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Jul 18, 2010 09:21 AM

Restaurant Alma

I visited Alma for the first time last Saturday night. Our group of four sat at the table right in front of kitchen. The counter is high, so couldn't really see much cooking, but enjoyed watching Alex Roberts smooth, calm style. No frenetic action here, even thought the place was completely full. (Alex was kind enough to chat with us briedfly on our way out. He is so sweet. Congratulated him on the James Beard Award, asked where he had the medal. In his modest way, he said his four year old had been wearing it around the house, and the ribbon broke, so he had to get it fixed. Very cute.)

Before I go into a few details, I'll just note that this restaurant jumped to the top of my "top five" restaurants list.

The service was outstanding. Very knowledgeable wait staff, great recommendation on one of our bottles of wine (nice Italian blend, though sadly I cannot recall name). We all went with the three course tasting menu (and later split three desserts) so we had lots of questions regarding preparation, sauces, accompaniments, sourcing. Staff handled all our inquiries in a professional, friendly, very knowledgeable, non-robotic manner.

The food. Ahhh, the food. For starters, two had the salad, one the soft cooked egg (nice of them to allow this as one of selections for the first course) and one of the show-stoppers of the night, Bison Tartar. Ingredients for salad simple but executed perfectly. The soft egg was an interesting mix of ingredients, but worked well. The bison - barely seasoned with a little mint and ginger - was outstanding. Three small mounds of perfectly executed meat. We almost ordered another, but choose to wait for rest of meal.

All four received a mid-course "amuse" of the swiss chard souffle. Simple, elegant, very rich.
And might I add all portions for all the courses were quite large. I would not call this a typical "tasting" menu, where the courses are about half the size of a regular entree. Very satisfying.

The second courses were all interesting. Good balance of flavors. Perfect execution (again). Didn't have a favorite here - all were good.

Third course. Fabulous piece of trout (Star Prairie Trout Farm). The sturgeon was wild caught, in Oregon, a beautiful, thick piece of fish accented nicely with chorizo. This was a first for my fisherman brother at a restaurant, and he loved this dish. Both of these dishes were stand-outs.

The desserts were beautiful. We thought we were full, but managed to get through all three plates.

Thank you, Restaurant Alma, for a most memorable meal!!!

Course Selections:

Mixed Lettuce Salad: tomato preserve, almonds, manchego cheese
Soft Cooked Egg: polenta croutons, prosciutto, mushroom broth
Pasture Raised Bison Tartar, bibb lettuce, shallot oil, mint, ginger

Swiss Chard Souffle: pickled onion, smoked portabella, parmigiano

Grilled Quail, fresh ricotta, roasted scallions, vin cotto
Bucatini Pasta, fennel & garlic sauce, bottarga, breadcrumbs
Lemon Orzo Pasta, crispy artichoke, mascarpone, sweet peas

Gently Cooked Trout, king crab sauce, sauteed green tomatoes, summer beans
Braised Rabbit, fried zucchini, honey-peperonata, black olives
Pan Roasted Sturgeon, warm potato salad, snap peas, smoked chorizo jus

Dark Chocolate Pudding Cake surly ice cream, black currant coulee, pistachio
Cornbread lime cake
Almond Frangipan Tart ,creme fraiche, tarragon caramel, apricot jam

Restaurant Alma
528 University Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414

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  1. We were there Saturday night also.

    The swiss chard souffle was outstanding, and the smoked portabella that went with it was wonderful. A mixed lettuce salad sounds kind of run of the mill but the tomato preserve that went with it was great -- very sweet tomato and olive oil tastes that complemented a more tart dressing, with great marcona almonds and manchego. My companion raved about the trout with king crab sauce. He's still talking about it. The fried green tomato that went with that was great as well. We both liked the dark chocolate pudding cake with the surly ice cream. (I'm going to try to replicate a version of that ice cream at home.)

    Another great night at Alma.

    1. The two versions of Bison tartar I've had at Alma rank as my favorite app/first course I've ever had. Simple, but absolutely divine.

      1. We dined there last month after not having done so in maybe five years. We were similarly blown away by the perfect execution in... well just everything. The food, the service, the wine selection (our waiter customized a wine flight to accompany our selections), the timing, the little extras (we received a total of three complimentary courses in addition to the three course tasting menu - an amuse, a half-appetizer, and a sorbet).

        Based on our experience five years back I used to think it was just one of a number of top tier restaurants in the area. Now I agree with you - it's at the top of our list.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Diana_mn

          I was also there on Saturday night with my husband. We were both very impressed with our tasting menu choices. The highlights for me were the swiss chard souffle and the lemon orzo pasta. My husband found the duck confit dish to be outstanding.

          We will definitely be back.

          1. re: eajohnso2000

            My friend and i were going to go to Alma to get tasting menus (one vegetarian), but they changed the menu right before we were to go, and I cooled on my option a salad being part of my menu. I can make awesome salads myself, swiss chard souffles probably not. We opted to go to Meritage for 5 courses instead (see giant review). Sounds like we'll have to get to Alma soon based on the reviews the souffle and portions are getting.

            410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

        2. I'm stealing a great phrase from an out-of-towner's review of Target Field and applying it to Alma: it's the Joe Mauer of restaurants. Not flashy or anything, but just does everything right. It's real, earnest, down to earth food, and the restaurant and food match the personality of the chef, who has just got to be one of the nicest guys on the planet....

          1. Alma used to be our favourite fine dining restaurant in the cities till we went to Piccolo. We'd been saying we needed to go back for some time now and finally went there for our anniversary dinner last week. Still as good as it's ever been.

            Pictures and other notes (including some complaints) are on the blog ( but this is what we ate:

            First Course

            1. Cured Salmon & Sweet Peas (shaved fennel, lemon oil, basil salsa verde): This was mine and was dynamite. A beautiful presentation with flavours as well composed as the plate. The salmon was perfectly cured—which is to say it was still recognizably salmony. Crisp skin on top, crisp in-season peas and crisp shaved fennel atop the fish and softer fennel puree with basil salsa verde below. I recommend this highly from the current menu.

            2. Pork Belly Confit (rhubarb compote, arugula, fennel vinaigrette): As you’ll see in the slideshow below, this doesn’t look quite as attractive as the cured salmon but it was really rather good. The sweet rhubarb compote merged wonderfully with the unctuous belly and the salad was a nice counterpoint.

            Second Course

            3. Rabbit & Nettle Agnolotti (garlic broth, sage, parmigiano): This was mine and was quite good. Well, I should say that the agnolotti themselves were somewhat anonymous—rabbit and nettle, yes, but you could well convince me there was something else in there. Everything else was very good though, especially the garlic broth/consomme and the dish came together well.

            4. Hominy Grits & Sweetbreads (lime glazed carrots, charred chili & tomatillo sauce): I did not have the same opinion of this dish, though the missus (who ate most of it) did not entirely agree with me. All the individual components were fine but the dish felt assembled rather than organically conceived.

            Third Course

            5. Wild King Salmon (snap peas, miso, fresh horseradish): This was mine. The salmon—slow roasted, I was told—was cooked very well but after a few bites the miso glaze tipped just past the point of being cloying. Good texture and flavour contrasts from the snap peas and horseradish.

            6. Braised Lamb & Ricotta Gnocchi (spinach, smoked dashi, shiitake): Quite gamy lamb, braised to the point of falling apart. The gnocchi were fine. Again, a very nice broth and good balance on the whole.


            7. Coffee Creme Brulee with Cherry-Vanilla Sorbet: We split this and despite the not-very attractive greenish-grey hue of the creme brulee this was actually quite good; indeed either of the two major components would have been a fine dessert by itself. The sorbet was perched on a honey sabayon (quite nice) and there was some hazelnut crumble or powder as well (superfluous).