The new Alma Cocina de Mexico at The Grove makes you feel as if you’re at the Hacienda Beach Club in Cabo San Lucas. When I shared this impression with Kevin Morales, director of operations for Mexico City’s hospitality Grupo Hunan, he said that the Hacienda is one of the 24 restaurants the company owns, including 23 in Mexico City. Alma Cocina de Mexico is the first to open in the United States.
The former Dominique Ansel Bakery LA has been converted into a new evolutionary Mexican dining experience. With the guidance of Cuaik Comprehensive Design Studio, the downstairs terrace has table seating and a lively bar where signature Alma margaritas are shaken to sip with tacos, quesadillas and other Mexican fare.
A new escalator transports guests to the second-floor, fine dining restaurant. Colorful flora and fauna are arranged throughout the terrace and inside the stylish, sand-colored dining room. Soothing wood, handcrafted chairs made in Mexico and banquettes lend to the tranquil atmosphere. Hand-painted Mexican tiles and flickering candles adorn a fireplace and the mantle. Draping macramé art accent the walls.
An array of Mexican dishes looked appealing on the beautiful, embroidered menu, such as a variety of raw seafood starters, salads and grilled courses.
We ordered a Paloma and Alma margarita made with Cazadores Blanco tequila, fresh lime, Cointreau and agave. The margarita was made with 100% unaged blue agave tequila offering a hint of citrus that was slightly sweet and had a soft finish.
A circular wood platter with a small, cast-iron pot filled with warm refried beans and melted cheese played the part of a classic queso while three Mexican salsas ranging from mild, medium and spicy and a basket of crisp tostada chips were placed on our table. One of the salsas was very hot, and we discovered that biting into a sliced orange garnish that was in the Alma margarita, neutralized and calmed the heat of the hot chile.
A colorful Hacienda salad was our next dish with layers of bright red strawberry slices, chopped juicy mango, goat cheese and crisp julienne jicama strips, plus a handful of spiced crunchy pecans. The refreshing salad was tossed in a delicious tamarind vinaigrette.
The ceviche in a citrus sauce arrived with red onion, thin radish slices, chopped tomatoes, sliced avocado and cilantro. We also tried the aguachile de camaron in a sauce that was made from a black habanero ash. While not as colorful as the ceviche, the shrimp was flavorful and cucumber, cilantro, avocado and red onion provided texture.
For our entrées, we selected pan seared sea bass and a beef dish. Two sea bass filets on a base of sliced baked plantains were topped with a habanero butter sauce and side of white rice. The fish was moist and the plantains were a nice addition. They weren’t too sweet, yet a more flavorful starch than just rice. Be careful this dish is served with a wickedly hot orange pepper.
When the beefy Robalo en Matequilla de Haberno arrived, it reminded us of the queso fundido at the Hacienda Resort in Cabo. The melted manchego at Alma Cocina de Mexico smothered pan-fried beef strips cooked in a tomatillo sauce. On top was a fanned-out avocado and a touch of cream. It was served with a basket of colorful tortillas.
For dessert we ordered a chocolate mousse with crushed chocolate “dirt” and fresh blueberries and a bunuelo that looked similar to a fresh Napoleon pastry. It arrived on a plate with three crispy golden colored fritters, layered with seasonal sweet strawberries and whipped cream cheese.
For an authentic Mexican dining experience, Alma Cocina de Mexico features flavorful dishes inspired by the rich culinary history of Mexico. Be sure to visit the tiendita – “little corner shop” – to find imported Mexican goods, novelties, cookbooks, unique dog leashes and collars. They also sell premium beer, tequila and mezcal and seasonally rotating house-made seasonal ingredients such as hand-pressed tortillas, freshly prepared salsas, moles and seasonings. Open daily at 11:30 p.m. for lunch and later for dinner. $$-$$$, 189 The Grove Drive, (323)879-9596.
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