May 2013 Archives

Fish Fry Review - Alchemy

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I've been spending more time on the east side of Madison and as a result am becoming more familiar with the hot (and not so hot) spots on that side of town. One of the places I've come to really appreciate is The Alchemy.

Astute readers (and some stalkers) will recall that I've already sampled the fish at Alchemy... way back around April of 2010. It received a decent review, although it only landed in 28th place. Hmm.

Luckily for everyone (but most of all moi), my tastebuds continue to evolve, and I've learned to appreciate quality, local food more than quantity and/or value. As such, some of my very favorite restaurants these days include The Alchemy, Forequarter, Graze, and the like.

So while I've been eating the heck out of Alchemy's "normal" menu (and loving every bit of it), I hadn't revisited the fish fry. That all changed on Friday, May 24, when I met up with my cousin Leanne and her husband Jeff at the Alchemy. I was first to arrive and put in our name for a table.

After a brief wait, we were seated at a 4-top table. A friendly waitress refreshed our drinks, and we placed an order for the "grilled bread" and the chips and salsa. Within minutes, drinks arrived, followed shortly by the appetizers.

The grilled bread is a treat - it features thick slices of locally made sourdough bread, slightly charred and lightly buttered. Accompanying the bread is a spread that varies on a regular basis. The spread for this evening consisted of a hummus made from wild mushrooms, walnut, bell pepper, and seasonings. It's like pate, but without the gamey taste (or the animal organs).

The chips and salsa were both house made, and both were fresh and delicious.

We then placed dinner orders - I had the fried cod (with wasabi green beans); Jeff went with the cod (with fries), and Leanne chose a grilled chicken salad.

The fish was outstanding. No photos, sorry. It looked exactly as it did from the previous review/visit - big, thick, meaty pieces of cod, expertly battered and fried to perfection. With nary a sign of grease, I greedily wolfed-down my cod and stared longingly at Jeff's and Leanne's plates...

The beans are a treat. Crispy, warm, and dusted with wasabi powder - they're a welcomed alternative to fries (and probably a bit more healthy). The slaw was a surprise - it had a slightly Asian-slaw taste, with hints of sweet and sour. Totally delicious.

Service remained excellent throughout the night. And while the place is still cash only, the bill was more than reasonable - with drinks, appetizers, entrees, and drinks, we came in at just around $80 (for four people).

Alchemy = WIN

Food = 4.25 stars
Service = 4 stars
Value = 3.5 stars
MISC = 4.5 stars (still a super cool vibe/feel/look)

I can see them moving up quite a bit in the ranks... 11th sounds about right.

A trip to the Bay

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Greetings, friends! I realize I've been extremely lax with updating the blog over the past few months, but things truly have been incredibly busy. It's not a good excuse, but it's the plain truth; there just hasn't been any time to kickback and draft a good blog entry.

Despite the hectic schedule, I did find time to travel out to my 'ole stomping grounds - San Francisco.

I arrived into San Francisco early in the afternoon on Saturday, and after a short ride on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), found myself smack-dab in the heart of the city - at the intersection of Market and 3rd Street. The hotel was phenomenal on so many levels... the rooms were nice, clean, quiet, and featured real balconies that you could sit comfortably on. It was centrally located - in the Union Square neighborhood, which is almost in the middle of everything.

After unpacking, I headed out to the infamous pier/wharf area.

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The weather was nice; much nicer than I recall it being when I was working in San Francisco... it was a tad windy on Saturday, which is normal, but it was sunny and warm. I walked along the pier, passing huge docks and watching the various ships and barges navigate their way around the bay.

After walking for a bit, I sat down for a quick beverage at the Pier 23 bar and restaurant. They offered outdoor seating, so I snagged a seat and enjoyed the views.

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For those not familiar with the area, the piers are all numbered. I started at Pier #1, which is located at the end of Market Street. The piers run north and south along Embarcadero Street; there are actually two "Pier 1", two "Pier 2" and so on (one north of Market, one south of Market). I was walking north toward the infamous Fisherman's Wharf (Pier 39). For reference, AT&T park (the ballpark that's home to the San Francisco Giants) is south of Market, at around Pier #40.

After enjoying the fine beverage and the views, I continued walking north along the bay. I reached a point where you could easily see Alcatraz island. Thanks to the clear skies, it was easy to see. A sailboat photobombed my picture, but it still turned out OK...

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Kept walking toward Pier 39, which is home to several interesting attractions; primarily the large packs of sea lions that feed and sun on small floating docks, and the Fisherman's Wharf food court/market place.

Here are a bunch of the sea lions, hanging out and enjoying the nice weather:

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My stomach was starting to rumble, and with the smell of freshly cooked and steamed seafood wafting through the air, decided to head over to the food court/market area.

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There were quite literally dozens of options for places to eat, and each offered live, fresh lobster, crab, mussels, and plenty of other tasty seafood. I settled on a vendor and browsed our options... lobster?

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Or Dungeness Crab?

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Ultimately decided to go with the crab; the monger steamed it and cracked the shells, and I found a little perch to stand at and enjoy the awesome crab. Also had some fried calamari, which was excellent.

Belly full, I walked up Hyde Street. Hyde Street is one of the steepest hills in San Francisco - it averages a 31% incline grade; at the mid-point of Hyde Street is where the infamous Lombard Street begins (Lombard is the windy road that's often featured in movies).

The next day, I woke-up and went for a run. I decided to run the same route that I walked the night before; it was about 5-miles round-trip. The un-fun part? Running up Hyde Street... here's the view from near the bottom:

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About midway-up:

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And near the top; it's a little less steep near the top, but you can still appreciate the grade:

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Truth be told, I didn't run all the way up Hyde; I simply couldn't. I stopped a few times and snapped pictures, let my legs and heart recover, and then chugged my way on through.

After a well-deserved shower, I hit the streets, looking for some breakfast. I found a great little cafe called "Little Griddle" and ordered the "Bits & Pieces" scrambler. It featured maple smoked bacon chicken sausage, crimini mushrooms, sliced yellow onions, diced stake tomatoes, cheese, and a boatload of hashbrowns. It hit the spot after the run.

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Nourished and content, I wandered around San Francisco, making my way down Hayes Street (great shopping and cafes), over to Market, down Market toward the Mission/Hayes neighborhood, where my old apartment was. I was truly shocked to see that it looked exactly the same as it did in 2001/2002 - paint color and all. Here it is:

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Talk about a blast from the past.

From there, I swung into a small cafe for a brioche donut (filled with white chocolate macha) and a coffee. I took a break, surfed the internet, and enjoyed the awesome little courtyard.

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I had a rather long walk back to the hotel; I had to cover about 3 miles by foot, and in doing so saw some interesting things. From tame to obscure:

Farmer's Market - looked nice; lots of good offerings.

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Dog dressed as Superman:

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Godzilla and a princess walking on the sidewalk (I followed them for about 1.5 miles).

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And this store. Odd combinations anyone?

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Man, if only Madison had a place where I could do my laundry while drinking espresso, eating some sausage, and enjoying an ice cream cone... I'd never leave!

For dinner that night, I decided to do some small plates at a really cool tavern called "Burritt Room & Tavern." It was close to the hotel, and came highly recommended. I wandered-in, ordered some phenomenal cocktails and browsed the menu. The choices landed me on:

Charcuterie (duck prosciutto, traditional prosciutto, and salami, with grilled sourdough)

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Chicken liver with shiitake mushrooms:

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And some baked macaroni and cheese, of which I forgot to photograph because it wasn't quite as good as the first two plates. With two more cocktails, I received the check... $99 for three plates and a few drinks! EEEEEEK - definitely wasn't in Madison...

On the way back to the hotel, I snapped a semi-cool photo of a cable car operating at night. The cable cars are awesome, but based on the mass quantity of calories I'd been consuming, walking was a better option.

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The next day, I made my way over to Chinatown for some Dim Sum. Dim Sum is sort of like a buffet of chinese food, only you won't find stir-fry or fried rice. It's primarily finger food, and let me tell you, it's delicious.

Here's Chinatown:

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I love those hanging lights; if you look closely in the background, you can see a banner that reads "Chinatown."

After passing by countless Dim Sum joints, none of which had any english signage, I decided to eat at "Great Eastern." Heck, if President Obama ate there just a few weeks prior, it had to be good, right?

Boy howdy, was it good. First round of Dim Sum included steamed pork buns, salt prawns, and some type of spiced pork.

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Round two consisted of fried fish rolls (basically large, deep fried sushi roll):

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Round three consisted of baked pork buns, mushrooms, and a few other items I'm forgetting about... it was all superb!

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Later that day, I made my way over to Oakland, where I visited several really cool boutique stores, including this one where I saw an awesome hanging garden idea in the back; I snapped a photo for future reference.

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I met some cool folks along the way who told me to visit an old bar called "The Homestead" which was a super cool place. I believe they said it was built in the mid-1800s and has been a bar ever since then. It was such an awesome old bar. If I lived in San Francisco, this would be my hang-out...

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After enjoying a few drinks with new friends, I headed back to the hotel, where I did some shopping at some great stores in the area. I swung into AG (Adriano Goldschmeid) and bought a pair of blue jeans. I also hit Macy's, Nordstroms, and a few other places. I miss good shopping places like this!

With the clock pointing at nearly 8:00pm, I ventured over to an amazing sushi place called "Sanraku." It was recommended by friends and wow - was it great.

Seaweed salad and edamame to begin with:

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Followed by two rolls (dragon and 49er) and nigri (fatty tuna and mackerel):

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The next day arrived, and I walked to a Dotty's - a breakfast place that is infamous for its unique take on comfort breakfast dishes. Upon my arrival, there was a line out the door; I waited for about 35 minutes before beign seated at the bar area.

My options were many, but I decided to go with the "house made whiskey smoked fennel sausage scrambler, with spinach, mushrooms, and house cured cheddar cheese". It was accompanied by a plate of rosemary/sage homefries and a thick slice of house made jalapeno cheddar cornbread.

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Phenomenal. Oh so superb. With not much else to do during the day, I ventured back to the little cafe that had the brioche donuts, grabbed a seat, and did some work via remote connection. After a few hours, my gut said, "Hey, why don't we eat again?"

I decided to walk over toward Mission Street, and along the way found a pizza place called "Little Star Pizza" - they were offering personal pizzas with a drink for $10. Sounded like a bargain, so I stopped-in.

At the recommendation of my server, I ordered a roasted egg plant with chicken, basil, and garlic pizza. I'm not sure what their idea of personal is, but when the pizza arrived, it was much larger than I had envisioned - I'd say it was at least a 12" pie...

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The pizza was delicious, but I only ate 1.5 pieces, as I didn't want to stuff myself too much. To help settle my gut (and guilty conscience for eating so much) I wandered around the city some more and spied this odd little store; yes, that's a bare-breasted pattern on the fabrics... hmm.

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On the way back, I stopped at Yerba Buena Park - a little oasis located in the middle of the city.

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The next morning, I decided to venture to the north end of the piers, grab breakfast, and then rent a bike so that I could ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. I took the cable car from the hotel to an infamous bar/restaurant called "Buena Vista."

Buena Vista is known for its Irish Coffee and for being one of the older establishments that's still in business in the city. I skipped the Irish Coffee, but did order an awesome crab and tomato omelette with sourdough toast.

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I walked from Buena Vista to the bike rental place, picked-up my bike, went through a hasty fitting, and then hit the trails toward the Golden Gate Bridge.

There were a few steep hills to climb, but thankfully the route was nearly 100% via trail, so there wasn't much (if any) automotive traffic to contend with. I stopped near the Presidio to snap a picture - you can see the bridge in the distance.

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Also passed by some incredibly nice houses along the way... the houses in this neighborhood had an average price of $8.7-million, according to Zillow.com...

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The houses were located right along the bay (there was water directly opposite of them), and very close to one of the cooler pieces of architecture I can recall seeing - the Palace of Fine Arts.

Apparently, the Palace has fallen on tough times because it's slowly sinking into the ground. They've closed it and have relocated most of the attractions to new locations. It's such a shame, because the place was absolutely gorgeous.

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After the quick pitstop at the Palace, I continued on toward the Golden Gate. Here's a nice shot of the rental bike as I neared the bridge. Can you believe the weather? It was quite honestly 75-80F and sunny every single day.

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Eventually wound my way up and across the bridge, where I stopped at a large park for a quick break, a drink of water, and to take-in the views of San Francisco. My photos didn't turn out as well for two reasons - one, the photos were facing into the sun, so the lighting was terrible; and, two, the bridge itself is 1.75-miles long and when you calculate in the distances for the park and greenspace around the bridge, the city photographed a lot like a speck on the horizon. So, no photos "from the otherside." Sorry.

I rode back into San Francisco, and as I did, I snapped this selfie photo.

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With time left on the rental, I decided to ride along the pier area, only this time I rode well into the south side of the piers - when I hit AT&T park, I stopped and turned around.

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I returned the bike and then walked back to the hotel, where I got ready to take the BART over to Oakland for a dinner with some old friends. After some quick calculating, I figured I rode nearly 22-miles on the rental bike - not a bad ride! And, it would make the evening's dinner feel a little less heavy.

Once in Oakland, my friends picked me up from the BART station and drove me to a "park" as they called it. Imagine the slight bit of surprise when we arrived to a cemetery. Apparently it's quite the norm for people to hang out at the cemetery. I can see why - the place afforded gorgeous views of both Oakland and San Francisco, and it really was configured like a large park. There were huge areas of green space where people could picnic and enjoy the awesome weather.

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While we were there, I snapped a few pictures of some of the cooler, more interesting mosoleums. Here's where the Ghiradelli family (yes, of the chocolate fame) rests:

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And here's the mosoleum for Samuel Merritt - it's the square unit to the right in the photo below. He's a bit of an Oakland legend - he was a physisican for a number of years (in the early 1800s), the 13th mayor of Oakland, and he founded a very popular nursing college. He also built a large lake in the middle of the city.

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The attention to detail on some of the mosoleums is phenomenal - look at the custom-made lock on the Merritt facility:

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After spending some time at the Mountain View Cemetery, we headed into town for some Korean BBQ. I'd never had it before, so I was both excited and nervous... Imagine my relief when I learned it was primarily fried and/or grilled chicken.

My friend Jonathan did all of the ordering for us - he knew his way around the place, so we put the steering wheel firmly in his hands. He kicked things off with a Korean lager called "OB." It came in a comically large bottle - there's a pitcher of water behind the bottle for reference...

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For an appetizer, we had something called "cheese corn." It's exactly what it sounds like, only better. They take a cast iron hot place and load it up with fresh kernels of sweet corn, scallions, and peppers, then cover it in cheese and heat it to molten-hot temperatures. Everything sort of boils and binds and chars together to form an unbelievably delicious plate of goodness.

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To help cleanse the pallete (and our arteries), a noodle salad was ordered next. It consisted of cold noodles with a pile of vegetables, hard boiled egg, and an awesome sauce that was both sweet and spicy. It was excellent!

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For the main entrees, we ordered two versions of chicken. One was fried and featured an allspice flavor; the other was a super spicy grilled version. Both were beyond excellent. Everything was so fresh, flavorful, and delightful. I wish Madison had a Korean BBQ place.

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The restaurant was a load of fun; they were playing cheesy 80s, 90s, and 00s pop music (quite loudly). The staff were fantastic - super helpful and friendly, and they even gave us a complimentary pot of soup (very similar to egg drop) and a corn-fritata-like dish. We spent a few hours there, yet the time seemed to fly by.

After a nightcap at a local pub, I headed back to San Francisco on the BART. I managed to fall asleep during the ride; I guess all that food induced a bit of a coma.

The following day I went for a morning run, where I stopped by San Francisco's other famous bridge - the Bay Bridge - the snap this photo.

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I spent the rest of the day taking it easy. I stayed primarily in the hotel lobby, where I did some work and did some work on a side project I'm doing for the Capital Brewery Bike Club (I set-up their website and manage some of the content for it. It's still rough, but it's a new site so that's to be expected).

As I had a super early flight the next morning (it departed SFO at 6:00am), I decided to take it easy on the final night in town. That 3:45am alarm clock would be buzzing far too soon... Decided to walk a block or so to a local microbrewery called "Thirsty Bear Brewing Company."

It's an interesting brewery concept because they serve Spanish-style tapas as their primary food option. I started off with some salmon tartare with pintxos (one-bite skewers):

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The tartare was superb; so fresh and tasty. The pintxos were excellent as well - one featured a fig with spiced goat cheese; the other consisted of marinated manchego with membrillo (it's similar to a pear).

Up next was some grilled asparagus with Meyer lemon and some Setas Al Ajillo, which are mixed wild mushrooms, garlic, madeira, butter, and chili flakes. The asparagus was excellent; the setas were a tad too buttery for my liking, but still good.

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And finally, because I'm a total pig, I decided to order a pulled pork flatbread. I was quite shocked when it was delivered, as it was much larger than I had anticipated, and it was more doughy than I thought it would be. But, it paired well with the brews I was enjoying...

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I settled the tab ($109... gotta' love San Francisco!), and turned-in early. Before I knew it, the alarm clock was yelling at me to wake-up and head to the airport. After a short (and very easy) cab ride to SFO (the BART doesn't run before 5:00am), I was standing in line waiting to board the flight back to Wisconsin.

What a great trip. Perfect weather, great adventures, and just a fun experience. I got to try some new foods, meet some new people, and visit some old familiar places.

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