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Alma - Surprising Find Downtown


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Restaurants & Bars Los Angeles Area

Alma - Surprising Find Downtown

lil mikey | | Oct 13, 2012 10:37 PM

It’s a fairly large space, but there are only 8 or 9 tables. So you get plenty of room, which I totally appreciate. My pet peeve is when a restaurant assumes you want to sit so close to the neighboring party that you have no privacy. So when I saw this layout, I breathed a sigh of relief. And the music they play is old-time brass. Like Tommy Dorsey or Benny Goodman. It has a very nice vibe.

They don’t have a liquor license yet, but you can byob, which all the other tables did. They also make creative cold non-alcoholic drinks. We had an apple, earl grey and honey drink, and also a celery and pear drink. All the ingredients of the apple drink could be easily discerned, and they went well together. But we liked the celery drink better. The celery itself didn’t really shine through, but nicely diluted the pear juice to the point where it was flavorful and refreshing.

The seaweed beignet would have been better as an amuse bouche. You get four beignets instead of the two you would get if it was just for the two of us; but it was more of a warm-up for the rest of the meal. It was plated on a tile with two sauces that were necessary to make this something more than fried dough. Notwithstanding, the seaweed aspect was unique, and I enjoyed the subtle umami flavor. They should offer them individually, for like $2 or $3 each, and suggest one for each diner.

But then things got a little more interesting. No, REALLY interesting. Our next course was a beautifully plated cold crab dish. It was full of color, with a yellow cream sauce on one side of the bowl, over which was the white and pink crab meat with bright pink radish-flavored shaved ice on the sides. Then there were green baby basil leaves, slices of red and white fresh radish, tiny pink and yellow nasturtiums, and green dill sprigs sprouting from the top. This was a colorful feast for the eyes and the flavors, textures and temperatures (shaved radish ice) were exciting and different with each bite. And miraculously, all these different ingredients interacted with each other so each bite had a balance, although different from the last. Oh my. This was a treat.

The next course was two soups.

The first was a sweet potato soup with apple and what they called tete de cochon. I’ve had pork brain before and like it very much. It was fried and had an earthy flavor, though not really porky. The broth itself had a tanginess brought about by the acidity of the apple, and this really kept the dish interesting.

The second soup wasn’t really advertised as soup, but it was a sunchoke puree poured over an impossibly perfect egg yolk with a very small amount of smoked fig and a baked sage leaf. To say the yolk was impossibly perfect is an understatement. It maintained its shape and firmness when cut into, but was still creamy and eggy on the tongue. And the sunchoke puree was not so rich as to fill the mouth with fat, but rather the earthiness of the sunchoke, combined with the egg yolk and seasoning made this dish really stand out. The smoked fig added to this dish as well, but there were only two tiny slivers in the bowl. This was another winning dish. After two courses, we had two winners.

The last course started with the autumn salad, and like all the other dishes, the ingredients were undisputedly fresh and unique. In this example, the artichoke listed in the menu was not the pedestrian heart or crown, rather it was small fresh full artichoke leaves, crisp and firm with rough texture, but tender enough to eat whole without scraping the meat off of them as you do with larger, more mature leaves. There were also micro slices of grapefruit and a unique baked wheat berry that gave the dish a solid crunch as well as a grainy flavor to balance the citrus dressing. This had a variety of flavor and texture, but the portion was too precious. It’s really too small to share, although we did.

After a half hour wait, the final dish was served: Suckling pig with shaved Brussels sprouts and two different cream sauces. This was basically pork belly, and while it had a nice flavor and extremely tender texture, like the salad this was also much too precious, particularly given it was the most expensive dish on the menu. I think the wait also tainted our experience of this dish, so some of the disappointment can be chalked up to that. But I don’t think we’d order this again.

For dessert, we spotted a sunchoke split on the menu beforehand so we had to try it. On the bottom of the plate is a marshmallow cream that gets torched in the way of a crème brule. And the burnt sugar tastes like that on a crème brulee. Over the top is frozen sunchoke cream with green sunchoke meringue cookies sticking up out of it. Around the base are candied chunks of sunchoke. This dish was very good for several bites, but was too sweet for our taste. I think it would have been better if they didn’t candy the sunchokes; but that’s just me.

All in all, this meal was a complete surprise. I just spotted the restaurant name on Opentable, and seeing there were no reviews we decided to try it. We were shocked at the quality of ingredients, the attention to detail, the beautiful plating and the obvious focus of the chef on just creating good food. We’ll be back.

952 Broadway (at Olympic, close to Staples Center)
(213) 444-0984

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