As it turned out, we were both hungry so decided to grab a table instead of waiting for seats at the (packed) bar. I'd had a few nibbles here before, and had been quite pleased, so I was looking forward to making a meal of the simple and well-thought-out menu of high-brow bar food.
We ordered our first round of cocktails (a Glenrothes concoction called "Boutonniere" for me, a Balvenie 15-year for Angela), and settled on two Deviled Duck Eggs ($1 each), Herb Frites ($5), Mac & Cheese ($9) and an order of Lamb Sliders ($10).
The sliders are the only thing I probably wouldn't order again, which is a shame, because they could be standout. The bread is a bit too porous, which makes a mess, and both times I've ordered them, the meat itself has been somewhat dry.
The mac & cheese, though seemingly ubiquitous these days, is a really beautiful version made with local cheeses (Mt. Tam and Serena, I believe), and a generous shaving of truffles. Comforting, creamy and decadent, this is an easily shareable dish for two.
The duck eggs are perfectly lovely, and a steal at $1 each -- these are large eggs, and very filling. Paired with an order of fries, you could have a nice, fatty, booze-soaking meal for well under $10. Those fries, by the way, are herb-dusted and addictive, especially when used as a delivery-mechanism for the aioli they are served with. On this recent visit, it was a tangy lemongrass-and-garlic version. Really standout.
It was somewhere between the sliders and eggs that something went awry, though. I'd finished my cocktail, and asked for a Lagavulin on the rocks. Our waitress came back to tell me, very apologetically, that they were out, so she'd ordered me a Talisker. No problem there. But when she reappeared a moment later, she said, "oh, we are also out of Talisker, so this is a Macallans."
Now, some of you who don't drink Scotch may say, "what? I've heard of Macallans -- it's supposed to be good, right?" But the problem is, Scotch has a myriad of flavor profiles, and the closest comparison I can draw would be if you'd ordered a big, tannic, cabernet and instead received a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau. I was looking for something peaty and salty, not a smooth, mellow, caramelly Scotch.
I asked if they had Caol Ila, another Islay scotch, and she said yes, but was I sure I didn't want the Macallans, because the Caol Ila was $16 compared to the Macallan's $10.
Seriously? SERIOUSLY?? (Let's not talk about the fact that the bill actually arrived with both the Macallan's AND the Caol Ila -- it was removed when we asked, of course, but just added to the "ick" factor of the experience).
Right around the same time, Angela ordered a Cynar and ginger. Waitress-lady says, "we don't have Cynar". So Angela orders an Averna instead. Waitress girl goes over, futzes with the POS system a bit, and comes back.
"We're out of Averna, but good news! We have Cynar after all!" Angela and I stared at each other gape-jawed, and burst out laughing.
Here's the thing: I don't necessarily expect a server at a small neighborhood eatery to remember the distinctions between and Islay and a Lowland Scotch, let alone which ones come from where. And I don't think it's unreasonable that they wouldn't be sure of the difference between Cynar and Averna, or really what the hell to do with them.
But when you're waiting tables at Alembic? A temple dedicated to the respect of some of the world's finest spirits, and one where the resident bartenders and owners use things like Glenrothes and Nocino in their cocktails? Then I do have an expectation that you will at the very least ASK A BARTENDER when you are out of the Scotch I want, and not just order the next thing you recognize that's the same price in the computer.
Boys of Alembic? Dave and Daniel and all my other favorite bartenders? PLEASE don't let this happen again. I come to you because you understand libations. You understand that using Sarticious instead of Hendrick's in a cocktail renders a totally different flavor. Please teach your floor staff to respect booze the way it is meant to be respected.
1725 Haight Street (next door to Red Vic's)