Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Loving Alchemy Again

Ryan and I hit up Alchemy Bistro in Gloucester the other night, meeting my darling foodie nephew Zachary for some midweek nosh at his place of employment. 

For those who are new followers, I was once the AGM at Alchemy and later the DOM of the company that owns Alchemy, Serenitee Restaurant Group before moving on to the agency scene. It was a delicious time in my life and Alchemy, the group's flagship, eatery has always held a special place in my heart. 

In fact, my connection to the space dates to long before it was Alchemy. In the days of my youth, it was the Glass Sailboat, a natural foods cafe and grocery (*opened in 1977, it was one of the first in the state because Gloucester has always been just a tad bit hipper than most) where I worked in college during summer and winter breaks. This happy, hippie little spot on 3 Duncan Street has a magical connection to my life, and now my godchild works there. Perfect.

Our visit was the first in quite some time, as the restaurant has for several years been going through something of an identity crisis. Alchemy has been reworked too many times to count, both as the 100 faces of Alchemy and for a very brief stint (2 weeks?) as Pignoli following a 6 month closure to create this new concept and then, like a freaky flash, back to Alchemy it went.  During this series of reincarnations, it was very difficult to get attached. Items we tried and loved one week would be gone the next. I suspect I'm not the only Alchemy enthusiast who waited with frustration and anticipation for her to settle back into who she was, a quirky little eatery with locally sourced outside-the-box dishes that you quickly learn to love and could trust to be there for you. I think it's finally happening.
We had sampled the Farmer's Picnic Board at the recent Taste of Cape Ann, so we had it firmly on our radar and it did not disappoint. Loaded to the edges of this gorgeous recovered wood serving platter, the quantity and quality of the contents of this sharing appetizer make it a culinary home run - and something we will certainly return for often. Pork rillette, chicken liver mousse, mortadella, and a glorious pork terrine represented on the charcuterie side. Mounds of  Jasper Hill Farms Bayley Hazen Blue Cheese, Grafton Village's  5 Year Cheddar and Old Chatham Brie filled the cheese lover's portion. All of these protein perfections were nestled among piles of house made orange marmalade, pickled carrots and peppers and coarse ground mustard providing endless flavor possibilities and enthusiastic sharing of suggested combinations. 

Sharing platters, well envisioned and executed, naturally evoke that beautiful, purposeful breaking of bread - and the best kind of dining experience - the sharing of a meal, the camaraderie of the cafe. Add wine pairing, here we sampled solid selections of Chateau Ste Michelle Merlot, The Show Pinot Noir, Saumur Chenin Blanc  and you have a sensory safari, highlighting in their own unique and powerful way, the flavors of the board, and offering even more opportunity to talk gastronomy. 

For an entree we split -  for the number that farm board had done on our appetites - the Long Island Duck Breast with roasted mushrooms risotto, Brussels sprout leaves & pomegranate gastrique. It was magnificent. So much rich flavor in the duck, brightness in the sauce and nutty bitterness of the Brussels made for a plate best described as simply symphonic.

Zachary indulged in the house ground burger with bacon and bleu, worth mentioning for two reasons. First, free range beef tastes like nothing else and Alchemy has been rocking the best burger in town for the longest time because they were early adopters of this food phenom. Try it, you'll never look as factory farm beef again. Secondly, the burger has heavenly slices of that Bayley Hazen Bleu which is one of the most delicious things you can put in your mouth. Plus add bacon and this is THE BURGER you want.

We didn't leave room for dessert, though our server assured us that the Semifreddo is a treat we must come back for and we will. We did indulge in one of the restaurant's very creative cocktails (they're name says it all - Alchemy is sorta famous for their mixology). The Hemingway Daiquiri was a luscious and potent potable comprised of locally made Privateer rum, Luxardo maraschino liquor, fresh lime and red grapefruit. It took my breath away in the best possible way.

This midweek visit was no ordinary date night, it was food as an experience, and my favorite way to eat. Satiated with sustenance and hydration, we left happy and hopeful that Alchemy has finally gotten it's groove back. Serenitee decision-makers , if you are listening, please don't change anything.

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