Restaurant Alma, January 2014

I know I’m terribly hard to please when it comes to eating out at the high end in the Twin Cities, but there are two places of which I rarely have complaints. One is 112 Eatery and the other is Restaurant Alma. We’ve eaten at Alma about 5-6 times in the last few years–which, given how little we can go out now and how rarely we ever return anywhere for a second meal, let alone a third, is really saying something. While many trendier places have opened in the seven years that we’ve been in Minnesota, and received a lot more enthusiastic press, local and national, Alma just keeps on keeping on with excellent, seasonally-focused food that seems more classicist than it really is.

There’s a lot of modern technique employed in the cooking here and a lot of bold combinations of flavours and components but what’s on the plate is never showy for its own sake (if it’s showy at all) and you never get the sense that the choices are being driven by trendiness or a desire to exhibit the chef’s attention deficit disorder as virtue–as, for example, in all those places that give you a small piece of meat with small dabs of 75 different sauces (“how about you choose one, or maybe two that work really well with the pork and just give me more of those, genius?”). There has been an increasing drift towards “fusion” over the years, and more and more Asian-influenced dishes seem to be on the menu now. And given my general antipathy towards Asian fusion in European-American cooking I have to simultaneously note that Alma’s entries in this dubious genre bother me less than most, and that while the dishes I was least enthusiastic about in the meal reviewed below had strong fusion elements, so did some of the ones I liked a lot.

The biggest knock against Alma might be that it is perhaps a little more casual as a restaurant than its food deserves, or that its prices might indicate. But that’s both a larger, inescapable trend and a specifically Minnesotan thing where your choices seem to between the ridiculous, and largely substance-free, theater of upscale dining at places like La Belle Vie or the aggressively casual (almost everywhere else).

The only other complaint I have is that their current menu system is a little deceptive. Alma has always (or at least since we first started eating there) allowed diners to create a prix fixe meal of selections from selections for three courses all of which used to be priced a la carte on the menu as well. Now the menu only lists the prix fixe option with no individual prices listed for anything. When I asked our server why they’d stopped offering the carte she said it was because diners were apparently confused about how the carte related to the prix fixe and that everything was still available individually priced if desired; this shift was apparently made with diners in mind. If this is indeed the official reason it is at best disingenuous. The current menu doesn’t even indicate that an a la carte option is available and who, after all, is going to ask their server the price of every single thing they might be interested in. This way the restaurant gets to sell everybody three courses (plus dessert) as a default and it’s really to their benefit.

Anyway, on to our meal. The descriptions and evaluations of what we ate are in the captions of the slideshow that will open up when you click on the thumbnails below (and as these pictures were taken with my new camera they’re a lot brighter than those in previous dinner reviews). Four of us ate; we each got the prix fixe and everyone was willing to put up with my not so subtle pressure to not repeat anything in our orders. This means we ordered four of the five selections available in each course; and as we shared bites you can consider this a fairly comprehensive overview of the current menu (though it has been two weeks since our meal, and the menu may have changed–it changes ever six weeks or so). All this food plus a bottle of wine, tax and tip came to $338.

4 thoughts on “Restaurant Alma, January 2014

  1. Literally had worst restaurant staff experience of my life at alma so will never return. Food was good but on par with the many other spots in town that do the same thing.

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    • Well, now I need to know this service story.

      As I briefly noted in the review, service here can be too casual. And if you’ve been seated upstairs and/or are eating late can get quite spotty. Our server, who was otherwise perfectly charming, began to disappear for longer stretches as our meal went on; and when we were leaving she was seated downstairs alongside the rest of the staff and didn’t make eye contact let alone wish us a good night. We were eating late by MN standards (we arrived at 9.15) and we were the last table to leave but still. But that’s about as bad as it’s ever been, and most times the service has been adequate

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  2. Hey Pat–you’ll be glad to hear that Alma is a semi-finalist in the Outstanding Service category in the 2014 James Beard awards! (Yes, yes, I know the James Beard awards just endlessly cycle through lists of restaurants and chefs across the country in order to avoid giving awards to the same places and people each year.)

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