Hadn't been to Alma de Cuba in a while, so I thought this made for a nice opportunity to get reacquainted. Got there early, my dinner mate didn't so I had time to sit at the bar and have a mojito. They have several options, I picked the most straightforward. Small drink for the $8, but it was generous on the rum, and really was sufficient to my requirements. The mint got in the way, since it went into the shaker with the rest, and was just swimming around in the drink; I usually expect it on the bottom of the glass. Pleasant, quiet bar, nice laid back bartender.
We were seated on the main floor (I usually prefer the mezz, but seemed to be closed for the night). Pleasant waitress, but a little stiff. Seemed a bit stiff and uncomfortable, but nothing untoward.
We were started off with soft herb-encrusted rolls and -steeped olive oil.
First thing I notice while checking out the menu was that the offerings had changed: the Lechon Asado, which I was hankerin' for, had been replaced by a much less appealing chicken offering; the sea bass replaced by salmon on a bed of lentils. The appetizers had likewise changed, the smoked marlin and the chicken soup replaced by beef empanadas and a shrimp ceviche. Crushed by disappointment, I nevertheless soldiered on: the beef enpanadas and the Vaca Frita for myself, the shrimp ceviche and the salmon for my friend.
Heartbreak didn't last: the appetizers were remarkably good, simple but vivid, with remarkably true flavors. The empanadas were rich, almost chocolate-creamy; the ceviche had a bright seafood tang leavened by the lime marinade, and a brief briney note on the aftertaste. Lovely - and, if I may be allowed an editorial sidebar, excelled in every way that Pasion's offering fell short.
The entrees were likewise very good: the Vaca had a rich beefiness that I usually associate with aged meat, the refried beans were creamy but not remotely gluey, as they tend to get. The tomato escabeched's note of acidity lightened and heightened everything perfectly. The portion was almost excessive, a real surprise at these prices.
I was less taken with the salmon entree. The ingredients were good, everything was tasty, but the whole failed to take flight. Still, good salmon is a good thing, and lentils are never de trop.
The desserts were less interesting: the chocolate flan was dense and rich, but should have been creamier and somehow lighter-flavored. The passionfruit mousse (no cakehood in evidence) was good, but needed some contrasting flavor to make it work - to be fair, I'm not a big fan, so your mileage may well exceed mine.
I had a '99 Periquita red, a Portuguese wine I'd had before, and for $9 was reasonably pleased. My friends $11 Pinot had been open a smidge too long and was a shade wrung out. It was also, at the waitress' recommendation, the most expensive glass available, which always gives me pause; but not by much, so reprieve will be granted.
All in all, a *very* pleasant surprise, especially when contrasted with much less satisfying meals at thrice the price I've had at Pasion.
On to Caribou Cafe Thursday Night.
O me o my, how I suffer ;-)