Alchemy -- A touch of magic in Murphys
Sierra Lodestar 06/23/10

A Touch of Magic in Murphys

By Antoinette May Herndon

Let me tell you about a magical evening. The weather was glorious, perfect for a long “top-down” drive through the forest, through the trees. “Let’s go somewhere,” I suggested. “What about Murphy’s.”

Maybe that doesn’t sound so thrilling to you, but Charles and I live in Mok Hill. It’s a long, long trail a- winding to Murphys if you take the back road.

The route we chose was an adventure, narrow, windy, up, up, up through pine forests way beyond the timber line. Then, once the summit was reached, a sinuous descent through more wilderness. I spotted deer, a fox and two raccoons, but really caught my breath when we came nose to nose with four-wheeled creatures. Some of the road is one lane; encounters are a thrill, passing a challenge.

It takes an hour to reach Murphys via this road; we could have been half way to the city. I was glad we weren’t. The road less traveled is always more fun. Don’t you think?

Our destination was Alchemy. Even without the spectacular ride, I was holding my breath. It had been a year since I’d visited the restaurant. The last experience was mixed. Food fabulous, but service? Suffice it to say, our wait person would be ideally suited to managing a prison cafeteria.

I hadn’t wanted to return. But then I kept hearing such fabulous things about Alchemy, not only the food—I knew that was outstanding—but the service. “They’re all so nice.” “A great staff.” “Friendly.” “Flawless.” High praise indeed.

The name “Alchemy” itself is a lure that goes beyond food. It a promise of transformation, maybe

even magic. Was it fair to judge a place on one lunch?

Charles and I sensed a little of the magic even as we entered the restaurant. Though located in the heart of “down town” Murphys, Alchemy has a French bistro ambience. Crystal chandeliers, elegant Picasso-like line drawings and warm citrus walls are a perfect foil for the dark warehouse ceiling.

I liked the post mission furniture, brown and blocky, the large windows and doors opening out to a leafy patio where Matt Cullen was singing. Though the restaurant was busy that night there was available seating in three venues. They all looked inviting.

Charles and I resembled two of those finicky three bears as we debated: Was this table too near the kitchen? Was that one too close to the music?

Genial and considerate, the waiters humoured us. I’m embarrassed to admit that, with so much good natured encouragement, we tried out two places before settling in. Forget that past misfortune, our current good luck seemed almost comically karmic.

It just got better, magic floating onto the menu. Everything looked good. We ordered glasses of Chiarella Barbera ($9.25) to smooth our way through tough choices.

First off the house soup ($4) was divine. Imagine a rich beef stock combined with sherry and stout then sautéed with yellow onions, leeks, rosemary and thyme. And added to this cream and cheddar cheese with a dash of Worcestershire sauce. Oh, the calories; some things are worth it.

The Gold Nugget Cheese Bread was a sinful complement, a tasty blend of butter, Parmesan cheese, green onion, corn and jalapeno pepper. It just may be the best restaurant

table bread I’ve ever eaten. Yes! It really is that good.

For an entrée, Charles had the Italian Classics Trio, a rich rotini pasta with prawns, eggplant parmesan and pesto grilled chicken breast. ($17.95) I ordered strawberry-balsamic glazed salmon grilled with argula, pecan, and strawberry salad. ($19). Both dishes were outstanding.

Charles and I just couldn’t leave well enough alone either. Though we hadn’t planned it, this turned out to be an all holds barred dinner. We ended up splitting a warm brownie sundae—but it was more than just a sundae. There was a sugary crust on the bottom like cheesecakes have.

This was the kind of scandalously wicked dessert that I’d choose if I had just one night to live. Like maybe I was on death row and they said I could have anything I wanted and chef Jason Wright could fly in and fix it for me. Actually the whole evening was that special—pure alchemy in every sense.

VITALS: 191 Main St., Murphys. Phone: 728-0700. Owner and chef Jason Wright is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. His partner, Sandra Carrillo, presides over the mini market adjacent to the restaurant where bread, cheese, pate and wine are sold. Hours: Market: Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Restaurant: Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Monday 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Closed Wednesdays. No reservations for lunch, but highly recommended for dinner. Credit cards accepted.


Alchemy is reminiscent of a Parisian bistro.

Joel Evans does things right at Alchemy.