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The Alembic

Local Loving Elixir in the Upper Haight

From the folks at Magnolia Brewing Company comes one of the most inviting spots you'll find in the Upper Haight, The Alembic. Boasting a "local loving" motto, which means not only a creative, super-upscale pub menu favoring regional ingredients but also a selection of local beers on tap (including Magnolia's own). The Alembic is an elixir for those seeking a mellow spot for drinks and eats in the Haight.

Their beverage menu is extensive, including a variety of bottled beer from the greatest of hops-loving nations, as well as an extensive list of whiskeys, scotches, ryes and an offering of inventive cocktails, including classic drinks like Aviation ($10) -- made with gin, maraschino cherry juice, and fresh-squeezed lemon, served-up in a chilled martini glass.

The Alembic’s ambiance -- dark woods, a decorative tin ceiling, votive candles arranged between the golden bottles of liquor behind the bar -- creates a warm environment, and the service is both subdued and gracious. Offering a fairly wide assortment of hearty small plates, the menu includes expertly prepared pub grub fit for pairing with The Alembic's quality spirits.

Their offerings include a "nibbles" menu with tasties such as the Goat Cheese Fritters ($9) with an endive, apple and walnut salad, and Spice Dusted Frites ($5) with lemongrass, garlic and aromatic mayo. Friends report that on a recent visit the frites were so delectable (and that portion so small for a table of five) that they found themselves exclaiming, "Another round of fries!" three more times. The petite little frites are perfectly crispy, and the lemongrass makes this bar-food staple seem downright exotic. The Goat Cheese Fritters are sinfully rich, delicious when partnered with the tart apple.

The menu is simple and spare, with items to suit most palates. For instance, if you’re in the mood for something light, there's the Carpaccio of Kona Kampachi and Loch Duart Salmon ($13) with shellfish escoviche, saffron emulsion, and garlic toasts. This is a plate of fine slips of the freshest raw Kampachi, a fish similar to hamachi, with a rosette of quality Scottish salmon in the center.

If you're in the mood for something heavier, there's The Little Pot of Gumbo ($13), no doubt a soon-to-be classic at The Alembic, filled with crawdads, jumbo oysters, and scallops. Full of flavor and served stylishly in a funky All-Clad two-handled pot, it was a respectably-sized serving, particularly for a tapas-style menu.

On the other hand, a too-small portion of Charred Young Monterey Squid ($8), nine-spiced with a coriander seed vinaigrette, paled in comparison to a similar dish found recently at Brick.

There is a twist and inventiveness in everything on the menu, melding tradition and modern innovation. For instance, the vegetarian Cassoulet of Wine Forest Mushrooms and Autumn Squash ($13) with great northern white beans and local herbs served in a small lidded-crock with a crispy bread-crumb crust had enough flavor that the usual duck confit and pork ingredients weren't even missed.

The Lancaster County Cheesesteak ($16) sports an indulgent twist; instead of the normal fixings, two smallish slices of toasted country bread support a luscious mass of oxtails braised in Burgundy and Porter, drizzled with "Alps" cheese fondue. We were puzzled by the diced tomato atop the dish, since tomato is out of season, but it was still incredible.

Best of all, and maybe the most deceptively simple dish on the menu, was the Roasted Cipollini Onions and Brussels Sprouts ($8) with crushed hazelnuts and herbed honey brown butter; they were a meal in themselves, and utterly addictive. On an endnote, the dessert menu was brief, but included offerings such as a delicious Bourbon Chocolate Bread Pudding and a Manhattan “Float” (both $7).

The Alembic is a rarity in the Upper Haight, and possibly yet another sign of the neighborhood’s ever-threatening gentrification. Nevertheless, the proprietors have taken great care with all the details; their menu choices are thoughtful, and their drink selections are knowledgeable. And it looks like The Alembic isn’t a secret -- thus far, weekends at The Alembic are packed, but on a Tuesday or Wednesday night The Alembic becomes an homey but elegant place to stop in for some delicious eats and a sampling of the best spirits to be found in Bay.

Pub Grub/Californian
Haight
$$

Reservations Essential? No reservations.