The dining team (short some participants) went to Alma Pan Latin Kitchen to try some Latin fare. I have driven past Alma so many times and have not noticed it sitting there... Hello, Alma.
It is small. We got there early and had a reservation, so our table was ready for us. We were a smaller group this time, so not as overwhelming as we can be. I thought the atmosphere was lacking. There is so much more you can do with the style to capture what the food is expressing. Its kind of dark and not quite how I expected it to feel. I guess if you're looking for an intimate date and not to be bothered, Alma is good for that, but not quite what I was thinking for a girls night out. I started reading other reviews after our visit, and heard about this other Cantina section with wine... wish we would have seen that before we went. That'll teach me - I'll read reviews before I go, not after. I also wish I had some cute anecdote to go with this, but I don't. So here's the breakdown...
Who: Me & the Dining Team
What: Apps - Empanadas del dia *winner, Scallops on a tostada, Papitas rellenas con salsa pimenton, Yuca frita con salsitas de alma, Plantanos maduros con salsa de habichuelas
CDO - Vaca frita con arroz y gandules (brisket),
Nonsense - Torrejitas de frijolios (bean cake)
Vegahimsa - Vegetales al tagine (rice & veggies) *top 3
Onion-hater - Camarones al caribe con ajo (shrimp)
EasyD - Arepa de vegetales con plantanos maduros (corn cake)
Chickie - Sandwich Cubano con chancho queso y jamon (a Cuban) *top 3
Dessert - Tres Leces, Molten Chocolate cake with Cinnamon Ice Cream, Flan, Cinnamon Ice Cream
<~ I thought for sure I'd be all over my Vaca frita - heavier (not heavy, but heavier when compared) - but I wasn't, I kept bugging Nonsense & Vegahimsa for their vegetarian dishes. Contrary to what I thought, Onion-hater and EasyD were into it. I really enjoyed the salad on the side, it was fresh and refreshing; enjoyed the pigeon peas. And it was a HUGE portion. We kept picking, but felt like we weren't making a dent in it. And to that, half of it came home, with full intentions of giving it to IPA-hole for lunch, but I ended up chowing down the next day. And I think it was better once all the flavors were left to chill out for a day.
Nonsense, Vegahimsa, & EasyD went for the vegetarian dishes. EasyD's arepa was bland, not for life, but on this particular stage. All I can think of right now is 9th grade Spanish class and the "Dona Arepa" commercials we had to watch. The arepa itself is a light corn tortilla, but brought little to the party. The veggies around it were far more flavorful. The combination did nothing for me, and I think for EasyD as well. ~>
<~ Nonsense did the black bean cake, making sense for once. I enjoy black beans, in many forms. I really enjoyed them in a cake. It was spicy, lit up the tongue. It looks super similar to the arepa, but with much, much more flavor. And the plantains on the side were addicting.
Vegahimsa had the Vegetales al tangine. This was my favorite of the night, which may have been because she was sitting next to me and I was within fork-destroying reach. This one had major flavor, sweetness in the rice with the dates. I think the unfamiliar sweetness from the dates & tagine had our attention. It was a fab mix of sweet with the vegetables, and the winner for me, but the table was debating.
<~ Next up, Camarones al caribe con ajo was one of the options I was considering. Onion-hater ordered it, and I have a hard time duplicating an order. This is a classic case of "it-was-good-but-something-else-was-better" for the table. The shrimp were well prepared, the lime & garlic showed up, flavor was good, but others were better.
Now, let's talk about Chickie. Cubano. This is generally a crowd pleaser anywhere, at Panera, at that diner, you know it. Alma kicked some Cuban ass! Jarlsberg is probably the greatest cheese, then stick it on a crusty bread with slow-roasted pork & ham... delicious, delicious, delish!! If you're one of those people who is not entirely comfortable walking into a restaurant where the entire menu is in Spanish, just say "Cubano" and you're in good shape. A bit of bitterness from the cheese, sweetness from the meat, texture from the bread, put it all together and you have a winner. ~>
<~ Winner of the apps, and another crowd pleaser - not just with us, but in the buzz around the restaurant - was the empanadas of the day. I can't tell you what they'll be stuffed with on your day, but go for it! Empanadas are fabulous, and these do not disappoint.
As far as the rest of the appetizers go: Scallop tostadas were good but not fabulous. Papitas are the pictures on top - stuffed potato puffs. Traditional and good. Yuca frita was very tasty. Fried, the yuca is mild, and with the sauces, had some spark. Strange to look at, lightly sweet and soft to eat. If you drench these in ketchup, you missed the point. Plantains are always tasty - banana meets ~> potato. Nice, crispy outside.
So the next great idea? Let's order ALL of the desserts! And all were good. Tres Leces is fabulous. Onion-hater perks up every time someone mentions this particular dessert. It was very leche, dense, sweet, yummy. The cinnamon ice cream truly complimented the molten chocolate cake. And Flan. Have you ever had Flan? Its a Spanish custard dessert. I've always been afraid to try it based on texture (I can't stand jello). I did take a bite, and I did enjoy it. Flan definitely reminds me of an inside-out creme brulee.
So what did we learn about Alma tonight? I like appetizers - surprise, surprise. Eat empanadas. Alma could use some ambiance help, in fact, I do know some interior designers. Dessert takes a backseat to the real food. It is fabulously fused food! Everything that we had was tasty and unique. I'd say that it is worth a try, but don't go out of your way quite yet. Maybe I need to start on the cantina side next time...