Restaurants & Bars 10

[MSP] Another disappointing Alma meal

Jordan | Feb 26, 200811:10 AM

I know this is going to be considered sacrilege on this board, but I don't love Restaurant Alma.

There. I said it.

My first Alma experience was about three years ago. I had heard all the raves and had no reason to disbelieve. My company reserved the upstairs room for a private retirement dinner for a colleague. We had around 20 people and a three-course menu with two selections per course. I came away unimpressed. There was nothing technically wrong with what we were served. It just wasn't very interesting. I chalked it up to another place with a reputation overinflated by the echo chamber.

Still, the raves continued, and the chef was even nominated for the prestigious James Beard award. I figured that perhaps our single experience wasn't truly representative, and we needed to try it again to give it a fair shake.

Last night, we shook. Sadly, Alma didn't have a very firm grasp.

On a Monday evening at 7:30, Alma was doing a brisk business. It seemed that most tables were occupied. My wife and I scored a small two-top at the very back of the room, next to the restrooms.

The menu was promising and well-organized, although the list of local purveyors at the bottom of the menu was lengthy to the point of silliness. You get your meat from Swanson Meats? No kidding! And Classic Provisions is your wholesale importer? Wow!

A three-course option was available for $45, or one could order a la carte from the same choices. We decided to each have a starter and main course. My wife had a glass of wine, and I had an iced tea with an unpleasant floral character. (If you love tea infused with floral qualities, you may have enjoyed this. It was not my, er, cup of tea.)

We also received two kinds of bread, slices from a very nice crusty peasant boule, and a denser white bread dotted with kalamata olives and topped with asiago cheese.

Then we waited. And waited some more. And waited some more. After about 25 minutes, we received our first course. My wife had beef tartar [sic] and I had a salad of endive, braised pear, melted brie, and pumpkin seeds. Both courses were fine, not particularly exceptional. I'm not sure why two cold plated dishes took 25 minutes to get out to us.

Unfortunately, the wait for entrees stretched another half hour. By this point, our appetizers were long finished, and we were quite bored in our little corner in the back.

My wife had the roast Berkshire pork loin, which was slightly but not unsalvageably overcooked and served in what the menu described as "hot pepper and honey jus." There wasn't much flavor to this -- certainly no heat, and it didn't seem that making a jus out of pork tenderloin was particularly worthwhile, either. Overall, this was a somewhat flavorless piece of meat with a weakly sweet sauce underneath it. This dish could have been rescued with stronger, bolder flavors in the sauce. It was accompanied by a blistering hot (temperature, not pepper) corn souffle. This wasn't really edible for several minutes because of the heat.

My dish was pan seared mahi mahi. This was the most aggressively seared fish I have ever had. The outer surface was a dark, chocolate brown. I didn't mind this, though my wife thought it tasted burnt. (She's more sensitive to charcoal than I am.) This was accompanied by buttery little dime-sized circles of roast fingerling potatoes, diced pineapple, and what the menu described as "guajillo & green chili butter." This tasted to me like a very dilute enchilada sauce. Overall, this dish was ... fine. It was competently cooked. The ingredients were of decent quality. They were all served together in a plate. However, nothing really jelled in any way that suggested that these ingredients belonged on a plate together.

We had planned on having dessert, but with almost 90 minutes spent on two courses, we decided to call it a night. The total bill was just under $100, not including tip.

Overall, this was a real disappointment, especially considering the high expectations I had based on the nearly unanimous acclaim this place has received. There was nothing really wrong with anything that we had, despite the very slow pacing and temperature/cooking control problems in the kitchen. There just wasn't much that went beyond "basically competent." The menu seemed imaginative, but none of the dishes put together flavor combinations in any way so that the whole was greater than the sum of the parts. We had no "wow" moments. Instead, we ended up on the ride home talking about places in town where we had spent the same amount of money and had much superior food. Like a dinner at Al Vento where we were delighted by sauteed chard packets filled with pecorino and served in truffled brown butter, or the horseradish fondue on the braised short ribs at Town Talk, or the seared scallops on saffron risotto with fennel puree at Fugaise. Dishes where the chefs surprised and delighted us with unusual combinations that worked better than expected.

So, I know I'll get flamed left and right for this, but I'm throwing in the towel on Alma. I'm not spending another hundred bucks to be feted with such average food. I just don't get all the raves.

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