alma - Los Angeles, CA

Dinner - Saturday, February 22, 2013

Since our first meal at alma last year, Ari Taymor and team have been building a steady stream of recognition. Bon Appetit, GQ and the James Beard Foundation have all come knocking on their door. The restaurant has changed as well, streamlining itself in the kitchen. Gone is the a la carte menu, replaced by two prix fixe options - one simply an abbreviated version of the other.

I had briefly corresponded with Ari after our dinner in June, but was quite surprised to receive an invitation from him earlier this month to revisit the restaurant, as he felt that the restaurant had "grown by leaps and bounds". With no plans in place for my birthday, we decided that celebrating at alma would be perfect.

NB: at the end of the night, we were refused a bill due to a kitchen oversight (see the end for further details). Ari, unfortunately, was away in NYC doing a collaboration dinner at Contra.

Smoked ocean trout, turnip, roe
Good quality fish with just a kiss of smoke - a nice start. I am a sucker for fried shallots, and enjoyed these greatly for their crunch and flavour. The turnip and roe rounded things out with a burst of freshness.

English muffin
Burrata, uni, caviar, dill
Seaweed-tofu beignets, yuzu kosho, lime
A perpetual offering on the menu, I suspect the beignets are consistently excellent. This time, they seemed more spongy than creamy on the inside (reminding me of a light fishcake), which I rather enjoyed.

"The Central Coast"
Very, very good. The base was a smoky, salty sturgeon brandade, decorated with sweet Dungeness crab meat, tetragon spinach and coastal herbs. Croutons of roughly torn bread added crunch and body. The name of the dish was actually perfectly evocative, given how conditioned I've become to the term "coastal cuisine".

Broken beets and apple, hazelnut, malt
Crushed avocado, celery, hearts of palm
Frozen duck liver
Smoked maple, soubise, carrots, coffee granola
Our dish of the night. A nuanced dish that evolved as it warmed up, showcasing a constantly shifting balance of sweet, smoky, salty, bitter, crispy and unctuous elements. I really, really liked this one.

Beer and rye bread, cultured butter
Wild sturgeon
Artichoke, bordelaise, coastal succulents
Excellently prepared fish, paired with a meaty bordelaise sauce and nutty artichokes. I always enjoy the pop of succulents, and here they brought another dimension to the heavier ingredients.

Slow-roasted Mishima ranch wagyu
Black truffle, young turnips, walnut
Lemon geranium sorbet, Meyer lemon foam
I believe the restaurant offers a rotating menu of housemade sodas - on this night, we enjoyed a delicious white tea ginger soda (very bracing) and a Hawaiian punch. The intermezzo above was in the same vein, albeit frozen - tart and herbacious, tickling the palate, exquisitely refreshing. Lovely.

Spruce, white chocolate, grapefruit, bitters
Objectively an interesting dessert that I think was well-executed, with a variety of textures and temperatures. I personally have trouble with grapefruit (like beets, I find them exceedingly bitter), so I'll take a pass on this one.

Sunflower seed brittle, apple-bourbon p√Ęte de fruits with sage sugar
Upon receiving our menus after dinner, we realized that we'd somehow missed a course between the bread and sturgeon dishes. After some discussion between our server and GM/co-owner Ashleigh Parsons, our entire meal was comped - very generous and certainly unexpected (although the incident definitely shines a light on their continued growing pains).

And the food? The tasting menu is more focused and cohesive now - courses flowed with a clear direction, and there was a definite "style". Yet, I kind of miss the free-wheeling nature of our first meal, where flavours seemed to bounce around more (I suppose it's hard to have your cake and eat it, too). alma is growing up. I do think the heaps of accolades it has received are a little premature, but the restaurant can stretch - if you wait until you're ready, you'll be waiting forever.

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