The half-block space on Duncan St. in Gloucester, that to the unschooled looks like a basement entrance to the CVS around the corner on Main St., has always been a restaurant to love. For years it was The Glass Sailboat, where everyone in Gloucester, from the fish piers to Bass Rocks, stopped in for good coffee, a homemade muffin, and maybe some homeopathic remedies from the Common Crow across the room. The place grew up a little, got liquor and music, and became the Sunny Day Cafe. While people mourned the old Sailboat, The Cafe was accepted in a community that doesn’t even like its vacant lots to change.
This underground space – the street windows open down into the dining room – has for years served artists, musicians, fisherman, house painters, everyone from Gloucester’s lawless to Gloucester’s lawyers, because the food – whether its coffee and great sandwiches or now Alchemy’s Bistro Fare – has for some reason always been great and the mood a little edgy, a little untoward, a little underground.
This past Thursday night, Alchemy owner Mark McDonough, started something new on Cape Ann, in keeping with the space’s history. Some people were calling it “Le Fooding,” after the Parisian new wave of chefs thumbing noses at the restaurant star system, inviting in friends, and sauteeing wherever imagination goes.
Some people called the new Alchemy event “Across the Board,” after the enormous wooden boards heaving with dishes prepared by chef Jeff Cala for an audience of North Shore bloggers, who represent in their blogs food and dining experiences from Lynn to Amesbury, across the board.
Mark had invited the bloggers to his experiment, and most of us were still unsure as we sat down what to expect. I think I began to get it somewhere between the first sip of a shimmering champagne cocktail set before me and the bite of pickled radish tucked into the first course, a demitasse of root vegetable puree with a swish of parsley oil on top.
Each course was presented to our two tables on the now famous boards created for the occasion by Walker Creek in Essex. We shared from the boards, not just family style, but medieval family style, which just added to the bohemian fun. We could have been in a cafe on Montmartre instead of Gloucester. The boards kept arriving, looking as Alchemy General Manager, Matt Rose, described, Flemish paintings.
To each dish Matt Rose paired a wine, and he’d been studious about it. Favorite marriages of the night were the housemade black pepper pappardelle and Corte Rugalin Monte Danieli Amarone Classico. Black Bass in Acacian honey with Jaffurs Santa Barbara Viognier. Black tea smoked Long Island duck breast with Diseno Malbec. A Bourbon County Stout had almost as much chocolate as the souffle with which it was served.
The boards kept amazing us all with their breadth and variety of tastes and textures (I could have had the house-made kumquat marmalade, a happy garnish on the cheese platter and cover to the black bass, as a vegetable.) and Matt kept educating. He was to the drink choices as Jeff Cala was to the food – interesting, at ease, and eloquent. Matt spoke to us about beverages as each arrived, and could turn a wine phrase as well as Hugh Johnson.
At this point you’re probably thinking, yeah, so you all had a good time, lucky you. But you are lucky. Mark was only testing his plan out on us, the bloggers. He’s planning on making Le Fooding, Across The Board, what ever you want to call it it’s fun, open to everyone soon. It will be a regular, monthly event with a fixed price and unlimited imagination. Watch for it. I promise, we who attended this first dining experiment will be the first to reserve seats at the next.
Merci Beaucoup, Mark, Matt, and Jeff!
Wine and Food pairings for Alchemy’s Tasting event
Aperitif: Marylyn Cocktail: Domaine St. Michelle Blanc de Noirs (WA), sugar cube, bitters, dom Benedictine, lemon
Calina Chardonnay (Chile) with the Wild Boar
Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc (S. Africa) with the Beef Tataki,
Cherry Blossom Cocktail (Shochu, Cointreau, cranberry, ginger syrup, prosecco) with Tuna Poke
Louis de Grenelle Saumur (Loire Valley, FR) with the Tatsoi salad.
Estrella Inedit (Barcelona, Ferran Adria Beer) with the cheese course
Corte Rugalin Monte Danieli Amarone Classico (Valpolicella, IT) with the pasta
Diseno Malbec with the duck breast
Jaffurs Santa Barbara Viognier with the black bass
Steltzner Claret, Stags Leap California with the venison
J Lohr Valdigue, or 3 Brooms Sauvignon Blanc with the scallops
Bourbon County Stout (Goose Island Brewing Co.) with the chocolate souffle