Saturday, June 02, 2012

Alma Pop-Up (Los Angeles, CA) [2]

Alma Pop-Up Restaurant
952 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90015
www.almapopup.com
Sat 06/02/2012, 06:30p-10:35p




Alma Pop-Up Exterior

The last Alma Popup was something special, a breath of fresh air in this sometimes stoic LA dining scene.

For the uninitiated, Alma is the work of Chef Ari Taymor and compatriots Dinelle Lucchesi, Derrick de Jesus, and Chris Yamashiro. The quartet aims to provide "nostalgic modern American cuisine" in an intimate, nomadic, prix fixe setting, serving up eight courses tonight for a very reasonable $45. Alma was launched in February at Flake in Venice, then moved south to Brick House Cafe in March. The team later transitioned to Millie's in Silver Lake soon thereafter, with that run ending in May. This latest iteration, the second collaboration with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, took place at a space in Downtown, the former home of Middle Eastern joint Lula Kabob (and right next door to Club Las Palmas, an honest-to-goodness hostess club).

Alma Pop-Up Interior
The building has been completely revamped from its days at Lula Kabob, and now serves as a tea/elixir bar and art event space.

N.V. Domaine Ste. Michelle Cuvée Brut 2009 Malibu Family Wines Sauvignon Blanc Semler 2009 Malibu Family Wines Chardonnay Saddlerock 2004 Malibu Family Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Semler
Alma is usually a BYOB affair, but for this special collaboration with LACMA, we were provided a selection of wines that were donated to the museum: the Domaine Ste. Michelle Cuvée Brut, 2009 Malibu Family Wines Sauvignon Blanc Semler, 2009 Malibu Family Wines Chardonnay Saddlerock, and 2004 Malibu Family Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Semler.

Buckwheat pancake, trout roe and wasabi-buttermilk
Snack 1: Buckwheat pancake, trout roe and wasabi-buttermilk
Our first "snack" of the evening brought us cigars of trout roe and wasabi cream, rolled in a buckwheat crepe. Here, I appreciated the sharp bursts of salinity from the caviar, and how that played against the cool, creamy character of the buttermilk. The pancake, meanwhile, did a great job as a moderating base to the bite, and also added a nice textural component as well.

Lamb heart and beet tartare, strained yogurt, smoked strawberry and amaranth
Snack 2: Lamb heart and beet tartare, strained yogurt, smoked strawberry and amaranth
Taymor made good use of one of my least favorite ingredients here, forming a tasty interplay of sweet and savory flavors between the lamb, beet, and strawberry, all while the yogurt added a slight tinge of countervailing tanginess to the fray. The crux of the course, though, was the amaranth, which offered up some fantastic herbal overtones in the dish, serving as a superb accent to the otherwise heady flavors.

Squash blossom fritter, wild fennel seed and burnt citrus salt
Snack 3: Squash blossom fritter, wild fennel seed and burnt citrus salt
Beignets of squash blossom were hot, hearty, savory, and satisfying--delicious alone, but also nicely balanced by the sour, piquant flavors of the citrus salt and fennel aioli.

Peach gazpacho, abalone escabeche and crema, delfino cilantro
1: Peach gazpacho, abalone escabeche and crema, delfino cilantro
A charred peach gazpacho showed off bright, sweet, summer-y flavors in spades--a surprisingly effective foil to the lingering brine of the two preparations of local abalone. The crema was a more subtle approach, while cubes of the gastropod provided a purer, more unmitigated experience, and also lent a satisfying crunchiness to the dish.

Kejiwa Kombucha Turmeric Fix and Green Energy Elixirs
At this point, we were provided two flutes of Kejiwa brand kombucha (fermented tea) by one of the space's co-owners. According to the manufacturer's web site, the beverages are "infused with tachyon zero point energy" and "attuned to the cosmic harmonious frequency of 432 hz." They weren't half bad, with the Green Energy Elixir conveying a vegetal, pea-like essence and the Turmeric Fix Elixir tasting much of ginger and spice.

Roasted eggplant, bulgur, charred cucumber and tahini
2: Roasted eggplant, bulgur, charred cucumber and tahini
Next up was probably my favorite course of the evening. Eggplant arrived perfectly roasted--supple and succulent, with a lovely savoriness to boot. I appreciated how the tahini tempered and grounded the dish, adding a lush, creamy textural element in the process. Bulgar wheat, meanwhile, contributed a touch of crispness and light nutty character to the fray, and I loved the levity imparted by the cucumber and oregano as well.

Jidori chicken, corn, miso, umeboshi, purslane
3: Jidori chicken, corn, miso, umeboshi, purslane
Chicken was delightful: tender, juicy, and immensely flavorful, with a wonderfully salty skin. The subtle sweetness of the accompanying corn was a nice touch here, while the miso served to augment the bird as well. Great tanginess from the purslane, too.

Lime-basil soda
Intermezzo: Lime-basil soda
An intermezzo comprised a house-made soda of lime, as well as basil, which formed the dominant flavor component here. I actually would've liked a bit more citrus, to better balance out the mineral-tinged finish of the beverage.

Almond-peach-tarragon soda
Pre-Dessert: Almond-peach-tarragon soda
Another homemade soda brought together peach, almond, and tarragon flavors in harmonious fashion, with the drink having a distinct yogurt-y character as well.

Apricot, almond, green tea cream
4: Apricot, almond, green tea cream
Dessert was another highlight of the meal, with the sugary, fruity relish of the apricot on proud display, balanced by the nutty, almost caramel-y flavors in the dish. At the same time, the almond milk contributed a certain lightness to the dessert that just tied everything together beautifully.

Shichimi kettle corn
Finishing things off was a bowl of shichimi- and salt-dusted praline crunch popcorn, which deftly blended the sugariness of the popcorn with the spice and salt of the Japanese condiment.

Taymor and company once again proved to be one of the City's most unique dining experiences. Although the meal didn't quite reach the lofty levels set by my previous dinner, the team nonetheless delivered, putting forth mature, thoughtful flavor profiles and courses imbued with a certain balance and levity. There's an admirable amalgam of rusticity and refinement present here, a sort of natural progression of flavors and just the right amount of complexity. As for what's next for Alma, the team is trying to work out a lease agreement with the owners of this space, and hopes to commence regular dinner service four nights a week by the middle of June.

2 Comments:

Blogger Cookie Chomper said...

We must continue our debate of why THIS is a better version ;)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012 9:39:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Indeed we must. But perhaps v3.0 will be the best. ;)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012 4:15:00 PM  

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