Alma was once our absolute favourite fine dining restaurant in the Twin Cities. My first review was of our fifth or sixth meal there. This one comes more than a year and a half after that meal. This is not because that was a bad experience (as you’ll see if you read the review) or because Alma’s reputation has gone downhill since—in fact, they’re on the verge of a major expansion. It’s just that it was shortly after that meal in January 2014 that Doug Flicker did whatever strange hoodoo he’s done on our brains and palates, and Piccolo has since become our regular rotation place (we’ve eaten there five times between my two Alma reviews).
But why am I talking about Piccolo yet again while reviewing dinner at Alma? We’ve been wanting to go back for quite some time and decided that we’d celebrate our anniversary there. I’m happy to report that our meal was as good as any of our previous with some very high points and no low ones. Herewith the description.
We ate on a weeknight with an 8.30 reservation. The restaurant was hopping when we arrived but, as is usually the way in Minnesota, when we left a little after 10 it was all but deserted (there’s a little more about some less fortunate aspects of this at the end). As always we opted for their three course option (currently $52/head), which comprises three savoury courses (dessert is extra).
What we got (a slideshow of images is below):
1. Cured Salmon & Sweet Peas (shaved fennel, lemon oil, basil salsa verde): This was mine and was dynamite. A beautiful presentation with flavours as well composed as the plate. The salmon was perfectly cured—which is to say it was still recognizably salmony. Crisp skin on top, crisp in-season peas and crisp shaved fennel atop the fish and softer fennel puree with basil salsa verde below. I recommend this highly from the current menu.
2. Pork Belly Confit (rhubarb compote, arugula, fennel vinaigrette): As you’ll see in the slideshow below, this doesn’t look quite as attractive as the cured salmon but it was really rather good. The sweet rhubarb compote merged wonderfully with the unctuous belly and the salad was a nice counterpoint.
3. Rabbit & Nettle Agnolotti (garlic broth, sage, parmigiano): This was mine and was quite good. Well, I should say that the agnolotti themselves were somewhat anonymous—rabbit and nettle, yes, but you could well convince me there was something else in there. Everything else was very good though, especially the garlic broth/consomme and the dish came together well.
4. Hominy Grits & Sweetbreads (lime glazed carrots, charred chili & tomatillo sauce): I did not have the same opinion of this dish, though the missus (who ate most of it) did not entirely agree with me. All the individual components were fine but the dish felt assembled rather than organically conceived.
5. Wild King Salmon (snap peas, miso, fresh horseradish): This was mine. The salmon—slow roasted, I was told—was cooked very well but after a few bites the miso glaze tipped just past the point of being cloying. Good texture and flavour contrasts from the snap peas and horseradish.
6. Braised Lamb & Ricotta Gnocchi (spinach, smoked dashi, shiitake): Quite gamy lamb, braised to the point of falling apart. The gnocchi were fine. Again, a very nice broth and good balance on the whole.
7. Coffee Creme Brulee with Cherry-Vanilla Sorbet: We split this and despite the not-very attractive greenish-grey hue of the creme brulee this was actually quite good; indeed either of the two major components would have been a fine dessert by itself. The sorbet was perched on a honey sabayon (quite nice) and there was some hazelnut crumble or powder as well (superfluous).
There was some very nice natural light behind me as the meal started but as it got darker I didn’t always remember to reset the white balance of the camera, so please forgive these spotty images. They should give you a decent idea though of what’s on the plates.
All of this plus three glasses of wine came to $183 with tax and tip, which is par for the course in the Twin Cities.
Service was smooth in general. One minor point though (as alluded to above) about something that has happened to us on more than one occasion whether eating on a weeknight or a weekend night: since we tend to book tables between 8.30 and 9.30 we’re used to being among the very last to leave most Twin Cities restaurants. Something we’ve noticed disproportionately at Alma, however, is that the restaurant starts winding up quite visibly in the front of house well before diners have left. In some cases (as at our previous meal, noted in the comments) this has involved disappearing servers towards the end of our meal—on one occasion, finally encountered eating her dinner at the counter as we left (someone else brought us the check); in other cases (as at this meal) cleaning supplies are out and about and blocking the way to the restroom. Yes, I realize the staff would like to go home but maybe wait till all the diners are done or till closing time?
Also: I hope that with the expansion they’ll finally figure out a parking solution.
These things aside, I’d certainly still recommend them and we agreed as well that we need to come back sooner than in another 18 months.