alma - Los Angeles, CA

Dinner - Saturday, June 15, 2013

Let's face it - downtown LA is not the nicest part of the city (although the architecture is quite comely). Hemmed in by barren parking lots, the building that houses alma sits alone, the light from the restaurant spilling into the quiet street through its front windows - the place truly feels like an oasis (despite being a mere block away from Umamicatessen). We walked the 1.5 miles from our hotel post-haste, and arrived to a bustling dining room halfway through dinner service on a Saturday night. A "limited number of the set tasting menu", which we had reserved in advance, is offered each evening.

Seaweed-tofu beignets, yuzu kosho, sudachi
The meal begins with four snacks, leading with the opener above - I understand that this is one of the restaurant's signature bites. A crispy exterior gave way to a near-creamy inside. There was a good amount of heat, which matched up nicely against the lime notes. An exciting start.

Uni on toast
Burrata, caviar, dill
Smoked salmon
Goat cheese, homemade English muffin, caperberry, pickled shallot
Wow. This kitchen has a way with bread - the English muffin was phenomenal (as was the warm rye bread and cultured butter, served later in the meal). The toppings were superb as well (very well proportioned), but to be sure, they were a supporting cast to the star.

Blueberry-whey soda, fennel pollen
An excellent segue from snacks to the menu proper. Barely sweetened, the liquid was thick and bursting with the essence of blueberry. The fennel pollen was a great way to wash away the salmon flavours from the preceding bite.

Bay scallops
Parsley root yogurt, grapefruit, eucalyptus, liquorice herbs, sunchoke chips
Buttermilk panna cotta, puffed grains
One of the better takes on brassicas - the plate was light, with tart buttermilk that highlighted the sweeter qualities of the crisp greens (in particular, the fantastic kohlrabi). Puffed amaranth and quinoa added crunch and earthiness. Leaves of celtuce (not a brassica) went above and beyond their usual blandness here, as if stealing from the other vegetables.

Summer corn soup, vadouvan, nasturtium ice cream
Simple and well-executed - one of the top dishes of the evening. The temperature contrast between the herbacious (somewhat savory) ice cream and the sweet, spicy soup was great. The soup's texture was textbook-perfect, albeit a bit heavy for my tastes.

Shelling bean stew
Green tomato, tomatillo crema, fried egg, purslane
A rather surprising dish, differing stylistically from the preceding courses. The beans were amazing - I could have eaten a much larger bowl of them with the topping of fried green tomatoes. Liberal amounts of the piquant crema made the egg practically unnecessary (our yolks were overcooked, in any case). Like the soup, a standout dish.

Gary Carpenter's pigeon
Burnt eggplant, plum, button mushrooms, Mexican tarragon
Nicely done. A purée of burnt eggplant was an ideal base for the meat, and the button mushrooms were a very clever addition - their pop turned out to be the perfect textural juxtaposition against the other components. The flavour of the Mexican tarragon, with hints of liquorice, also contrasted well with the gamey bird.

Blueberry sorbet, candied celery, puffed quinoa
I do believe I enjoy celery more in desserts than any other setting - they lend such a unique quality to sweets. This intermezzo was brilliantly balanced between the tartness of the sorbet and the candied celery. Lovely.

"Textures of chocolate"
Popcorn-infused buttermilk mousse, sorrel
Sour plum and tarragon pâte de fruit
Ari Taymor is doing exciting food in his space, with a style that is uncommon in Southern California. In fact, the whole restaurant is somewhat reminiscent of a louder, brasher Commis. As of this writing, alma is set to celebrate its first anniversary, and I suspect it will see many more. We're looking forward to see how this young chef will continue to grow.

952 S. Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Phone: (213) 244-1422