Back in April, as San Anto geared up for a rowdy Fiesta, the last pieces of a very big puzzle known as Alchemy Kombucha And Culture were falling into place. Several months in, the spot is hitting a strong stride.
Opened by business partners Kevin Rayhons and Tim Trofimenkov, the space burst into the local food scene at breakneck speed. First time restaurateurs, Rayhons and Trofimenkov enlisted the help of Brandon McKelvey of Say.She.Ate food truck and Mark "Wildcat" Garcia (who has hopped around kitchens, including The Monterey and now-closed Beat Street Coffee Co.) along with spirit knowledge via Javier Gutierrez and Joseph Hernandez (and the rest of their team at Milan & Turin group). Other pieces of the puzzle include pastry maven Kat Sees, formerly of Folc and Hot Joy.
All of these elements (Element also happens to the be name of the kombucha being brewed in-house, available in light green tea, sweet milk oolong, smoky black and jasmine-hibiscus) come together to create this harmonious space. I would hesitate to pigeonhole Alchemy as either a restaurant, bar or combination of both, as it has also served as a party venue and yoga studio (Mobile Om has used it for several sweaty sessions). In essence, the "Culture" part of the moniker extends far beyond that of the "symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast" or scoby used to make kombucha, or fermented tea dating back to ancient times.
When it comes to menu options, think lean and well balanced. Vegetarian and vegan pals don't have to stick with salads; instead, they can choose from five dishes that currently cater to their needs. The entire menu is made up of 11 dishes as of now, and I really hope the restaurant stays within these boundaries for several reasons — they're already covered when it comes to veggies, meats, cuisines and sweets — but more options of this same exact caliber do seem enticing.
My first quasi-official visit was late night where the kitchen served up three items. If you're looking for a Chili's-worth of choices, you're definitely not going to have a good time, but the noodles might persuade you to stay. The house ramen, a "tonkotsu approximation" with pork, gooey soft egg, nori (dry seaweed), black fungus (it's a mushroom, people), black garlic oil and chili oil, though it's accidentally misspelled as "ryu, myu" on the ingredient list. Fine by me, as I'd like to pretend Street Fighter had something to do with this funky, filling, flavorful bowl.
Also on the menu that evening was the summer curry, a dish served from day one during the joint's Fiesta début. Usually one to pass on curry, I wasn't sold on the bowl's vegan label. I was so, so wrong. Loaded with smoked mushrooms, fresh, chubby little peas, potato, shredded cabbage and a smattering of herbs, the curry held its own and made me reconsider the house-made sausage I had ordered. A lunchtime visit this past week meant another pleasing turn at the curry.
Though the lunch menu doesn't vary wildly enough from its dinner counterpart, it's worth noting that dishes are heavy on the veg in the best of ways. I tried a torta on special, usually al estilo Michoacán with red mole, sour cream, pickled red onion and cilantro, but this one was filled with house-made sausage on a toasty bolillo from the neighboring La Michoacana Meat Market. The sando is just as messy as the Traphouse burger, but when chef yells at you from the kitchen to just "take a damn bite," well, you do. Half is more than enough for lunch, though I would have loved a side of the crudité.
Dinner should be communal at Alchemy. Pick over the kaleidoscope crudité that pairs soft and chewy with crunchy textures of fresh radishes, beets, roasted cauliflower and a green onion hummus that could have been thickened a bit. Dining with a vegetarian and an omnivore, I shared bites of my Loncito's pork shank with market veggies, one brighter than the next, atop a velvety sweet potato puree.
Cocktail happy hour meant $5 libations and the Cisco's G&T, a botanical explosion that paired well with my meal. Though not quite yet perfect, I'm ready to try more of this elixir — be it kombucha, savory jus or a fizzy cocktail.
Alchemy Kombucha And Culture
1123 N. Flores St. (210) 320-1168, alchemysanantonio.com
Skinny: The former Far East Café gets a bohemian takeover. Find local fare done right, a solid introduction to kombucha, zippy cocktails and more.
Best Bets: Summer curry, ramen, Loncito's pork shank, cheddar burger
Hours: 11am-2pm and 4pm-midnight Mon, Wed, Thu; 11am-2pm and 4pm-2am Fri-Sat