Showing posts with label lamb belly. Show all posts
Showing posts with label lamb belly. Show all posts

Alma (Toronto)

Alma may impress a “Western” palette, but they can further lean into the Chinese elements to improve dishes. I really really want to LOVE Alma. Any place with a female owner-chef, in this case Anna Chen, is a bonus and the Asian, Italian, and French recipes sound like three delicious cuisines in one. Yet, some of the larger plates need work.

The squid fried rice ($31) needs rebranding – it’s not fried rice, rather an Asian paella. When I think of fried rice, I imagine a dish that emits wok hay (a fragrant, reach into your gut aroma) with individual grains tossed with vegetable and proteins. Alma’s rice was too saucy, the romesco clumping the rice and drowning out the squid. And don’t even get me started on the cashews… an annoying garnish that must be picked out. Drier and nut free, this may resemble fried rice.

I was expecting mouth numbing spice with the Szechuan spiced lamb belly roast ($44) but not prepared for the grainy rub that covered the tongue and meat flavours. What a shame, as the lamb was cooked beautifully and after scraping off the rub it was delicious, especially with a dollop of the salty Chinese olive paste.

With the chopped Chinese olive, the dish reminds me of braised pork belly with preserved vegetables (muy choy coaw yok). I would have preferred the lamb belly to have flavour profiles closer to this traditional dish, enhanced with a bit of Szechuan heat and a roasted crust.

While the black pepper soy sauce in the pork wonton and noodles ($29) was too heavy handed, the noodles were incredible, having a lovely chew that would impress a pastaia. Sadly, this expertise didn’t shift into the wonton’s wrappers, which were too thick. At least the wontons were nice and plump, filled with a generous amount of pork filling (this could benefit from finely chopped vegetables to add moisture). Using scallions in the filling and reducing the amount of garnish would better balance the dish.

Chef Chen’s take on Peking duck ($58), a special for the evening, needs a permanent place on the menu. While the skin wasn’t as crispy as Peking duck, it did have that lovely salty roasted taste and the meat cooked to a medium rare. The well crusted roasted turnips and the creamy foie gras sauce were great complements and left us wanting more.

In fairness, Alma nailed the small plates. The parmesan tapioca fritters ($10 for 2; $5 for additional piece) were crispy, creamy, and captured a depth of flavours that beat out most arancini I’ve had. The tapioca also added a glutinous chewiness that would make a mochi lover swoon.

One look at the beautiful caramel crust on the bao ($17 for 2; $6 for additional piece) and I could why the dish is so popular. Break the bao open and the dough is fluffy and moist… the consistency so perfect that I didn’t even mind that the bun had no filling. Just give more of the stracciatella cheese and eggplant fenugreek dip as the tablespoon portions were too scant to share amongst three buns. I could have used all the eggplant spread on my bun alone it was so good.

Diners may find the chili bean beef tartare ($26) salty, but anyone that’s had chili bean sauce should know it’s sodium laden. Our table loved the finely chopped beef mixture on the thin rice cracker, just handle it delicately to avoid it crumbling.

Eating at Alma is like a rollercoaster… a series of highs and lows. We finished downhill with the coconut flan ($12), the syrup incorporated a strong flavour that just didn’t work - it’s hard to decipher but reminds me of the herbal pei pa kao mixed with white rabbit candy. It overpowered the flan’s egg custard flavour, and the wild blueberries didn’t hold up either.

To continue with the amusement park analogy: dining at Alma was good – the food mostly delicious and the service warm and friendly – it just wasn’t great, so I won’t be signing up for a season’s pass anytime soon.

In a nutshell... 
  • Must order: parmesan tapioca fritters and the duck special
  • Just skip: squid fried rice and the coconut flan

Overall mark - 7 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 1194 Bloor St West

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

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