Alchemy Restaurant and Bar creates thoughtful, flavorful courses
As so many local restaurants reduced staff last winter, Drew, Michael and Laurie Gibbs recruited a new chef to help stage their comeback.
Warm weather and dozens of well-appointed outdoor tables collaborated last month on Alchemy Restaurant and Bar’s reopening at The Winchester Inn, 35 S. Second St. A four-month closure at this Ashland institution added another chapter in the Gibbs family’s 38 years of owning and operating the historical property.
Alchemy’s cuisine made history in 2016, when then-chef Billy Buscher won the title of Iron Chef at Portland’s Bite of Oregon. The previous year, Alchemy was named one of OpenTable Diners’ Top 100 Best Restaurants for Foodies in America.
It perhaps comes as little surprise that another chef who’s proven himself in cooking competitions — and even television’s culinary reality shows — took the helm at Alchemy. Michael Bryant relocated with his family from Los Angeles, where he staffed such notable establishments as Cliff’s Edge, Bin 8945 and Joe’s, He also appeared on “Chopped,” “Knife Fight” and “Chef Wanted With Anne Burrell.”
Inspired by his French immigrant mother to favor high-quality ingredients in season, Bryant emphasizes that ethic at Alchemy, where spring’s bill of fare is strong on mushrooms, greens, peas and artichokes, interpreted with global spices. Bryant also demonstrates versatility and commitment to freshness by occasionally swapping some items listed on the menu for others on the plate. While a few redundancies creep into Bryant’s cooking, his courses largely confirm thoughtful construction showcasing a depth and breadth of flavors and textures.
A dish that epitomizes earthy savor, against a delicate yet decadent backdrop, started my meal at Alchemy. “Mushroom, Mushroom” ($15) is an unfortunately uninspired name for the sublime dish that Bryant crafted as an appetizer. Porcini mushrooms played a duet in both silky custard and rich broth, smothered in yet more locally foraged and cultivated fungus, although no morels.
The first bite was like an umami bomb going off, activating every one of my taste and smell receptors. “Yuuuuuummmmmmm!” I exclaimed as the flavors intensified and I tried to curb my enthusiasm enough to handle the custard more carefully, lest it crumble into the broth.
Our other appetizer, burrata and cucumbers ($15), capitalized on this popular cheese served with heirloom tomatoes before it’s, strictly speaking, the season. A springtime theme characterized the dish, however, in a salad of vibrant, juicy pea shoots rather than the arugula listed on the menu.
I anticipated a bit of punch from the black garlic vinaigrette and pop from crispy quinoa. But flavors and textures both were subtle, the most notable being the cucumbers’ crunch, ensured by sizable chunks accented with a few roasted baby tomatoes. Long, thin ribbons of cucumber would be a more suitable companion, on my palate, to the creamy cheese.
Also understated, bucatini prepared as the Roman classic “cacio e pepe” ($26) boasted a sea urchin butter sauce. If not for the peachy hue, however, I could have mistaken the sauce’s luxury ingredient for anything indulgent and unctuous.
I didn’t exactly expect a heady seafood aroma, but I didn’t get much whiff of brine, either. And despite myself — and the pasta’s garnish of pecorino Romano cheese — I wanted a bit more salt. Microgreens finishing the dish imparted a hint of bitter astringency that cut through the dairy.
A glass of Cotes de Provence rose ($10) lent acid that didn’t overpower the pasta. Next time, I’d order the wine with harissa-seared scallops ($22), sauced with Hollandaise and listed under the menu’s starters, for my entree.
For our second entree, lamb “osso bucco” ($30), Moroccan-spiced duck leg confit ($30) and the French bistro staple “moules frites” ($32) were all strong contenders, edging out more costly smoked halibut ($36) and dry-aged ribeye steak ($39). In the end, the duck emerged the winner, and my partner was gratified in the choice, although it meant more mushrooms, this time roasted maitake. A glass of the Willamette Valley’s Libra Estate Reserve Pinot Noir ($12) paired just as well with that fungi as it did with the porcini broth.
I wondered if preserved lemon and olive tapenade would be too assertive for my partner’s liking. But those bright, salty notes shone through intermittently, instead of being dispersed throughout the dish.
The duck’s impeccably crisped skin stood in delicious contrast to the tender flesh underneath, and the generous portion of meat represented one of the evening’s best values. I had no qualms about gnawing the leg’s toothsome cartilage and claiming the last morsels from the bones.
We weren’t so stuffed to decline a look at the dessert menu. But we did eat heartily enough to deem the most interesting dish, caramel date bundt cake ($12), too heavy. Under ordinary circumstances, I would have eagerly requested either the passionfruit panna cotta ($12) or lavender creme brûlée ($10) — or both! But after commencing the meal with custard, I somewhat reluctantly resisted finishing it in similar fashion.
I won’t be able to resist checking Alchemy’s online menu to see what’s in store for seasons ahead. And perhaps with summer’s advent, hours will expand beyond the current Thursday through Monday, beginning at 4 p.m. Make reservations at alchemyashland.com or call 541-488-1115.
Observe today’s International Burger Day with winning recipes featuring Rogue Creamery cheeses.
The Central Point creamery held an online burger recipe competition to highlight its jalapeño-flavored cheddar, “Hopyard Cheddar” and Smokey Blue. The contest that commenced May 7 announced finalists last week for the Creamery’s “burger of the year.” The distinction included boxes of Creamery “goodies.”
Winning entries were submitted by Craig Couture using Smokey Blue, Table Rock Ranch using jalapeño cheddar and Adara Burns using Hopyard Cheddar. The recipe for Smokey Blue combines an all-beef burger, garlic aioli, shredded Romaine, onion jam and bacon on a buttered, toasted brioche bun. The burger with jalapeño cheddar calls for a classic beef patty topped with bacon, lettuce, red onion, tomato and mayonnaise. A grilled patty incorporating half beef, half pork, along with Pickled Planet sauerkraut and garden fresh greens showcased Hopyard Cheddar.
See photos on Instagram @roguecreamery.
Grab a seat in the most popular class at Oregon Wine University.
EdenVale Winery in Medford and The Oregon Wine Experience plan to host a wine and cheese pairing June 12 by advance reservation. Rogue Creamery’s Tom Van Voorhees, among the few certified “fromagiers” in Oregon, joins sommelier Joseph Shaughnessy and EdenVale owner Anne Root to devise the best Rogue Creamery cheese companions for award-winning wines from previous Oregon Wine Competitions.
The event is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the winery, 2310 Voorhies Road. Space is limited, and spots available only in pairs, for $100. Purchase at theoregonwineexperience.com/oregon-wine-university/
The 2021 Oregon Wine Competition is planned for July 17-18. The Oregon Wine Experience, Aug. 23-29, will offer limited, in-person gatherings — including the Founders’ Barrel Auction, Ultimate Vintners Dinners, Miracle Auction & Salmon Bake and Grand Tasting — and such virtual events as the Medal Celebration, according to its website.
Inspectors for Jackson County Environmental Public Health in March resumed on-site evaluation of food service facilities offering indoor dining. The following Ashland restaurants in April received perfect scores of 100 on their semiannual inspections:
Ashland Gourmet Catering, Bento East, Black Sheep Pub & Restaurant, Brothers Restaurant, Cocorico, Dobra Tea, House of Thai Cuisine, Macaroni’s Ristorante, Morning Glory, Noble Coffee, Remix Coffee Bar and Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.
The county’s searchable database of restaurant and food service inspections is at healthspace.com/Clients/Oregon/jackson/Web.nsf/home.xsp
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Sarah Lemon has relished the Rogue Valley’s dining scene for nearly two decades as one of the original contributors to Tempo’s dining column. Her palate has helped to judge some of the region’s culinary competitions and festivals. The former editor of A la Carte, the Mail Tribune’s weekly food section, she writes a biweekly column, The Whole Dish, and blogs and podcasts under the same name. Listen at mailtribune.com/podcasts and read more at mailtribune.com/lifestyle/the-whole-dish. Follow @the.whole. dish on Instagram, @thewholedish on Twitter or see facebook.com/thewholedish.