Alchemy. Whether you’re familiar with the word or not, the sound of it is instantly intriguing. Say it. Alchemy. It elicits a connection to science or chemistry; to creating and experimenting. At the same time, it sounds like something for which you may need proper protective equipment and an instruction manual.
For the purpose of this writing, we will use the following definition as given by Merriam Webster: alchemy, n., – a power or process that changes or transforms something in a mysterious or impressive way. Armed with this definition, we found our way to dinner at Alchemy in The Westin Chattanooga.
Located on Pine Street, The Westin Chattanooga is an urban retreat in the heart of the Scenic City. Accommodations and amenities include 200 guest rooms, convention and meeting spaces and two restaurants and bars; one of which is Alchemy. The construction of the hotel is the result of refurbishing the “Gold Building” after the departure of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Tennessee, and was part of a larger investment in the development of the downtown area by the building’s owners, Chattanooga developers Byron and Ken DeFoor.
The path to Alchemy is through the main lobby and then an elevator ride to the 10th floor. Upon walking through its glass double-doors at around 7 pm, it was obvious that this was a popular spot. The atmosphere was alive with conversation and cover songs from a lone acoustic crooner. An unexpected highlight was the covered outdoor seating with great views of nighttime Chattanooga and the opportunity to enjoy the night air due to the unseasonable November temperatures. Thank you, global warming.
WHERE WE SAT
This is where the critique takes a bit of a negative turn. Diners may find themselves, as we did, in a seating situation that was not conducive to dining. Sure, knee-height tables resembling cypress wood and stained white look really cool. But with a limited surface area, maneuvering drinks, water glasses, entrees, plates, and silverware made dining difficult and tricky. To be fair, this assessment came as an afterthought. But if you decide to visit Alchemy, we would recommend not choosing this type of seating if you plan to eat a meal; especially if it is going to include a variety of small plates to share.
WHAT WE ATE
The entire Alchemy menu is enticing and wrought with many of today’s trendy flavors and protein options. We opted for the small plates section of the menu and ordered the following:
Diver Scallops: Corn salad, avocado mousse ($13)
Shrimp Fritter: Crispy nest of shrimp with sweet potatoes and carrots w/ a sesame chili sauce ($12)
Dorato Pops: Maple and red chile candied pork belly ($11)
Baby Bleus: Three bleu cheese sliders w/ pickled red onion ($12)
For us, ordering at a restaurant is akin to sitting on Santa’s lap. Especially when it’s a place we’ve never tried before. Needless to say, when our food arrived, the only thing missing in the equation was snow falling from the sky and Bing Crosby singing “Here Comes Santa Claus” in the background. The most striking dish was the Shrimp Fritter (although we would suggest changing the name of this dish to “Shrimp Nest” since the shrimp was not delivered in the expected “fritter” packaging and was somewhat disappointing). While the sweet potato and carrot straws were a deliciously successful endeavor, the shrimp were overcooked. We found this to be true of all of the proteins.
The Dorato Pops were perhaps the most mistreated of all. We did ask our server if they actually came on sticks, and he said no (insert puzzled look to each other). So maybe “pops” refers to the idea that you can just pop them in your mouth. But we did not judge these to be mouth-popping portions. And our attempts to cut them down to size proved risky and fruitless. The pleasing flavor balance of the maple and chili glaze became irrelevant because the amount of chewing required for each bite became the focus.
As for the scallops, they were room temperature at best. And overcooked. The corn salad was actually the star of the plate, while the avocado mousse played a minor…very minor….supporting role.
After these three dishes, we were feeling a bit like we’d asked Santa for a puppy and gotten socks instead. So we decided to order the Baby Bleus. Again, overcooked. And not enough bleu cheese to warrant giving them their name. We also found the inclusion of carrot on a slider to be odd. Regardless, any flavor these mini burgers might have had was completely lost in the amount of bread that swallowed them up. The absence of moisture in the patties themselves, as well as any type of sauce or spread, also contributed. Fries? They were fries. And hot. But definitely frozen. Fresh shoestring fries could be a splendid alternative.
It’s understandable that The Westin Chattanooga is still in its infancy. But it is The Westin. And there are expectations. When you walk into the hotel and Alchemy, you can’t help but notice the opulence. They’ve done a fantastic job repurposing the building with a beautiful modern decor and furnishings. And as a bar, Alchemy has received positive reviews thus far (though we found some of their items to be quite overpriced). But as a restaurant, there are still some kinks that need to be worked out. The food menu is adventurous, experimental and promising. And the mystery is there. But the art of plating could definitely stand some more finesse, along with some quality control before food leaves the kitchen. So we’re not confident in saying it is a true work of alchemy…yet.