Sunday, February 09, 2014

Alma (Los Angeles, CA) [3]

Alma Restaurant
952 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90015
Sun 02/09/2014, 08:35p-12:10a

Alma Exterior

Regular readers may recall that I visited Alma not too long ago, toward the end of 2013. Regular readers will also know that I tend not to revisit restaurants all that quickly, so this six week hiatus was indeed brief. The reason? I've become tangentially involved with the USC Asian Pacific Alumni Association (APAA), and helped the group plan their first Young Alumni Council Supper Club outing here. Tonight's experience was a pre-arranged private dinner, one limited to 20 diners and held on a Sunday, a day on which Alma's normally closed.

Ari Taymor Michael Lumunsad
Before things got going, Chef Ari Taymor came out to say a few words, as did APAA Board of Directors member (and chief instigator) Michael Lumunsad.

Alma Menu Alma Wine List
The evening's menu was Alma's longer, nine-ish-course degustation priced at the nominal $110 a head, plus 9% tax and 20% service, all paid for ahead of time. To drink, we opted for a few bottles from the list: Prosecco (Glera), Sommariva Superiore Brut, Veneto, n.v. [$44]; Albariño, Pedralonga, Rias Baixas, Galicia '11 [$58]; Gamay, Marcel Lapierre, Morgon '12 [$64]; and Late Harvest Chardonnay, Donkey & Goat, El Dorado '11 [$60]. Click for larger versions.

snacks snacks
1: snacks
Surprisingly, our meal did not begin with Alma's signature seaweed-tofu beignets, but rather two items that I'd had during my last meal here. First were slivers of smoked sturgeon with caviar, parsnip purée, and parsnip chip, the smoky, salty interplay of the seafood balanced by the sugariness of the root vegetable. We also had miniature English muffins topped with sea urchin, burrata, and caviar. The key were was how the luxuriousness of the bite melded with the comforting muffin-y base, all while the bit of dill added an overarching, herbaceous note to things.

ember roasted chicken consommé, trout roe & shallot
2: ember roasted chicken consommé, trout roe & shallot
The first formal course represented a real showcase of chicken, with the jellied consommé commingling with the roe to form a salty, savory, smoky amalgam that led to the in-your-face saltiness and crunch of chicken skin, the entire experience tempered by the comparative levity of an undercurrent of shallot.

broken beets & apple with hazelnut & malt
3: broken beets & apple with hazelnut & malt
Alma's dish of broken beets stands as one of the best presentations of the ingredient I've had. The combination of the sweet root vegetable, juicy apple, and crunchy hazelnuts really worked for me, but the most interesting element here was that malt, which had an earthy depth to it that really underscored the entire dish.

pacific jack, hearts of palm, celery & crushed avocado
4: pacific jack, hearts of palm, celery & crushed avocado
I'm no fan of celery, but here it really made the dish, adding a bright, slightly astringent jolt to the combo of lush avocado and fish. It's a marriage that may sound a little weird, but it truly came together just beautifully, like Alma at its best.

frozen duck liver with smoked maple, carrot & coffee granola
5: frozen duck liver with smoked maple, carrot & coffee granola
This was another standout, with the offal-y heft of the liver really increasing in intensity as it melted, when it came together with contrasting notes of sweet, nutty, and bitter, the granola adding a crunchy exclamation point to the course.

beer & rye bread, cultured butter
Bread comprised a beer-and-rye variety, one that showed off its smoky, starchy qualities commendably. Even better when taken with the salty cultured butter on the side.

celery root soup with whipped lardo, apple & pine
6: celery root soup with whipped lardo, apple & pine
A potage of celeriac was hefty, hearty, with a comforting quality to it moderated by a tanginess that permeated the entire dish. I appreciated the apples here in particular, which added a sweet, crunchy counterpoint to the soup.

sturgeon with artichoke, bordelaise & coastal herbs
7: sturgeon with artichoke, bordelaise & coastal herbs
Sturgeon, meanwhile, arrived deftly cooked, and super savory, with the salinity of the fish smartly paired against the milder nuances of artichoke, all while the bordelaise helped tie everything together. One of my dining companions even mentioned that this was the best sturgeon that he'd ever had.

axis deer roasted on the bone, truffled walnut, asian pear & celery root
8: axis deer roasted on the bone, truffled walnut, asian pear & celery root
The evening's final savory course was a pretty impressive looking plate, and one of the strongest preparations of venison that I've had. Cooked properly rare, the meat was elegant on the palate, giving off a slightly smoky, toothsome quality to it, with just the right amount of fat. I was quite enamored with the pickly-bits here too, which added a great counterbalancing crispness and acidity to things, while the walnuts were a pleasant surprise as well.

geranium & meyer lemon
9: geranium & meyer lemon
Tonight's intermezzo was delightful, a refreshing burst of tart, lemon-y, mildly herbaceous nuances served alongside the wonderfully floral, enveloping notes of geranium.

strawberries & buckwheat
10: strawberries & buckwheat
Dessert proper was a winner as well, the strawberry coming together with the buckwheat in commendable fashion, a mélange of interesting textures and sensations that actually reminded me a bit of a strawberry parfait in the end.

apple pâte de fruit / sage brittle
Mignardises comprised spicy apple pâte de fruit jellies and a superb sage brittle, the aromatics of the herb doing a great job cutting through the sugary, nutty notes of the confection.

Given that it was the first time planning such an event for both Alma and the APAA, I was a touch apprehensive going in to tonight. The dinner wasn't without its share of hiccups, but taking everything into consideration, the event went off relatively smoothly. The kitchen really got to show off its culinary aesthetic, which is what I was hoping to accomplish--to expose some of the diners here to a more contemplative, subtle style of cooking that they may not be accustomed to. All in all, a nice start to the dinner series, and many thanks to the Alma team for helping us pull it off.


Blogger Charlie Fu said...

what hiccups? I feel like everytime I've gone here there are "hiccups" whether it be with service (which I think is so hipsterawful) or with really off dishes. With a restaurant being opened this long, they sure still do have a lot of growing pains.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger sygyzy said...

I know you and other readers are no strangers to fine dining and even though $110 is no Per Se tasting, it's still a pretty penny. I am curious how popular this event was with your alumni association? I guess since it's USC, we can assume many alumni are doing well. At the same time, I have friends who graduated from USC who would probably not be able to afford this or simply not want to.

Did you have any trouble filling spots? Do you think opening with such a major and infamous restaurant (Alma, toughest reservation in LA, Best New Restaurant in America 2013) might set the bar too high and possibly scare away alumni from joining in on future meals?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014 4:54:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Charlie: The hiccups were actually on our part, specifically with regard to seating and wine pairings. The actual service went off smoothly.

sygyzy: It was surprisingly popular, believe it or not. We filled up all 20 seats, and there were still people wanting to go. These young Asian foodie types, they're willing to spend, and we specifically wanted to aim for a well known place. The goal of this supper club is definitely to be higher-end (e.g. we also want to do one at Wolvesmouth, which is $150 a pop more or less).

Thursday, April 24, 2014 2:49:00 AM  
Blogger sett food blog said...

hi from dublin
sweet blog as always!

Thursday, April 24, 2014 5:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its important to give back to racist organizations!

Thursday, April 24, 2014 7:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Miss you

Thursday, April 24, 2014 10:50:00 PM  
Blogger Charlie Fu said...

Good to hear. We had a 30 person dinner there last year that was a complete shit show on their end. My friend wrote a review that was so bad that Alma called his boss to ask for it taken down. :X

Friday, April 25, 2014 3:04:00 PM  
Blogger SenorDingDong said...

Nice! I had a great experience here too recently. That frozen duck liver really is incredible.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014 3:48:00 PM  

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