Alma is often called one of the top restaurants in the Twin Cities.
Heralded by Zagat, Vogue, James Beard and more, Alma was established in 1999 by a former New York City chef, Alex Roberts; Roberts was well trained, and a founder of the farm to table tradition in Minneapolis. The restaurant is now headed up by executive chef Lucas Rosenbrook. And, he builds off its origins with a fresh nightly prix fixe menu.
Innovative in their culinary approach and interior design, Alma feels far removed from the stuffiness of other Minneapolis stars, like Café Lurcat or Bellecour. However, despite overwhelming promise and reviews, Alma fails to live up to its hype and leaves one feeling robbed of their dollars and doused in sodium.
Every year, August is a whirlwind of birthdays in my family. Often my mother and father, who are separated only by 3 days in age, share a birthday dinner together somewhere in Minneapolis. This year was no different, and I had taken the liberty to book a table for four at one of Minneapolis’s most acclaimed restaurants, Alma.
My aunt and I, being sensible took an Uber to dinner from our hotel for the night. We did not want to sprain an ankle on the hot August pavement. We left my mother and father, the birthday duo to walk.
Arriving a bit early, we hooked left at the host stand and settled into the casual Cafe Alma bar (above) opposite the main dining room for a beverage. It was light and airy – white washed, reminiscent of a Scandanavian bistro.
I ordered a refreshing cocktail (above) – prosecco, bitters, and some sort of earthy juice (perhaps beet?). It was not too sweet and left me ready for my dinner, without the weighty after-taste of a over-sugared cocktail. Delightful!
After my parents arrived, somewhat overheated from their brisk pace, we were seated in the main dining room. The space was undoubtedly stunning. The ceilings soared and large windows opened up to the street view. An open kitchen commanded the center of the space and touches of wood and gorgeous deep blue painted trim accented clean white walls.
We perused the prix fixe menu – I couldn’t help but think how much more inventive the space and menu was in comparison to other Minneapolis powerhouses. I was hopeful that Alma may be true New York dining caliber.
My father ordered his new favorite beverage from our server – bourbon on the rocks with a heavy splash of Gran Marnier. My mother opted for a glass of white, and being bold, I went for the wine pairing with each course. I couldn’t resist, despite the added price.
For my first course, I had the sweet corn soup (below). Perfectly seasoned, the crunchy pieces of locally harvested Midwest corn went perfectly with the salty salmon lox topping. The cold soup was paired with a stunning California riesling.
I was off to a promising start!
My father opted for the bison tartare (below). It was enjoyable, although not particularly noteworthy. My mother had the summer squash served with mint and ricotta. Although the veggies were wonderfully fresh, the mint was too overpowering for her taste.
There was a long pause between our first course and second course. Enough time to allow the sun to dive beneath the horizon. And, unfortunately, this unusually lengthy wait set the tone for the remainder of the evening. The kitchen seemed to be behind.
For the second course I ordered one of my favorites – squid ink pasta. I love the texture! And, dreaming of my delicious squid ink linguine from several summers ago at Spoon & Stable, I was eager to try another infamous Minneapolis restaurant’s take on the black noodles. Paired with a juicy northwestern Italian red, it seemed like it would be a wonderful dish.
But, unfortunately, the pasta was over salted – never add too much salt to an already inevitably salty dish (i.e. seafood = ocean = salt)! And although the pasta’s texture was on point and all the ingredients seemed to foreshadow a spectacular dish, it was hard to taste anything past the sodium.
Meanwhile, my aunt and mother’s masa cakes (below) had similar problems. All the thought, innovation, and ingredients were there, however, the execution fell short. The dish was just too salty.
It was disappointing to see so much promise in concept go to waste on the plate.
Hopeful that the second course was just a fluke, we awaited the third course. And then we waited, and waited, and waited. For tens of minutes we witnessed the whole slew of servers await their table’s dishes at the kitchen counter with impatience. It wasn’t a good look.
Finally the mains arrived. My pork tenderloin was served with an Oregon tempranillo blend. The wine was wonderful, however the pork was a disappointment. Although the tenderness was there, the salt was even more overwhelming in this dish than it had been in the previous. I could barely finish half the plate without drinking all my water! It was hard to get down. Similar salt issues were found in my father’s duck, served two ways.
Meanwhile, my mother’s scallops (below) were so sodium-filled, she sent them back (wisely – I should have done the same!). I will say however that once the scallops were re-cooked and seasoned correctly, they were scrumptious. The second rounds was perfectly cooked and paired in a stunning manner with a corn bisque sauce. I had only wished that the whole meal had been salted with caution like her redo.
The over-zealous hand in the kitchen had sadly ruined the majority of our celebratory meal.
Plates cleared, my mother and aunt left early, not wanting wallow in the space any longer – we had been there for nearly 3 hours! Meanwhile, my father and I finished off the meal with a nice tea, which somewhat made up for my disappointment. Having organized the birthday dinner, I couldn’t help but feel guilty for the poor meal and the bitter, several hundred dollar bill that loomed despite our distaste for the experience. I wondered to myself if I should have asked them to remake my last two dishes in the moment. But, I suppose politeness got the best of me.
Nevertheless, I will not be visiting Alma again. The restaurant had all the key pieces for amazing success – a creative, inventive menu, fresh and local ingredients, and an amazing interior and downtown vibe. But, the execution was not there. Perhaps I visited on an unlucky night, but it was an overwhelming disappointment to both my tastebuds and my bank account.