Alchemy has the kind of potential that has me regretting I had but a few visits to make before setting my opinion in print. There's a lot of ambition on display in this gastropub — protesting tagline: "Not Just a Pub" — with cocktails and starters that seem to understand what the savvy eater wants.
But little of it is executed well. Actually, some plates were so poor it made me wonder if the kitchen actually tested the menu, or just built it on a bevy of trending keywords.
Some are also leftovers from the Old Colorado City spot's former life as Gertrude's, a legacy restaurant with a following that might still recognize the old gal. The dining room, redone in November, looks comfortably rough and exposed, full of old bricks and dusty bottles, but the Irish iconography on the menus and token Bushmills mirror on the wall are forced to fight the name "Gertrude's Restaurant" on credit-card slips, the web address and the awning out front.
The waitstaff, meanwhile, has its own battle to wage. As of now, it seems not to understand that people need some acknowledgment and guidance upon entering; probably could use boxes and a check at some point; and enjoy a kind word on the way out. Servers also stop by a lot, with ours bringing silverware, small plates, ketchup, appetizers, refills, bowls for bones and even coasters separately. One night, our waitress dictated the few dessert options and then left before we could say a word.
Turning gold ...
As for the bar, during our visits, the draft-beer list offered nothing from the Pikes Peak region, but looked better than average overall, with several from Odell and Avery brewing companies. Rose-water fans might dig the crisp Spiked Rose Tea ($6.50), though the citrus vodka in ours was indistinguishable.
Someone's having a blast with the garnishes, though: Pop Rocks or gummy bears, or the flaming, candied red-pepper stick in the Hells Kitchen cocktail ($11). "Your Manhattan's never had so much," reads its description, and it does feel a bit like overkill: In addition to the cinnamon-y red pepper, the drink rocked Maker's Mark, sweet vermouth, spiced cherry bitters and a flambéed cherry, around a big ice ball stuffed with frozen blackberries and raspberries. Still, pretty cool.
There's similar élan from a menu full of word soup like, "Winter transmutations ... From the alchemists ... The Four Seasons Experiment: Beginning phase: (Starters)," which a week earlier was called "Alchemy constants .. From the alchemists .. Calcination & Dissolution (Starters)." Item descriptions even varied from menu to menu in the same visit, with one calling some asparagus grilled, and the other smoked.
The duck carpaccio ($11) came from those menus either way, and successfully, with incredible spicy bacon bits amping up meaty slices of duck paired with a tart berry compote on toast points. A delicious, falling-apart boar osso bucco ($19) was also awesome, with soft couscous swimming in mouth-coating gravy richness, though people who enjoy tasting their vegetables might not enjoy them being so overcooked.
... into something less
The rest went something like those carrots.
Lavender smoked salmon ($8) brought local honey, with tomatoes and capers on toast, but the fillet was a lightly sweet, mushy mess (albeit with a rocking pesto). The Slaughter House sandwich's ($12) description sounded tempting — pickled fennel, shaved steak, Gouda and marinated portobello mushroom — but what resulted, mainly, was dry bread with lukewarm beef over cold cheese. The Forager ($9) pulled the opposite trick, as its portobello, red pepper, onion and tomato toppings took about eight minutes to melt what had been a bun into soggy pap.
And the paella, a $22 dish made with more couscous, just flat-out bombed. I've had better seafood at a cheap Chinese buffet. Big, neon-orange mussels punished you with rubber for pulling them from their shell, while flabby shrimp and spongy sausage — which could have been amazing, with its licorice and spice — tried to out-gross each other. A dull cake of salmon just looked embarrassed to be there.
Other than the aforementioned carpaccio, a lovely drink called the Irish Rebel ($7) was the only other thing I tried at Alchemy that made me completely happy. It brought Jameson together with triple sec, lemon and lime juices, cream, egg white and soda. With a refill tin in tow, it was clean and zesty, with hints of dairy and smoky liquor. Creative, fresh and delicious: I loved it. Now if the rest of the operation would just follow suit.