I didn’t expect Alchemy to be situated within a residential area. I had heard things about it leading me to believe that it was in a bustling part of downtown (yeah, I am not familiar with San Diego at all) but then we found ourselves driving into the Golden Hill/South Park neighborhood. The cute homes dotted along the streets were delightful and we forgot about being “lost” for a moment as we slowed down to admire them. Surprisingly, there, in the middle of the adorable homes, was Alchemy, comfortably situated on the corner between the trees.
There is only one dining room but felt like there were three specific areas, each giving off its own distinctive feel. There is the bar, the main dining room, and the back “alcove” where we sat, which felt a little more private, a little “secluded” from the rest of the restaurant. This is also the room where artwork by local artists are featured and for sale, adding a unique touch to the already eclectic decor.
Perusing the menu, I notice it is just as multi-faceted, bringing together flavors from various cultures while staying within Chef Ricardo Heredia’s vision. Our server Natasha was an absolute delight, knowledgeable and very interactive which was very pleasant as it was our first visit to Alchemy.
The first thing I wanted was Chicken Chicharrons ($5) and I made sure that this was truly fried chicken skin before I ordered them. I had a highly disappointing experience at Picca (LA) not long ago when the chicken chicharrons arrived in the form of fried chicken pieces sans skin. A bag arrives filled with crispy chicken skin accompanied with a ramekin of Thai chili sherry vinaigrette. The vinegar balanced the fried morsels well, although a little more salt adhered to the skin would have been even better. I thoroughly enjoyed this with my cocktail.
One of our cocktails, Milan Rouge ($9) comprised of Jim Beam rye whiskey, Campari, barrel-aged grappa and Punt e Mes, an Italian vermouth, was surprisingly subtle on the palate and more pleasant than I had expected. Paloma ($9) was exactly the way I liked with Fortaleza blanco tequila, refreshing house-made grapefruit soda and fresh lime served in a glass with a spiced salt rim.
Quinoa Hush Puppies ($6) was Natasha’s recommendation and I was glad because ordinarily I would have forego this. A crispy exterior with a soft center, these were beautifully executed and the accompanying curry ketchup was surprisingly good seeing I normally dislike ketchup with a passion.
The Vietnamese inspired Duck Bao ($7) was a variation of banh mi but utilizing steam buns instead of the usual baguette. Stuffed with roast duck, hoisin, pickled radish, crushed peanuts and micro cilantro, I liked how the buns didn’t overwhelm the filling, and the flavors well balanced, but more hoisin sauce would have kicked it up another notch.
Taro Tacos ($6) was another recommendation and these were unique in every way. The taco shell is taro, not corn, giving them a whole new perspective to what you are accustomed to. The pork belly is tender and well-rendered with rich savoriness throughout. The spicy cucumber and micro cilantro added a nice refreshing pop to each bite. The tacos were sprinkled with dehydarated bacon fat powder over the top but it I didn’t detect much bacon flavor overall. The Sriracha is the perfect topping if you like it spicy!
Norwegian Cabbage Roll ($9) looked very interesting on the menu and it was a very tasty choice indeed. Slow-cooked whole lamb is shredded and stuffed into a red cabbage leaf with juniper berry and bits of pee wee potato before it is rolled up and steamed. Served with ligonberry sauce and sprigs of fresh dill, I loved every aspect of this dish from its colors and textures to many levels of flavors.
If you’re looking for a light but delicious entree, Soba Noodle Salad ($16) is definitely the way to go. Cold buckwheat soba noodles are dressed with soy and mirin (Japanese seasoned rice vinegar) and assembled aesthetically with crunchy lotus root, baby mizuna and perfectly grilled shrimp. There were little edible flowers thrown in as well which at first I thought was to add more color to the already vibrant palette, but, they added a fragrance which brought the flavors to yet another dimension.
However, the piece de resistence at Alchemy was the Yellow Curry Quail ($20), a bowl of luscious coconut curry with pee wee potatoes both purple and yellow, baby carrots and green beans. A perfectly medium rare pan-seared quail sits atop the beautifully creamy sauce. I absolutely LOVED the fried quail egg purse and the side of steamed jasmine rice wrapped in banana leaf. The well-thought out presentation and flavor combination was highly appreciated.
We ended our meal with The Miracle Berry Experience (price depends on the dessert choice you select). I can’t even begin to explain what this is, but I absolutely insist you try it. This miracle fruit, when eaten, causes your tastebuds to sense sour foods as sweet. It is one of the most mind-blowing experiences you’ll ever have. The fruit contains miraculin which is often used as a sugar substitute, here presented in powder form. I took a little spoonful of it, moved it about in my mouth and wait a minute or two. Then, put a wedge of lemon, lime, or any sour fruits into your mouth and it’ll make the acidic item taste sweet in your mouth. WILD!
Alchemy is a great place to bring your friends, family and especially, a first date. What better way to have a fun-filled evening seated at one of the secluded tables in the “alcove” and then ending it by experiencing miracle berry? The meal itself was an alchemy of different cuisines coming together and then transformed into the chef’s interpretation. The miracle berry was the icing on the cake for the ultimate alchemy of the palate. Bravo!
1503 30th Street
San Diego, CA 92102