Thursday, April 12, 2012

Alma Food & Wine

As played out as "pop-ups" may seem, there is something special about sitting directly in front of the chef and watching the whole crew meticulously at work - much like snagging front row seats at the opera for half off. My recent pop up experiences have all been similar to a private dining event. With the venue accommodating only a handful of patrons, conversing with the chefs seem only natural.  As with most pop up venues these days, it seems the venue must be a desolate cafe or diner of some sort and this time, it was no exception: Millie's Cafe.

I've always wondered why pop up chefs tend to favor derelict locations to perform their art. Is it to bring contrast to their chromatic concepts and creations? Or the most logical reason- cost?

Alma is somewhat a of a new kid on the block, not even a few months old. The chef, Ari, with roots in the bay area portrays this in his cuisine. This crudite of fresh crisp vegetables is as Nor-Cal as it gets. Vague memories of The Plate Shop in Sausalito offered a similar construction. Beautiful as the presentation is, this is my least favorite. The urchin bottarga (urchin and bottarga? or bottarga of the urchin? does it even exist?) is unnoticeable and flavors fall flat.                                                                


If I was half asleep during the commencement of the meal, the summer squash blossom with melted guanciale was a splash of cold water, in a good way. The saltiness of the fatty guanciale is coupled flawlessly with the squash. Sheer genius!

 The ensuing dishes only get better as bright flavors, interesting textures and bold contrasts are brought forth by Ari. My favorite is undeniably the duck consomme with bitter brassica, crispy dried seaweed and fried duck skin. Ari's choice of accompanying meat selection with vegetables showcase his talent for contrasting flavors.

Our intermezzos consisted of retro and ethnic sodas created by the soda sommelier, Chris Yamashiro. Not much of a carbonated beverage fan, his concoctions are interesting; yet, I'm hoping for something less virginal from him.

For the most part, the Ari Taymor crew seem to be on a good start. Ari's keen sense of complementing animal and plant is a talent missed these days. This forte paired with the teams hip and fun attitude should make a name for Alma in the pop up scene.

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