There’s an abstract quality about living in the Upper Midwest, and Minneapolis specifically, that makes me feel innately at home.
I grew up in Milwaukee. I’ve lived in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Chicago. I’ve visited Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. I’m an urbanist, a lover of cities, and an adaptable person, so I would probably bloom wherever I was planted. Yet despite my semi-regular fantasies of living elsewhere (say, Europe), the Midwest is permanently in my blood and my bones. Minneapolis has become my Mini Apple. It’s my not-quite Chicago and my bigger-than Milwaukee. To borrow from the French, Minneapolis is my terroir — and I like it that way.
The most elegant way to live is to consider yourself an essential part of where you’re from. It’s the same for cooking. Food is life, after all. It comes from the ground beneath our feet and responds to the seasons just as we do. Last week, I had a fantastic experience at Restaurant Alma, a much-loved restaurant in Minneapolis serving hand-crafted food made with fresh, seasonal, organic, and local ingredients. Alma nails local elegance on the head.
My food-going friend Angela and I enjoyed two hours of conversation and three courses on a cold Friday night. At first, the name struck me as arbitrary, even a little incongruous. Alma means “soul” in Spanish — and the restaurant isn’t Spanish in any way. It’s elemental and sophisticated, and although influenced by food from around the world, I would call it farm-inspired American — and thoroughly Minnesota chic. (Hey, that’s my term, so don’t steal it. I first used it last year, which you can read about here if you’d like.)
The crowd was culturally interesting — lots of ages and races and pairings of dates, families, and friends. I especially loved the older folks there in suits on special occasion dinners with their spouses and kids. (I’m the daughter of a truck driver. What can I say?) The staff was pleasant and professional and our server mentioned she had been working there for nearly 10 years.
The menu, thoughtfully curated and presented, is organized into three courses. For 45 dollars, you can choose one plate from each course, though if you have any sense about you, it will be torture to choose just three. I started with a mixed lettuce salad with roasted beets, buttermilk dressing, salsa verde, and pine nuts. Beet lovers like me, rejoice. Red and golden beets, and plenty of them.
Secondi, I had the ricotta gnocchi with fricassee of vegetables, black truffle butter, and parmigiana cheese. If pillows of ricotta pasta weren’t enough, the black truffle butter made the plate sing.
And finally, I had seared scallops with spiced chickpeas, roasted squash, wilted spinach, and lemon preserve — a generous and honest plate of food with three perfectly browned scallops.
By the end of the night, I started to see the brilliance behind the name Alma. Restaurant Alma serves the soul of the Midwest. The food is elegant without a hint of fussiness. It’s generous, yet well-conceived. It’s affordable fine food — and also the perfect spot for a date, by the way, but save it for the third or fourth. This kind of culinary intimacy would be a shame to waste on anything less than romantic. Or, if dating just ain’t coming your way, grab a great friend like I did and have yourself a memorable (and soulful) meal.
I went to Alma shortly after it opened in its current space and I really liked it too. The food was so fresh and good, and the service was fantastic. I’ve been wanting to go back for a long time. This review reminds me that I really ought to, especially if they are having $45 three course meals! Glad you liked it too!
I’m so happy to hear you talk of Minneapolis as your chosen home. That makes it sound less likely you’ll up and move elsewhere any time soon! 🙂
Excellent writing as always, Carrie. Sorry I missed such a great meal.
I’ve never heard of Alma. I’ll have to check it out!
Pingback: Alma and the Soul of the Midwest « The Heavy Table
That was a beautiful review, wish I could see what the photos looked like a little more brightly, I suppose it’s pretty dark in there. Guess I’ll just have to bite the bullet and go there myself.
Jennifer – I agree that Alma is affordable for the quality of food they offer. Very splurgeable.
Stef – Oh, but remember that adaptability (wink).
Michael – Yep, straightaway, get thee.
Faith – Thank you. Photos in a dark restaurant are tricky, especially on an iPhone, which also can’t capture things up close. I’m working on it, though. There’s gadgets and apps available to make even surreptitiously shot food pictures look good.
Really lovely, spot on review! That gnocchi looks great. I really like your comment on the culinary intimacy here. That captures exactly how I have felt about dining certain places, and I’ve never been able to articulate it. What’s great about Alma is that it feels like a place to go with someone special, but not necessarily a “special occasion place.”
Always love these foodventures, Carrie. This post is right on; of course, I couldn’t have said it better myself : ) I agree with Stef — Minneapolis would be lonely without you. And Alma’s celery soufflet…mmmmmm.
Steph – I love how you phrased that. Alma shouldn’t be saved for special occasions only, but should always be saved for special people.
Ang – How very sweet. I love that you coined a new word for our various flings with food.
Wonderful review, Carrie!