Monday, September 10, 2012

Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen (with a much smaller crowd)

I can't believe I haven't made it back to Alma in over a year.  Wow.  

I had wanted to go back for awhile, and James even commented several times that he'd like to go, since he had never been (and I, of course, raved about my first visit).  But, a busy summer of working and taco-truck mania prevented us from doing so.

Until last Saturday.

James suggested going there, since I got off work at 4 and we (FOR ONCE) had no other plans.  He threw out a few other suggestions, but nothing seemed more appealing than the first one.  

I was afraid that we would not get a reservation, since Saturday night dining is so popular, but when I called at 5:00, I had no problem getting a 6:30 time.  Thank goodness, because all I could think about was how much I wanted to try more of their menu.  Thanks to a few others at the Meetup that I had attended there last year, I was able to sample more than just my own meal, but since this is a pan-Latin restaurant, the foods come from all over the Latino world, from Cuba, to El Salvador, to Argentina.  


The weather was perfectly fall-like for early September, so we parked 2 blocks away and enjoyed our walk on the opposite side of Frick Park.  The sidewalks were buckled from the tree roots that grew underneath them, so it was more of an obstacle course - but not an unpleasant walk in the least.

Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen, Regent Square
When we arrived, I realized that we would have been safe even without a reservation, as there were many empty tables in the relatively small space.  We were seated by the window (thank goodness, because I needed good pictures!) and given the menu to peruse.

I knew what I wanted for my entree right doubt about it, oxtail all the way!  I had been wanting to try oxtail for a long, long time, seeing it on the menu both at Alma and at Calypso Caribbean Grill, which was 2 minutes from my house until it closed less than a year ago.  A Caribbean delicacy and an odd choice (by normal American dietary standards, at least), it was simply glowing on the page.

I could have eaten any appetizer on the menu, but when the Diaspora Platter was presented as a special, I figured it was something worth trying - grilled pita bread, pink bean hummus, heirloom tomato jam, guacamole, and plantain chips.  I love to dip, and 2 dips and a topper seemed perfect:

Diaspora Platter
Oh, and it was.  The pink bean hummus was pretty lemon-y, but good, and the guacamole had a LOT of flavor to it.  I could definitely taste the peppers - not the heat, but the peppers themselves.  The tomato jam went really well with the hummus, and the pita and plantain chips made perfect dippers.  We devoured the entire plate, including the pickled carrots for garnish.

I had ordered a horchata as my beverage - it wasn't the most spectacular horchata I've had (the best, of course, was at Smoke).  This was much creamier, and didn't have a strong cinnamon taste at all - in fact, mixed with the flavors in the appetizer, all I could taste was straight milk at times.  It wasn't horrible, but definitely not great.

The very milky horchata.
As we waited for our entrees, I noticed that the restaurant was starting to fill up rather quickly.  We watched people come at us from all angles through the window...from the same direction that we had, then from Frick Park, then from around the opposite corner.  We also saw a man pacing outside with a baby in a stroller for quite some time - only to see the hostess bring him a take-out order.  Good to know - take-out is possible!

For his entree, James had chosen a Cuban dish - Chuletas de Puerca con Pina y Batata, a pork loin with white sweet potato puree and grilled pineapple - a dish I could not try due to the pork part, but drool-inducing nonetheless:

Chuletas de Puerca con Pina y Batata
My oxtail.  Wow.  That was a lot of meat:

Oxtail, French Fries, Collard Greens

Oxtail, close-up
James actually helped me finish this entree.  There is a lot of fat on oxtail, but the meat itself was tender and fell apart easily - it actually kind of reminded me of tongue (yes, which I've eaten before, thanks to my 6th and 8th grade Social Studies teacher, Mr. Martin).  The official name of the entree is Rabo de Buey con Papas Fritas Caseras - braised oxtail with homestyle french fries.  The french fries were good, but were definitely...french fries.  Nothing special or unusual about them.  The collard greens, however, were DELICIOUS!  I had also had them before, thanks again to Mr. Martin, but I do not remember them being anywhere near as good as these ones.  Not. At. All.

The aftermath of eating oxtail looks something like this:

Only the bones remain.  Not a pretty sight.

Having such a tummy full of meat, we passed on dessert, but I knew that the Tres Leches Cake there was amazing.  Next time, for sure, that cake shall meet my lips.

It was definitely nice dining with just James and not at an L-shaped table with 17 people at this time.  Although I didn't get to try as many entrees, I still enjoyed the one I had.  In addition, every table was full by the time we left - I guess it's a good  rule of thumb to get there before 7:00 pm!

Guess I'll have to go back again.  And again.  And maybe again...just to try the foods from even more countries.  I mean, what do they eat in El Salvador, anyway....?

Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen
7600 and 7606 Forbes Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15221 (Regent Square)


Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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