I finally made it to Alma this weekend, after nearly a year of passing it every day and wanting to go (I live two blocks away). I know there have been lots of good things posted on this board before about Alma, and I can say that all of them are justified and then some. I eat out a lot, and this was one of the best meals I have had around here in quite some time. I and my 3 companions all really enjoyed every dish, and since we ordered quite a bit, I had a chance to sample quite a bit of the menu. The use of seasonal produce combined with interesting Latin spices and excellent execution on the cooking made everything lip-smacking! So here goes:
To start, we had 2 orders of the ceviche sampler ($11 for two people), this night featuring a wild striped bass witih green chilies, red onions and a champagne-grapefruit marinade. I found it slightly fishy, but just a bit...not too much to not eat. Everyone else liked it and didn't agree. The next was mexican bay scallops in garlic and herbs in abune (kind of like creamy herby bouillabaise taste) Yum. It was refreshing and good. I wanted more than my one bite. Also a bluefin tuna with scallions in a coconut marinade (kind of like a Latin-style tuna tartare), and very good Gulf prawns with chopped peanuts and beautiful pomegranate seeds in a honey-habanero marinade. All excellent, and portioned with just enough for two people. My top two were probably the scallops and prawns, which had just enough heat but not too much, and the pomegranate-peanut juic/crunch mixture was unique and tasty.
OK, then starters. I had an excellent soup ($5.50), just added to the menu, of acorn squash with tangerine reduction--the tangerine was very subtle but definitely present, and the soup was nicely creamy and rich. My BF had the butternut squash and queso blanco empanadas apple-cider-rocoto chili sofrito ($6). The pastry was made of corn flour, I'm think, and the filling was creamy and well-seasoned. I found the pastry slightly too thick for my taste, but other than that it was great and needless to say, the plate looked as if it had been licked clean. My father had the camote flan with ancho chili cream and crispy sweet potatoes, which were shredded and served atop the flan ($6.50). This dish was excellent. Light, airy, non-eggy flan, with delicate camote flavor. I wanted to keep eating and eating it, but my dad demanded it back after a bite! The least interesting dish was the bloomsdale spinach salad ($6)--a winter-only variety of spinach kind of like chard, served with candied fresno chilies and a vinaigrette that was supposed to have banana and tangerine, though we didn't taste much of either. The salad was fine, but not nearly as special and interesting as the other dishes.
Main dishes. Much controversy over who was ordering what, to ensure we got to taste a lot :) (luckily everyone there was willing to support my tasting habit!). Two of us got the pork chop, served with garlic-scallion mashed potatoes, jicama slaw, and smoked chili jus ($16). This was one of the best pork chops any of us had had in memory--and HUGE!. Juicy, tender, overflowing with the flavorful juice...and the mashed potatoes were SOO creamy. I do not want to think about how much butter and/or cream were in them--but the garlic-scallion flavor was definitely present, not at all overpowering. Dad had the Chipi Chipi, a Venezualan-bouillabaise sort of dish, with sea bass, clams and mussels ina chili broth ($17.50). This was touted as a signature dish, and though good, we all felt it was not quite up to the other entrees. The broth was light and could have had some more kick in it...as it was, a pleasant but not exciting seafood stew. I had the grilled hangar steak with a potato-pumpkin gratin and onion sauce ($19). Although I don't usually order red meat, if it could always be this good, I would! Perfectly cooked to medium rare (as I'd asked), not tough at all, oozing yummy juice--with a slight char on the edges. Yum. Well complemented by the onion sauce, though there definitely could have been more of that on the plate. The gratin was perfectly cooked as well, and the creamy pumpkin puree was a nice addition to the usual potato gratin. Having suffered through some tough undercooked gratins lately, it was nice to have one where the potatoes were cooked properly, as well as interestingly spiced. I had to hold myself back from eating the whole thing, which might have resulted in serious stomach damage.
We also had two sides (yes, we are gluttons). One was "Senor Spencer's" yucca and roasted garlic gratin ($4). This was incredibly rich and creamy, a few bites were enough, but the flavor was excellent. I'm not sure if it had cheese in it (forgot to ask), but I think it must have--it was incredibly creamy. Second side were the corn arepas with caramelized red onion and goat cheese: sweet cornbread-like cakes filled with goat cheese--a nice and not overpowering one (I'm working on developing a taste for goat cheese right now, and liked this dish). 3 good-sized cakes for $5.
I forgot to write down the wine we had, but it was a pleasant Syrah for around $25-30--their wine list has quite a variety at this price point, which is much appreciated. I also started with an excellent mojito, and my BY had the "Gazpacho Bloody Mary"--which did come with the promised vegetables. Quite tasty, but beware the salted rim on the glass--not really necessary, IMO. I think the drinks were in the $8 range.
We did get 3 desserts too--banana bread pudding, made with banana bread--definitely the best one. My dad got the "panqueques"--basically crepes, which were supposed to be full of what they called creme brulee, but we had trouble finding at all. Not great. And for the life of me, I can't remember the other one, but it was ok but not great either. Don't save room for dessert--splurge on the rest of the meal :)
Service was very pleasant and efficient but did not hurry us at all. The room was pretty loud, especially for the elders among us...but the food more than made up for it. Definitely I'll go back...and am I imagining things, or are these prices slightly lower than they used to be?
1101 Valencia St.