even though i lived in the sf bay area for 4 years (3 of which with a car), i left much of the region criminally unexplored. i'm trying to right that - at least a little - this week, and the first stop was the haight, a cultural mecca for hippies and architecture buffs alike. to think the closest i had come to the district previously was running bay to breakers...
alembic, a cocktail bar smack in the middle of haight street, has been getting a lot of attention. rather than make a beeline for it, though, me and my guy slurped down a humongous bowl of noodles at the citrus club (above) before heading in. (delayed gratification mixed with alcohol poisoning prevention, in noodle form.) great noodles, fresh tofu, and heaping amounts of tom yum paste. simple and filling.
we found two seats waiting for us across the street at alembic. their verbose, jocular menu featured about eight classic drinks (sazerac, pisco sour, ward eight, bee's knees...) and the same number of originals. their bottle display is gorgeous - long shelves three bottles deep with no repeats (or so it seemed from my vantage). and they didn't push the weird liqueurs to the back.
my guy started off with a gilded lily: gin, yellow chartreuse, orange flower water, bubbly, and freakin' gold dust as garnish. the surface of the drink was shiny, awesome. the nose was all chartreuse, but the gin definitely took over for the taste. a little two dimensional, in my opinion, but he claimed it was merciful on his tongue and tasted full of courage, heh.
i had a vow of silence: rye, benedictine, bitters, and two barspoons of creme de griotte, a cherry brandy. a fine manhattanesque drink.
my ex-roomie joined us for a couple more rounds, including a pisco sour and one of alembic's molecular mixology creations: still life with apples. bourbon, maple syrup, and a smoked apple cider foam in a double shot glass with a sprig of thyme. we noted that the thyme was rather superfluous, not adding to the sensory experience like, say, the mint in a julep does.
i went off-piste for my final cocktail, asking for something herbal. ended up with a cognac + cynar + orange bitters + lambrusco, a red sparkling italian wine. cool combo, but i think the last ingredient smothered everything (that can be the problem with 'floats'). it did taste like a carbonated sangria, though - mmmm, spain.
i was not blown away by alembic by any means, which may be a function of high expectations. i should mention one cardinal sin: they poured almost every drink into fairly big (6 ounces?) coupes, which made the 3 ounce cocktails look miniscule. but in all, i was impressed with the level of craft, as well as their neighborhoody feel.