I’ve reviewed two previous dinners at Alma (one from 2014 and one from 2015). As I’ve said previously, before Piccolo became our favourite high-end restaurant in the Twin Cities, and a place we returned to again and again, Alma used to be the place we ate at most often. Now, of course, Piccolo is gone. And so, when the missus’ birthday rolled around earlier this month, we decided to go back again to Alma, for our first expensive meal in the Cities since Piccolo closed and we left for London. This was also our first meal there since Alma closed and reopened late last year after an extensive remodel.
Joining us were two good friends, who ate with us at Piccolo and who are also long-time fans of Alma. We arrived on time for an 8 pm reservation (for once, we did not dine late, courtesy my visiting parents and free babysitting). We were all impressed by the extensive remodel. The previously adjoining Dunn Bros. coffee shop has been taken over and turned into a more casual bar and lounge and there’s a boutique hotel upstairs; the original dining rooms remain unchanged, except for a connection through the rear to the other spaces. Unhappily, the expansion of the restaurant has not resulted in the expansion of parking; in fact, the small parking area behind is now given over to valet parking, which we indulged in (a first, I think, for us in Minnesota in 10 years).
We were also not impressed by the start to the evening. It took 25 minutes for us to get our table. We were asked to wait in the bar and though the minutes ticked by no one checked in with us nor offered us a drink by way of mitigating the situation. Of course, the restaurant cannot hurl dawdling diners out but they can treat waiting diners a bit better. They did bring us a complimentary plate of home-made ricotta and crackers/bread when we did sit down, but while that was nice, it didn’t erase 25 minutes of twiddling our thumbs, wondering when in hell we might be seated or if we should get something to drink while we waited. If you’re going to call me the day before to confirm my reservation, then you should reciprocate by acknowledging in the moment that you’re making me wait an especially long time for that table. (A far less ambitious place I ate at last week with friends, for example, pressed glasses of bubbly into our hands after we’d waited 15 minutes, even though we’d arrived early for our reservation.)
Anyway, once we sat down (in the small upstairs section of the main dining room), things improved rapidly. While I wouldn’t say this was the best meal we’ve ever eaten at Alma, it was pretty good (though some things were less good than others). What did we eat? We did the standard three course order (now up to $59) and tacked on dessert at the end. We had no repeats in our orders. This means we ate most of the Fall menu that was in place at the time (it’s changed a fair bit since then).
- Arugula Salad poached pears, young manchego, almonds, cider vinaigrette: Alma’s salads are always very good and even though this doesn’t sound very exciting, my taste of it suggested that it did not buck the trend.
- Yellowtail Tartare aromatic lime dressing, heirloom lettuce, sweet rice: Also rather good, even if yellowtail in this general incarnation is a bit tired in 2017.
- Octopus Terrine ginger-tomato jam, lemon zest, focaccia crouton: This was the missus’ and I got a good whack at it—my pick of the first courses.
- Sweet Corn Flan dry jack cheese, pickled onion, guajillo sauce, tortilla: This, unfortunately, was mine. Unfortunately, not because it was bad but because it was a bit boring. The sweet corn flan was too dense and the flavour of the accompaniments was a bit too redolent of stale tortilla chips. However the guajillo sauce under the flan was quite nice.
- Mortadella Agnolotti seasonal mushrooms, parmigiano, sage butter: This was very good. The agnolotti were done nicely and the sauce was excellent.
- Fresh Masa Corn Cake smoked chicken, red mole, roasted poblano: I didn’t get too much of a taste of this but the person who ate most of it liked it a lot.
- Mung Bean Cake & Clams summer squash, king crab, tamari-sesame sauce: The mung bean cake was reminiscent of Korean bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes) and, alas, not likely to be very impressive to people who’ve eaten a lot of bindaetteok. Everything else on the plate was nice though.
- Crispy Poached Egg vegetable fricassee, fresh black truffle, melted leeks: This was mine. I”m not sure how they did the deep friend poached egg but it was fine. It was the rest of the plate that I really liked.
- Gently Cooked Arctic Char potatoes two ways, black truffle hollandaise, red wine jus: Excellent across the board. The fish was done perfectly and the hollandaise and red wine jus were ace.
- Duck Breast & Confit sweet garlic tatsoi, scallion pancake, pickled cucumber: This was mine and was as good duck as I’ve had in a while. Everything on the plate came together really well.
- Roasted Pork Belly quince chutney, swiss chard, brown butter, saba: A very fatty slab of belly, this was very good but perhaps a bit much for one person. The chard and chutney were excellent matches.
- Smoked Lamb Ribeye white bean and leek ragoût, cherry tomatoes, pesto: Tasty but, as the person who ate most of it noted, somewhat comfort food’ish. That is to say, it was good but nothing special.
- Hazelnut Praline Choux dark caramel ice cream, orange sauce, caramel tuile: This was mine. It was good and it was bit much for one person.
- Elderflower Panna Cotta, white chocolate crumb, lychee crisp, blackberry caramel: Ditto.
- A trio of sorbets: carrot-ginger, cherry and toasted coconut: This was the gluten/dairy free option. It was also hard to imagine one person eating all of this after three savoury courses. The cherry and especially the toasted coconut were quite nice. The carrot-ginger was blah.
(The fourth member of our group elected to have a bourbon digestif in place of dessert.)
For pictures of the new’ish space and food please launch the slideshow below. For notes on service and cost/value please scroll down a bit.
All of this food plus a bottle of wine, two additional glasses of wine, a cocktail, a digestif, tax and tip came to just below $120/head. Which is quite a bit of money. Without any drinks it would have been about $90-95 with tax and tip. Either way, this was more than we paid for dinner at St. John in London this June and also on par with what I paid at lunch at the Clove Club in London last August. Those were both much better meals and London is a more expensive city than Minneapolis (and let’s not even mention the curse of Joe Beef). In other words, this is pretty expensive for what it is. However, I suppose one of the major signifiers of the fact that you are eating at a high-end restaurant is the price you pay and Alma continues to be one of the high-end Twin Cities restaurants that has no trouble convincing people to pay its prices: it’s been packed to the gills on every visit and now, of course, it’s much larger than it used to be.
Please note that I’m not saying that the food is not, on the whole, very good; it is. But this meal was not also quite as good across the board as you might want when paying $90 odd before you factor in drinks. I am happy to note, however, that on this occasion—the long wait with no checking aside—service was not marred by any oddities: no disappearing servers etc. And to the price question, in the post-Piccolo era, Spoon and Stable is probably the only restaurant in the Cities that we’d go to over Alma for a big celebratory meal (Meritage is more informal still) and they’re not any cheaper. As such, I’d continue to recommend it to friends, as I have been doing for many years now.
Coming up next on the restaurant front: far more casual meals in London, Glasgow and the Twin Cities.