Our last meal at Alma, in early April this year, had unaccountably come four and a half years after our previous dinner there. I noted then that it was unlikely to be more than four and a half months till we were back again and for a change I am not a liar. We went back for dinner this past weekend, just a little short of four and a half months since the last. And I’m very glad we did. Our dinner in April was very good, but this one was even better. This might be because Alma serves a seasonal prix fixe, and late summer in Minnesota offers chefs far more to work with than the early spring—keep in mind that Alma’s sourcing is local/regional. Even if that’s not the reason, I would highly recommend going to eat this menu before it shifts in the fall. We liked it so much that we’re almost tempted to go back and eat it again.
Now, if you’d looked on Alma’s website earlier last week you might have been shocked at the cost of the prix fixe. We’d paid $85/head in April—and thought it good value for what it was—but when I checked on Thursday to see if any seats might be available for Saturday (our previous plans having been changed at the line), I was shocked to see a price of $130/head listed on the website. I’m not sure how long that price had been listed but a call to the restaurant verified that it was an error. So if that’s scared you off recently you should know that the price has gone up but only to $95/head. And it still seemed like a good value for what it was.
You might notice if you read the menu for this meal and compare it to the one in April that the structure of both are very similar. In April the Antipasti selection included—in addition to the marinated olives+spiced almonds and the bread—goat’s milk cheese, cured rabbit, and crispy shiitakes + asparagus. On this occasion, there was another goat’s milk cheese; in place of rabbit there was a bison tartare; and instead of crispy shiitakes there were fried poplar mushrooms. Similarly, the first course led off with a salad but now it featured heirloom tomatoes; these were accompanied by corn cakes. And if the main course in April featured crispy Arctic char, roasted pork tenderloin and orzo with king crab, the mains on this occasion featured crisp Pacific striped bass, crispy pork shoulder, and squid ink casarecce pasta with king crab.
So it’s not like they reinvented the wheel between the spring and the summer. Rather the two menus are variations on a theme. It’s just that summer seems to have allowed them to bring in more expansive flavours. The Wisconsin bucheron, for example, was topped with a lovely charred eggplant puree that set off the goaty tang and the saltiness of the cheese perfectly. And as much as I loved the salad at the previous meal, the tomatoes in this salad were exquisite—and I say this as someone who grows large numbers of tomato plants/varietals every year and is very picky about tomatoes. They were also set off wonderfully by the avocado and the miso-ginger dressing with a bit of parmesan frico providing crunchy textural contrast.
Tomatoes and sweet corn (Minnesota has the best in the world) also elevated the striped bass plate. The fish itself was cooked as excellently as fish always is at Alma and the sauce made with coconut milk and whole spices had what seemed like an Indian accent to us. It all worked very well. The crispy pork shoulder similarly received a seasonal benefit from a peach chutney and chicken of the woods mushrooms (though the menu says shiitakes). The exquisite pasta also featured tomatoes and summer squash. And even the dessert, the centerpiece of which was a wonderfully tangy buttermilk panna cotta, got a punch-up from honeyed peaches.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t eat at Alma in the winter or early spring; I’m saying you should really eat there in the summer and fall when Minnesota and the broader region’s agricultural bounty is on full display (though I’m not sure if the peaches are from the Midwest).
Here is the full menu as it currently stands (to be clear: you get ALL of this for $95/head):
Oh yes, I forgot about drinks. We were given small pours of prosecco as we sat down (I don’t think we’d got those in April). The missus had her usual single drink. She got the YOLA, a cocktail featuring mezcal, lime, watermelon and an ancho-salt rim; it was very tasty. I started with a white negroni that was also very good, and added on a glass of riesling with the mains.
We were seated very close to the pass and while it was a little busier there than at our window-side table in April, it was nice to be a bit closer to the bustle of the kitchen as well. The kitchen, by the way, is open and functions without any drama at all. Service was once again very good: present when needed with no hovering. And there was no unusually long gap between the first and main courses on this occasion.
Price? With drinks, tax and automatically added 21% wellness surcharge the total came to $309.63. So just over $154/head. Certainly not cheap but you could pay as much or not very much less in the Cities very easily for a meal not quite as good or as imaginatively and thoughtfully composed. As always, I recommend Alma highly. And, again, I recommend this current menu very highly. As I said, we’re tempted to go back and eat it again. If we don’t it’ll be because we’ll probably also be back to eat the fall menu.
Alright, what’s next on the restaurant front? More Los Angeles and Hawaii reports on the weekend. Next Tuesday will see a report on the meal we were originally supposed to eat this past weekend: at Tenant.