Jfood Returns to Alma (MSP) - 3 * 10's = Perfect Meal
What can you say about a meal that grabs your palate on the first bite and then sooths it on the last bite three courses later? Well Jfood calls it a night at Alma. After two very good meals this week, Jfood noticed a new menu on line and drove over the river and sat at the bar. Here the bartendress explained the three types of gnocchi as Jfood glanced at the recently redesigned menu. Jfood had his favorite seat, overlooking the open kitchen so he read, watched the chefs and ate great food.
The menu is now three courses for $45 and for his first course Jfood ordered
First course - The Marinated Hamachi Tartar with jalapeno, shallot, in a soy-lemon dressing, and crispy yam
Second Course – Ricotta gnocchi and prawns with mushroom butter, shitakes, truffle oil and verjus; and
Entrée – Sautéed Pheasant Breast with creamed swiss chard, braised mushrooms and guajillo chili sauce
The server first brought a few slices of great honey rich bread, slightly warmed with nice, soft butter.
The marinated Hamachi was perfectly diced with a bit of shallot. Two rings of jalapeno brought the tiniest bit of heat and the dressing perfectly complemented the tuna. Then on the fourth bite, Jfood hit a touch of salt in the dish that woke the tongue to another flavor. The crispy yam slices added a nice crunch to the dish. The chef was now toying with Jfood’s palate.
The first bite of the ricotta gnocchi indicated a light ricotta and Jfood was initiaqlly surprised. Then on his next bite he combined the gnocchi with one of the perfectly sautéed shrimp and he understood. A heavy cheese would have overpowered the delicate flavor of the shrimp. Likewise the mushrooms remained in the background of the dish. The jus was so rich that Jfood used the spoon given to him to complete the dish with two spoonful of juice.
The pheasant arrived and it was a beautiful site. The first thing Jfood noticed was the creamed chard was nothing like creamed spinach. Cream was lightly included within the slightly shredded chard and laid over the chard was a perfectly sautéed pheasant breast. The final addition on top were the mushrooms. Jfood cut into the opheasant and his first bite made him stop chewing and enjoy the flavors of the breast and the crispiness of the skin. The chef cooked the pheasant to perfection. Now Jfood looked for the trifecta. Some mushroom, some pheasant and some chard all in one bite. The mushroom were earthy, the crispy skin, the succulent breast and then the richness of the chard. Everything you could want. The flavors all worked perfectly together.
So Jfood can now state that Alma has now moved to the top of his list of favorite restaurants in the Twin Cities.
I brought 3 out of town/country (graduate students from Croatia) guests to Alma last night. They are only here for 2 months, and said they wanted to try some nice restaurants. I figured what better way than to go to Alma.
For starters, I got the smoked chicken/avocado salad. It was a nice (round) salad with avocado on the bottom, chopped chicken in the middle, topped with red cabbage (I think), spanish almonds, and a spice yogurt dressing. It was very nice. The combination of flavors and textures (crunchy on top, smooth avocado on the bottom) was fun, and the yogurt was a nice touch. My friends all opted for the warm roasted vegetables. They were all overjoyed with their choice. The goat cheese was huge hit.
Next course, I got the ricotta gnocchi and prawns (as did two of my friends). I second everything jfood said about this dish. The taste of the gnocchi alone was very light, but adding the prawn and broth put it over the top. Our other friend got the lamb and chickpea soup, which she was delighted with. Again, everything was a hit, and all of our plates were cleaned (broth and all) before being cleared.
For mains, I got the duck breast. One of the others got the striped bass, and the other two got the beef striploin. They were both going to order their steaks well done (apparently they have had bad experiences with underdone meat in Croatia), but I pleaded with them enough that they ordered them medium. The main courses were exceptional...my friends were overwhelmed. First off, the duck was pretty much how jfood described his pheasant. Perfectly done, juicy, nice spice, crispy skin. The chard and mushrooms were also excellent, and I think the guajillo sauce added a really nice flavor element to the duck. My friends (particularly the two who got the steak) were beyond words. They ate with huge smiles on their faces, eyes closed, struggling to describe how much they enjoyed steak...it was incredible. The balsamic onions were also a hit.
I think this is my official go-to place to bring out of towners. It's nice and cozy (not necessarily quiet), out of the hubbub of downtown, and the food is always exceptional.
Great review, as usual.
I ate at Alma a month or two back, and it was easily the best meal I've had all year. It might have been the best I've ever had in MSP. The new menu looks nice. I might have to make it back there soon...the bison hanger steak is calling my name.
Another recommendation would be to try Alex Roberts' (owner/head chef at Alma) casual dining venture, Brasa. Small space with great southern flavors. Since it is so smal, it's probably a better bet in summer, when the patio is open. Still, give it a shot. It's only a few blocks from Alma.
600 E Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55414
Jfood, I'm so glad that Alma clicked for your second visit. When Alma is "on", it's fabulous!
I've had only one visit when Alma's food didn't "sing" for me - it was merely very good - but I was with the Charlie Brown of restaurant dining (who has a talent for ordering the worst thing on any menu), and his influence must have rubbed off on my meal. Otherwise, I've had great food at Alma.
Any chance that you'll get to I Nonni (the upscale restaurant side of Buon Giorno) on an upcoming visit? I'd love to hear how you'd compare it to Alma and 112 and Meritage.
Will jfood make it to the Strip Club at some point? If jfood is coming from the west, it might be a bit of a drive, but no longer than i Nonni, I'd think. TSC has become our favorite restaurant lately and I'd be very interested in jfood's perceptions.
The Strip Club
378 Maria Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55106