South Park’s Alchemy spins fresh local ingredients into golden delights.
By David Rottenberg
Sir Isaac Newton, the developer of the important branch of mathematics called “calculus,” one day sat under a tree and had a “eureka” moment. He got hit on the head by an apple and conceived the laws of gravity. Newton went on to develop many other scientific and mathematical discoveries, including the laws that govern mechanics and motion. He was the “Albert Einstein” of his day. But, he had a dark side.
Newton was an alchemist.
Alchemy and chemistry may sound alike, but they are different. Alchemists concentrated on finding ways to do “transmutation,” attempting to change elements from one to another. Most notably, alchemists searched for the “philosopher’s stone” that could transmute lead into gold. It was an alchemist who discovered “aqua regia,” the mixture of acids that could dissolve gold, an otherwise impossible task.
Now we have modern day Alchemy, a relatively new restaurant in South Park, that has become the focus of neighborhood attention. Perhaps Ron Troyano, Matt Thomas and the other “alchemist” partners and friends are searching for the new “philosopher’s stone” that transmutes food into gold. Or perhaps, on a more serious level, they are trying to transform their neighborhood by creating a center for good eats, good drinks and good conviviality.
They’ve taken the corner of 30th and Beech and built out an interior space that really works. It took a while to get to this point. A fire during construction slowed the development down considerably. But they finally opened and have been welcomed by the community.
One reason for the positive response is the interior. It is largely open space, with a bar on the far side of the entrance and a kitchen behind it. The walls are a pale golden color, on which the works of neighborhood artists are displayed. “It is like a small gallery,” Troyano said. “We’ve sold many works for our artists.” A large modernistic metallic sculpture of a serpentine tree created by local artist Todd Williams decorates the center of the room.
The second reason is the cuisine, which is excellent. “We planned originally to feature small plates,” Troyano continued. “We wanted to help diners experience a series of flavors and textures. But, as time went on, we developed a number of regular entrée dishes as well.”
Small plates are still available – different and delicious. “A Snack of Three” and a “Snack of Four” are taste size ensembles of such delights as plantain tostones and grilled asparagus, to go with drinks and conversation. Larger size appetizers include gambas al ajilo — shrimp and sliced garlic in extra virgin olive oil — beautifully presented on the plate. Calamari de cadiz featured octopus in a tangy soup — a traditional dish, as opposed to deep fried – with crostini to sop up the delicious broth.
Other offerings include ceviche of fresh local sea bass with plantain chips and a delightful avocado and sweet corn salad with grape tomato and pumpkin seeds.
Entrees include a Jidori half chicken with skin that was crispy but with moist, hearty flesh. The shiitake dumpling that it came with was sensational. Market fresh lasagna offered five layers of firm pasta stuffed with high-grade ricotta and mozzarella cheese, roasted cremini mushrooms, baby spoon spinach and grilled eggplant. It was so good and light that it didn’t require meat and my dining partner raved about it.
The small, select menu is developed by Chef Ricardo Herredia in consultation with a New York based chef. Troyano contributes with his years of experience in the Big Apple’s restaurant scene.
Cocktails are also special at Alchemy and use in-season fresh ingredients from local farms in many of the presentations. My partner’s tomilla negro featured Cruzan rum, blackberry, thyme and lime, while my 30th Street Manhattan was a memorable mixture of Jim Beam rye whiskey, carpano antica vermouth, angostura bitters and a lemon twist. There’s also a seasonal fruit bellini of sparkling wine and muddled fruit. The wine list is extensive, with many excellent vintages in the low and moderate price ranges and a few high-end selections from France.
The third reason for Alchemy’s success is its community involvement. The restaurant donates its venue and food for local causes. It supports local artists. It also developed a program to bring students from the nearby middle school, Albert Einstein Academy, to the restaurant for instruction and motivation, particularly using the products of the school’s vegetable garden.
Some Sunday nights are special. They are called “Silent Sunday.” On the first Sunday of the month the restaurant shows a silent movie narrated by music and singing. What fun!
The secret is getting out. People from all over San Diego are discovering and finding Alchemy. It is easy to reach, just off the 28th Street exit on Highway 94.
Alchemy is a dinner house, with dining from 5 p.m. nightly, including late night dining until 11 p.m. Sunday – Thursday, and midnight Friday and Saturdays. A brunch is offered on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. till 2 p.m.
Visit the website, www.alchemysandiego.com, for more information. Or, better yet, just visit the restaurant at 1503 30th St. Call (619) 255-0616 for reservations.
David Rottenberg is editor of Dining San Diego Magazine, a guide to many of the city’s favorite restaurants. He is a member of the Southern California Restaurant Writers Association, a member of ASJA and vice president of the North American Travel Journalists Association.