I just love food-related holidays. Yes, I know it’s an oxymoron of sorts– don’t all holidays involve food of some kind?– but you know that some are better for fatties foodies than others. Thanksgiving, obviously. Christmas dinner, for those of you of the Jesus persuasion.

For my family, Easter brunch was the motherlode. First, it was the only holiday during which it was perfectly acceptable, or even preferred, to not have to cook the food ourselves. This gave us free license to hit up the biggest Easter buffet possible, and load up without having to prep, cook, or (most importantly, from a child’s perspective) clean at the end of it all. I’m sure this may be different in the motherland (aka the Philippines) but for my Americanized family in Florida, hitting up the buffet at the Hilton was where it was at.

No surprise that out of all the weekend brunches in the year, Easter brunch is my favorite.

Unfortunately, it’s also notoriously overpriced, and even the most humble of local establishments is packed to the gills with other holiday eaters looking for some brunch, too. The Mister was tasked with finding a suitable brunch location this year, and when he told me he’d booked reservations at a new place he found on Google, I have to admit I was a little skeptical.

Alchemy is the newest resto in South Park, the gentrifying neighborhood that everyone’s been saying is going to “blow up any minute now” (in the positive sense, not the combustive), for the past several years. Especially in this economy, though, any new place in the neighborhood is going to have to work very hard to keep people coming, and it looks like the Alchemy folks are pulling out the big guns to make this place happen. (Forgive me for all the violent metaphors, I’ve been reading about war all morning for the class I’m teaching on Monday).

The space itself is beautifully designed– it’s a very open yet still intimate space, and with a lot of custom features from the undulating mahogany bar to the giant silver sculpture in the middle of the room. [I particularly liked the bathroom sinks, myself]. We were seated in a back corner table, and though the restaurant was nearly full, I wasn’t distracted by other guests’ conversations at all (a pet peeve of mine and the Mister’s like no other).

For Easter, they put together a very generous 3-course prix fixe menu: $25 for three tapas/appetizers (you get all three), a choice of entree, and dessert. For an additional $10, they were offering a beverage pairing (with generous pourings, too).

Here were the three mini-appetizers (I hate saying tapas, if it’s not the real deal). For this course, I had a passion fruit bellini, and could actually taste the champagne– yay!

Alchemy granola

The deconstructed granola was delicious, but very difficult to eat. I felt like this was a Top Chef challenge, and could imagine Colicchio berating them for unnecessary pretension. I also would have preferred a plain yogurt, as the strawberry flavored variety actually masked the flavor of the real strawberries and fruits on the plate.

Alchemy omelette

A Spanish omelet, prepared in a traditional manner. I don’t know if this was intentional or just a matter of poor execution, but the omelet itself was nearly flavorless unless eaten with a good handful of greens, which were drizzed in a nice olive oil and vinegar with seasonings. If nothing else, it made sure that the Mister ate all his veggies, which is a near-impossible feat.

Alchemy asparagus espresso

A white asparagus ‘espresso,’ with bacon cracklings on top. I just had to laugh during the presentation of this– our poor waitress kept trying to convince us to eat it “despite its unique presentation,” as if soup served in small drink containers had never been tried before! A reminder just how behind San Diego is in terms of food trends– I actually find this trend to be both passe and, again, totally pretentious. The soup was delicious, however– perfectly seasoned, just the right temperature for sipping, with the bacon adding just the right among of texture and saltiness. By far the best starter of the meal.

Then it was time for the mains. There were about five different options, if I remember correctly, ranging from more breakfast-y choices to the more savory. As our reservation was on the later side (1pm), we went for the heavy stuff. The Mister’s choice:

Alchemy shrimp and grits

Shrimp and grits. Very large, grilled shrimp over a bed of very smoothly pureed grits. Shrimp were very fresh and flavorful, and the grits well seasoned though a bit too smooth for my taste. Alas, nothing will ever compare to the texture of the grits at Cochon— how I still dream of them!

And my choice, paired with a standard Rioja (nothing special, but solid):

Alchemy lamb

A leg of lamb, with mint-infused couscous as the side. This dish was… how do I put it? Oh, yes. Amazing. Falling off the bone, with a beautiful glaze. I’m not quite sure, but it tasted very much like it was cooked Moroccan-style in a tagine, especially with the way it was presented with the couscous. The couscous was a bit too minty for my taste, though it too had great texture. I really liked this twist on the American classic ‘lamb with mint’ which I’ve never found particularly interesting.

After I finished demolishing my lamb, it was time for dessert. The Mister went with classic beignets, served with powdered sugar and a dash of chocolate. A bit on the small side, but maybe we are just too used to Cafe du Monde’s!

Alchemy beignets

I decided on a cheese plate, despite my love of sweets, mainly because I wanted the Madeira that would be paired with it. Imagine my disappointment to receive this plate:

Alchemy cheese plate

Totally monochromatic, with no bread, olives, oil, or anything resembling a pairing. Really? Honestly, even saltine crackers would be better than nothing. Remedial cheese plate rules were broken in so many ways here. There was one soft and three hard cheese with very similar taste profiles, and while the cheese itself was fresh, I was bored by the second bite and had it boxed to go. I would rather eat these at home with my accouterments than have the empty calories and no satisfaction at the restaurant. I truly hope this was a fluke and they had an off day with the cheese– otherwise, they need a lesson from a cheesemonger, stat!

Tragic cheese plate aside, I was very pleased with our brunch at Alchemy, not the least because of the price. We’re planning on returning soon for dinner, especially to try more of the beer and spirits from their impressive bar. Another selling point: their kitchen is open late, until 11pm most nights, and serving until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays! How I miss late night dinners out, another thing San Diego is still behind on doing.

Alchemy’s a new restaurant, and I’d love to see them thrive. You can tell from the care put into the space alone just how much of a labor of love this restaurant is.

Have any of you been to Alchemy? Share your comments here!

1503 30th Street
San Diego, CA 92102


Posted on April 18, 2009, in restaurant review and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. thank you for your constructive critisism trust me there were alot of things that I was not happy about on that day, I apologize if you were not pleased with every thing you had. I am doing my best to correct my problems and I just moved upstairs from the restaurant! I hope you will come back and give us another shot. Ask for Ricardo and I will personally make sure you have an enjoyable experience.
    Ricardo Heredia

  2. Words and Steel

    Thanks for commenting, Ricardo! I do hope to return to Alchemy soon, and give it another shot. I know the restaurant just opened so can’t wait for things to settle in a bit because I’m sure it will be wonderful.

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