I’m generally wary of a restaurant that borrows from a multitude of cuisines, and Alma Kitchen offers dishes from Mexico, India, Korea, Italy, Southern Cajun, and the soul food tradition. A dish was invented in San Francisco and served primarily in American-Chinese restaurants. But a friend on the East Side raved about their seafood crepes, so I said sure. I try to relax into a “the more, the merrier” vibe.
It turns out that Alma Kitchen does a pretty decent job of making food taste good, whether or not the dishes match what would be served in a mono-ethnic place. Chef-owner Gary Mui (with Alicia Sanchez) tends to pile on ingredients and flavors, so “the more, the merrier.” Brie is big.
These pancakes, with salmon, shrimp and lobster, are a little smoky, with a tangy flavor, perhaps due to the sherry in the sauce. I complimented my friend on her good taste. A large portion of salmon stuffed with crab and shrimp was crispy on the outside, very soft on the inside, served with carrots and creamy risotto, again great flavor.
The Bibimbap was less successful, or at least very different from any bibimbap I’ve had – full of butternut squash and zucchini, heavier than I think bibimbap should be. But if the translation of bibimbap is “rice mixed with meat and assorted vegetables,” then that’s what I got. It’s not spicy at all.
These are some of the many entrée-style dishes, which also include pasta, mac and cheese, fried rice, chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits, and chicken hash. But Alma is also known for its brunches and breakfasts, some served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and others all day long.
The waffles-crepes-french toast section is almost too rich to read: churro waffles, strawberry waffles and white chocolate mousse, tres leches pancakes with toasted marshmallow. For those who prefer savory to sweet for the first meal of the day, the choices are equally intriguing: how about “El Benny,” where eggs Benedict are served with chorizo and pico de gallo and the Hollandaise is flavored with chipotle? My favorite here was the quesadilla, where ultra-tender scrambled eggs are stuffed into four samosa-like triangles (fried flour tortillas) with poblanos, corn and Chihuahua queso. The tomatillo salsa on the side is best, where the heat doesn’t mask the fresh green flavors.
I was less pleased with Huevos Alma, which included chicken tortilla soup, I assumed, as a side. Unfortunately, there is no soup per se but just tortilla chips softened in broth, topped with lots of potatoes and a little chicken and chickpeas. It was easy enough for two, maybe three.
I also tried some “shareables”. The Warm Shrimp and Cider Flatbread features brie, fresh cherries, butternut squash, peppers, and bacon, and yes, you taste all that busy stuff, and it’s sweet despite the tang of the cheese. Very sticky; use your fork. The shrimp and crab Rangoon, triangles of dough stuffed in a sweet and sour sauce, replaces brie with the traditional cream cheese (that’s the one invented at Trader Vic’s in San Francisco), and tastes especially good.
A pulled pork sandwich on brioche is advertised as MI Cherry BBQ, and I discovered a few pit fragments! But it was rich and luscious, a little sweet, more than a little bright, endlessly satisfying, with a creamy apple salad, much more interesting than the cabbage.
Alma’s desserts shine. I couldn’t stop eating the perfect hot, donut-shaped churros, light as can be, even though I was already full from that giant bowl of huevos. Certainly shareable between two. And the carrot cake is the moistest you’ll find, made with pineapple, walnuts and a thick layer of filling that resembles a New York cheesecake.
On my two visits to Alma, I didn’t have a designated driver so I couldn’t enjoy their delicious drinks. Detroit City gin is mixed with lemon juice and sparkling wine. There is Sangria and four types of “Alma Mi Mosa” (accompanies brunch) and a MI Chelada (Michelada) with Modelo, spicy tomato juice and lime. A butter and rum coffee and an espresso martini sound like cold-weather choices.
Alma’s decor is understated and graceful, with an ornate pressed-tin ceiling and silver chairs, an open, airy atmosphere with plenty of windows overlooking Mack Avenue. It’s relaxed and friendly.
“Alma” means “soul” in Spanish. I felt like maybe the kitchen didn’t really have any identify, but he had a soul.
Before calculating a tip, be aware that 20% has already been added to your bill.
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