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Sunday, January 29, 2012

All about the Alma

Alma de Cuba
forks: 8.3
price: $$$

1623 Walnut St.
Philadelphia, PA

Last night I had the pleasure of dining at Alma de Cuba, one of famed restauranteur Stephen Starr's trendy spots. Like the name suggests, it serves Cuban food, but this is upscale refined Cuban food at it's best. I made the journey downtown with my cousin Whitney, who's mentioned here frequently, her boyfriend Alex, and my friend Stephanie. Now, a little note about my accompanying diners. If you remember a post way back I went to brunch with Whitney and Alex (Green Eggs Cafe) and I complained that Alex and I weren't yet on the level where I could taste his food. Well, as of last night, we officially are on that level, so just thought I should share. Getting out of the cab we pulled up to a white building that looked like it could be an apartment or a small victorian inn. A fluorescent red sign stating the name let us know we were in the right place. The atmosphere inside felt like a chic and modern lounge; dim lighting, a white contemporary theme, and splashes of bright lights gave the restaurant a trendy feel, I felt cool just being in the room.

We were led to our table on the second floor. Within moments a server came round and placed two miniature doughnut looking pieces of bread on our plates. Upon tearing one in half, that fresh bread steam was released. UGH, seriously, I want to make that smell a candle and keep it burning in my room at all times. They were amazing, literally doughy magic, with a melted manchego cheese inside the bread and a coconutty sweetness. A garlicky herb aioli served alongside cut the sweetness of the bread for a nice contrast, but I preferred it plain. These fluffy bread snowballs were ridiculous.

To start, we ordered a trio of ceviche, tuna tacos, and dates wrapped in bacon. The first in our trio was a Yellowtail Kingfish, served with a Peruvian corn and potato salad, lime juice and aji panca glaze. This was my personal favorite, the tuna was beautifully cut and the accompanying salad was clean and added to the fresh flavor of the fish. Next was the Japanese Red Snapper, with key lime, red onion, chili limo and sweet potato. The flavors were crisp and light and you could really taste the high quality of the fish. The final in the trio was the Thai mixto, a mix of crab, shrimp, octopus and fluke with coconut-leche de tigre, mango and tomatillo. This was my least favorite of the three but it was still really good. The coconut in the sauce had a little bit of heat that brought an intense yet clean flavor.

The Royal Palm Dates were almond-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon with cabrales blue cheese atop an endive leaf. It was honestly the perfect bite, savoriness from the bacon, tanginess from the cheese, and a fruity nutty taste from the date, all came together for an awesome combination. But seriously, there was bacon in it, so how could it not be good?

The tuna tartare tacos were served with candied lemon and pickled onion. While I can see that the chef was going for a clean look to showcase the fish, Alex and I both agreed that the tacos could have used a little sauce of some sort. Perhaps a lime cilantro mayonnaise or something to put the dish over the edge.

For dinner I went with the Chicken Combo, marinated grilled chicken breast over "Arroz Imperial" with shredded chicken, manchego cheese, peas and olives. My dish was awesome. The chicken was tender and moist and had complex rub that had a great depth in flavor. The rice was fluffy, colorful, and was a great accompaniment for the main plate.

Stephanie decided to be healthy and had the Sugarcane Tuna, seared tuna served atop creamy hearts of palm rice, pickled chayote, and topped with a sugarcane-sesame vinaigrette. The tuna was beautiful and once again the dish really showcased the quality and freshness of the fish.

Alex and Whitney shared the Vaca Frita, a twice cooked crispy skirt steak with onions and Cuban oregano with black beans, white rice and tomato escabeche. As I mentioned before, Alex and I now hit this level so I was SO ready to try when offered. It was amazing. The steak was braised and in the process absorbed a rich and intense flavor. It shredded easily, not like a tough skirt steak, and with a bite of the fresh avocado and a scoop of black beans, was a divine bite.

As a side we got a creamy coconut quinoa. The texture was rich and creamy and the addition of bits of asparagus made the dish a great accompaniment. A Cuban meal isn't complete without plantains. Our side of plantains were caramelized, tender, so naturally sweet, and insanely delicious.

If you couldn't guess, that was A LOT of food, and surprisingly I was REALLY full. Like considering passing on dessert full. Luckily, I pulled through in the end and rallied enough to order a trio of ice cream. We went with a coconut milk sorbet, a white chocolate lime ice cream, and a popcorn ice cream. When popcorn ice cream is on the menu, you order it. It tasted like polenta in ice cream form. It was perfectly smooth and creamy and had a great rich corn taste, but more evoked corn then the popcorn flavor. Either way it was sooo tasty and wasn't an issue. The coconut sorbet was delicate yet packed a powerful coconut flavor and was probably my favorite of the bunch. The white chocolate lime, an interesting combination, was velvety smooth and melted in your mouth. The combination of lime and chocolate, something I never would have guessed, was a fantastic pair.

So, Alma de Cuba. It was a great meal and an even greater time. When you come here you know what you're going to get, consistently great upscale Cuban food which showcases really fresh and high quality ingredients.

hope your hungree
xoxo
hungreegirl.

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