A note from the Minneapolites:
Since our husbands are so often our dining companions on our excursions for the blog, they’ve become quite the food critics themselves, offering opinions and descriptions that usually end up in our final drafts of our posts. To celebrate Valentine’s Day, we thought it would be fitting to let them pick the dates and write the posts, to help out those of you looking to woo someone special this month. First up is Kristin’s husband, Phillip.
I’m actually relieved to be posting first, as I will be out of town for work over Valentine’s Day. I made up for it by taking Kristin on a nicer-than-usual date before skipping town. While deciding where we were going to go out, I was simultaneously impressed by and stressed out with the sheer amount of great options to choose from. I was digging through my brain to remember all the great places Kristin has been wanting to check out for the blog, and stumbled across Restaurant Alma.
I’ve heard Kristin mention this restaurant many times, and while it always sounded amazing, I assumed it would be a little too fancy for us. Not so much in price and food quality, but by clientele. I want to enjoy my food without a lot of baby-boomers judgmentally staring at my thrift-store flannel coat and awkwardly heavy-duty winter hat and gloves as I show up for dinner. But as I clicked through the website and familiarized myself with the restaurant, I felt immediately at ease. The first sentence of their “About Us“ section promises “casual fine dining,” “eclectic American cuisine,” and “warm hospitality.” Sounds like a perfect date night to me!
After several attempts at working a date night into small pockets of availability in my schedule, I ended up with a wide-open late-January weeknight. I booked a reservation for 6:30 PM online (thank you, opentable.com!) around noon. Done. Almost too easy.
Kristin works until 4:30 or 5 most weekdays, so I figured a 6:30 PM reservation would have us eating by 7ish. Perfect. I picked her up from work, told her to dress “casually formal” and enjoyed an hour of hearing her try to guess and dress for where we were going. She didn’t figure it out until I flipped on the turn signal as we passed by the restaurant. Kristin was freaking out, and I felt pretty great about my decision as we found immediate street parking and were inside from the cold within a minute.
Once we were inside, we were greeted by a super friendly host, who took our coats and had us to our seats immediately. There were actually not that many tables taken when we arrived, and we were seated around the corner from the entrance, with a great view of the kitchen and the rest of the restaurant.
We were given our menus once we were seated, and were greeted by our waitress right away. We considered ordering off of their expansive wine list, but they had a short and sweet beer list that sounded a little better for some reason. Nothing on tap, but a great selection of midwestern/local bottles. I quickly ordered a Rush River Bubblejack, and Kristin got a Fulton Lonely Blonde.
Before our beers arrived, we were ready to order our food. Our waitress informed us that the menu changes every six-to-eight weeks, and is locally sourced from Executive Chef Alexander Roberts’ family farm in Wisconsin whenever possible. Kristin asked our waitress if she would recommend the vegetarian menu when they both sounded great to her. Our waitress was quick to explain that she had been a vegetarian until working at Restaurant Alma, and that she would hands-down recommend the omnivore-friendly menu. That didn’t change anything for me, as I had my mind made up immediately, but Kristin took one more minute to adjust, and we each had our three courses ordered. I ordered Bitter Greens, Chickpeas & Mussels and Gently Cooked Chicken while Kristin ordered Mozzarella & Prosciutto, Lamb Meatballs and Roasted Duck.
Let’s get to know each other a little better, here. I play music for a living. Like anyone else who freelances, my schedule is feast-or-famine. Figurative feasting on gigs often leads to stress-induced physical famine. When I’m stressed out, my appetite literally disappears. A little more stress, and I feel nauseated. Like, “order a delicious meal, and then feel sick when it arrives and don’t eat a bite,” crazy-town nausea. I found myself with a sudden, crippling combo of the two, minutes before our first plate arrived. Unbelievable. I had felt completely fine, hungry and excited for our nice meal for hours, and minutes before it shows up, I was considering bailing on the whole tab and heading home. First-date, high-schooler date awkwardness, over three years into our marriage. Kristin saw my face and knew exactly how I was feeling, and asked if we should go, but I insisted on at least trying to eat.
Our first plates arrived, and I was so glad I hadn’t ordered something heavy. My bitter greens were the best thing that could happen to a non-appetite. Light and complex greens when mixed with the anchovy dressing were refreshing and filling, though I was in no position to be a food critic as I fought through every bite. Kristin absolutely loved the mozzarella and prosciutto, though I didn’t try it. I happily took her word for it, and she was glad I didn’t take her offer for the last bite.
Second course arrived and I was filled with momentary regret and dread. Chickpeas and mussels had sounded so great when I ordered it, but the dish was nauseating and intimidating when it arrived in front of me. Out of pride, I was determined to at least try it. And I’m so glad I did. There might be no truer testament to the quality of the food than that I was able to eat most of the plate. The mussels were in an incredible cider broth, with just enough spicy fattiness from the chorizo in the broth. I didn’t enjoy the little bits of chorizo by themselves, but in a bite with chickpeas and a mussel, they were perfectly complimentary. At her glowing recommendation, I even dared to try Kristin’s meatballs, and they were delicious. I wouldn’t dare say I could place every flavor and define every note of the Berbere spice and mint from one bite, but it was incredible, and that’s all I’ll say.
By the time our main courses arrived, I actually felt a little better. And with perfect timing to enjoy my last plate. The sous-vide chicken was as close to perfect as it could be. The best texture of any chicken I’ve ever eaten. Melt-in-your-mouth doesn’t even begin to describe it. The brie fondue and belgian endive were nice touches, but there were honey-glazed sunflower seeds on top of the chicken that absolutely owned the plate. Best chicken I’ve ever had, hands-down. Kristin liked her roasted duck (I did, too) but the chicken took the blue ribbon.
Our only complaint was that in sub-zero temps, every time someone came inside, we were slammed with a gust of freezing wind. Not too bad early on, but as the restaurant started rapidly filling up towards the end of our meal, it felt like our table was about 45 degrees. They had a massive quilt hanging over the entryway and a few space heaters blasting around the entrance, but that didn’t help us in our frosty windowed corner, despite their best efforts. Not the restaurant’s fault, but between my feeling sick and Kristin’s chattering teeth with her back at the mercy of the drafty door, we were pretty antsy to get home and warm up. We had one $6 beer each, and the three-course dinner was $50 per person. While I wish I had been able to fully enjoy the whole meal, I felt like I got my money’s worth.
A few minutes later, we were on the couch under several quilts, playing Dr. Mario on our Super Nintendo and listening to my old Donald Fagen ‘The Nightfly‘ LP. It’s a weird date-night thing that always works for us, and it goes pretty great with a good bottle of wine. Maybe even better when we were able to laugh about how awful I felt the whole time, and how loud Kristin’s teeth chattered on the way home. Not the way I expected to experience Restaurant Alma, but we’ll definitely be back for a warmer experience in the summer with a new, undoubtably incredible menu. The most glowing recommendation I can make is that I was actually able to fight through feeling sick and even enjoy my meal. That’s a first, and it won’t be a last.
528 University Avenue Southeast
Minneapolis, MN 55414
Alma on Facebook
Alma on Yelp