If I were grading solely on food quality and taste, Alma would earn an A. But going out to eat involves more than savoring food: there is the total restaurant experience to consider that either enhances the meal and detracts from it. Unfortunately, some elements of my experience at Alma require a point deducation. Final grade: B+.
Given the paucity of reviews and the ease of which my dinner companion and I were able to get a last minute Saturday night reservation, Alma must not yet be on the radar of the Pittsburgh culinary cognescenti. C'mon folks: this place deserves your business.
Alma presents as very spare. Unimposing and nondescript blond wood tables and chairs contrast nicely against the brightly colored walls in this rather small restaurant at the corner of Forbes and Braddock. Nothing fancy or ornate about the plates and silverware either. Quite impressive, though, is the menu with pan-Latin dishes from Cuba, Peru, Columbia, Chile, the Dominican, and Puerto Rico. And Morocco, curiously enough. For our appetizer, my friend and I ordered the pumpkin, black bean and curry empanadas and both of us loved them. For entrees, I ordered the chuletas de puerco -- pork slices served with a cilantro and jalepeno mixture and accompanied by pureed sweet potato and a few grilled pineapple wedges. My friend opted for the arepa de vegetales (beets, avocado, cabbage and other vegetables serves with corn cake and plantains). We loved every bite: my pork was tender and succulent and the cilantro/jalepeno mixture that topped each slice was delicious. The sweet potato puree and pineapple were the perfect flavor offsets. The vegetable and arepa (corn cake) dish was equally flavorful and balanced. The cabbage was especially tasty and the sugared, friend plantains provided a great taste compelement. Somebody really knows food prepartion in that kitichen (although the meals took quite some time to be served. And maybe that is as it should be in a Latin American restaurant: food isn't hurried to the table in that part of the world. Our waitress did keep us apprised of the status of our meal and did apologize for the long wait.)
If only the bartending were as competent as the food preparation. I ordered a non-traditional mojito -- this one made with a splash of pineapple juice and coconunt -- but was served a traditional mojito which the waitress quickly wisked away when she realized the error. The non-traditional mojito was pretty good. My friend ordered the caipirinha (the Brazilian cocktail) and both of us were sure that the sugar was skimped on or forgotten. The taste of the cachaca predominated making for an unbalanced and uninteresting caipirinha. She later odered a traditional mojito which was quite good. Although the bartending may have been a bit inattentive, I can't argue with the pricing: $8 or $8.50 for their cocktails (which have become outrageously offered at the $12-$18 price point in other cities.)
Nothing particulary inventive on the dessert menu, though: the expected flan, tres leches cake, and sorbet.
Tighten up the bartending and work more creatively on the dessert menu and Alma will get an A next time!
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