Alma - Adventures of an Experimentalist Diner

Ari Taymor’s Alma, reeling from an abundance of food media hype, and pernicious legal battles finds itself situated in a diner, of all places, even if it is a diner wedged ironically into the side of the ritzy, polished Standard hotel on the Sunset Strip.

The Sunset Strip is not known for great dining, although it is known for expensive dining; this fact is hilariously underscored by the fact that the mediocre little gems caesar salad on the regular Standard Diner menu is actually more expensive than the exquisitely composed little gems salad on Alma’s pop-up menu.

Anyway, if you get past the irony, the atmosphere, and the miserable (or expensive, rather) parking then you will find that Alma’s cooking is still some of the best in the city.

Snacks are mostly quite low-priced, and fairly large in portion.

Chickpea Fries are hearty, and crisp, and deliver the hefty essence of chickpea in spades. Simple and unfussy.

Seaweed and Tofu Beignets are perhaps a bit chewier than some would imagine a beignet being, but they are irresistably zippy with umami and salt. Really quite addictive in a strange way.

One of the “signatures” at Alma is the english muffins with uni, burrata and caviar. Spectacular little bites. The pillowy, yet firm and yeasty muffins add just the right sort of balance to the double creaminess of the uni and burrata, and the burst of the caviar places just a hint of salt where it is needed. Very thoughtful, addictive bites. My one wonder is, “why three and not four? Where is the other half of the second english muffiin?? Do they just toss it out?”

Little Gems. Alma has always been a superstar salad desintation and this did not disappoint. Sadly, they cannot get the greens from their own garden on the rooftop anymore, but the little gems were very well sourced, and so fresh and delightful. The dressing was light, a bit smokey, a bit vinegary, and insanely addictive. Bits of pickled onion and housemade croutins just made it even more gorgeous. One really ought to order salad at every visit to Alma.

Possibly the best dish was the new york steak with sunchokes though. Some of the most beautifully cooked steak I’ve ever experienced, done in the Heston Blumenthal method of continuous flipping, producing an incredible outer crust with an interior that is cooked, yet quite red throughout. But the perfectly grilled sunchokes alongside the cuts of steak were also glorious in their toothsome savoriness and vegetable root bliss. However, the brown butter bearnaise with vinegar was positively sublime, one of the best sauces I have eever had the pleasure of tasting. Utterly addictive in every way imaginable. Combining richness, umami, acidity, and even tanginess. Wow. The dish is truly flooring, just when you thought NY strip was boring…

I finished with a Fernet and Parsnip Sundae, on the house because their hours were stated at 6-11 on their website, I showed up at 10 to them being closed. Their actual hours are 6-10 most nights, to 11 on Fri-Sat. I thought it was very nice of them to serve me anyway, and give me a free sundae, you can hardly find better service anywhere!

The sundae itself is fantastic. Parsnips form the base of it, and add a vegetal quality as well as a kind of crunchiness to the dessert, but it is not overpowering. The fernet is in the caramel, and sort of serves only to add a whiff of herbaceousness that mainly lightens the effect of the caramel. The thick cream is luscious and utterly wonderful. Exaclty the kind of cleansing, yet soulful desser that one would want after almost any meal in my opinion.

Alma is, or remains, one of the best places to eat food in LA. Utterly addicting flavors are situated within its immensly thoughtful and exceptionally talented cooking. Plus, they are big fans of Donkey & Goat winery, and they generously pour the stuff, which matches absolutely exquistely with the food.

Wine shot:

Do yourself a favor and brave the terrors of the Sunset Strip to dine here. Now.

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this food looks nothing like the food they were putting out in their DT restaurant. Seems way more approachable.

On a side note, do you eat out every meal every day? Pretty amazing how much territory you cover on a weekly basis.

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I eat out every single day, at least once lol I am not a genius chef, so I much prefer to eat the food that genius chefs make (this is not limited to people like Ari Taymor, but even the people churning out banh mi at Saigon Sandwiches & Bakery for example).

I have been very busy and backed up on reports, gonna try and get a bunch of them up today haha

You are right about Alma. The food remains similar in ethos, but is more approachable. I didn’t feel quite as challenged, even though I am someone that enjoys challenge by great chefs. The food is just really good, and very addictive now, while retaining the sourcing and sort of experimental ethos they always had.

I always liked them more a la carte than via tasting menu personally, and that seems true of pretty much everyone that liked them it seems like. I hope they find a home of their own that is permanent, because the food is truly excellent. That steak and sunchoke dish should be nominated as an LA classic.

How does Alma-at-the-Standard work?
Same place as their original restaurant?
Do you make a reservation for Alma specifically or are both menus served in the same dining room they always used?

From 6-10 weekdays the Alma menu is served in the Standard Diner, then it flips to the usual diner menu at 10 until like 2 am.

I am sort of confused by your questions though. Alma’s DTLA location is gone. They operate out of the diner in the Standard Hotel in WeHo on the Sunset Strip. Right when you enter the hotel you turn left and the diner is right there, and Alma is inside (they just take over the diner from 6-11).

I think you still just make reservations via their website alma-la.com but sadly from what I saw you probably don’t need reservations =/

Sorry - I wasn’t clear but you cleared it up for me. Thanks

Not sure you can draw that conclusion @Aesthete - at 10PM on a weekday there are mmaybe one or two places (Trois Mec, Maude, any others???) in LA that you need a reservation for.

Yeah I guess that’s fair enough haha Add Bestia to your list though probably? Trois Mec isn’t even open at 10 though.

Nice report @Aesthete. Thanks.

I’ve seen Alma’s menu through friends and heard reports back and felt unsure about trying it out. Like @tailbacku it seemed way too experimental / odd.

But your report does make it seem more accessible. But I don’t know if I want to hang out on the Sunset Strip to try his food LOL. :stuck_out_tongue:

I hate the sunset strip. If I can brave it, anyone can!

You don’t have to hang out there! I went to music on Pick and Fairax and drove up there afterwards. Parked in front. Are.and left. Hardly any Sunset strip nonsense! :smiley:

Ah, the experimentalist diner remains true, though they are leaning ever more into the diner territory with their brunch menu. Still, one might wonder whether the oddball cooking of Alma paired with a drab mock-50’s diner situated in an ultra-lux hotel might be an LA dining experience nearly as unique as the plastic chairs outside of Sqirl.

Horchata, Rum, Cold Brew

The cocktail menu at brunch is sparse, but house-made horchata, intensely spiced with cinnamon, deftly mixed with rum and cold brew is just about the best way to kick off a Sunday afternoon. It manages to achieve something more than the sum of its parts; the best horchata cocktail I’ve had since Broken Spanish took their off their menu.

Daily Donut

The waiter rather undersold us on the size of this behemothic donut; it is large enough to put any single diner into a sugar psychosis I imagine. It was filled with a rather fascinating lime and curry curd. However, it was not made to order, and was fairly bread-y. I would pass, but my dining companion was happy to eat it. The addition of curry was at least entertaining, and the toasted coconut was surprisingly good, while the frosting was actually not overly sweet. Still, if they turned this into a small batch of freshly-fried miniature donuts it might have been spectacular compared to what it was.

Kimchi and Tasso Ham Avocado Hash*

An intriguing dish as the kimchi was completely faithful as an ingredient, the potatoes were beautifully crisped, and the eggs were just right. The avocado puree was nice, but the tasso ham was sort of lost, and over cooked it felt like. I did not really think everything came together appropriately here, but my dining companion enjoyed it.

Brisket n’ Grits

Theoretically, this should have been excellent, but the execution was wildly off for me. Chewy brisket, overly toothsome/chewy grits…perfect egg, and, shockingly, the flavors were not bad, but the textures were all wrong. My dining companion loved it, but I chalk it up to not having enough exposure to either great grits or great brisket. I was happy to let him devour it.

Lobster Poutine

The trend to use these thicker fries in higher end restaurants is somewhat unnerving as they never appear to be fried properly, but I digress. The fries were also lacking in salt, which this dish needed. The lobster itself was perfect, and although the “gravy” was oddly thin, it was delightful with the tender lobster, especially when taken with a bit of the hollandaise. This shouldn’t really be called a poutine, but again, I digress. I would still pass typically, as the fries are just ok, and there is something missing from the plate as a whole, perhaps simply the lack of salt. It was ok, but could have been great with better execution.

Patty Melt

This is actually what I came for, and it was one dish that did not disappoint. The aged cheddar is an incredible cheese with a serious funk level to it, the prime beef is intimately beefy, the onions are perfectly caramelized and meld perfectly with the funk of the cheese and the sweet/tart dichotomy of the housemade pickles, and the fresh bread toasted just right. It’s sweet and salty, funky, meaty, and utterly lovely. Quite possible the best patty melt I have ever tasted. I really wish this was on their menu outside of 3 hours on Sunday afternoon, as it would be the best thing ever after a night of drinking.

Cast Iron Pancake

A most intriguing dish. I don’t quite know what this really was, but it did not taste anything like a pancake. It was more like fried carrot cake or fruit loaf, but with excellent preserves and spectacularly salted cultured butter. It was actually surprisingly good. It did not even need the smoked maple syrup on the side. With the butter and preserves it melded into a pleasantly savory, buttery, slightly sweet fried cake kind of thing that was strangely well balanced.

Overall, brunch for 2 (including 2 of the horchata cocktails, tax and tip) was $165, but we left with tons of leftovers.

The patty melt and horchata cocktails are more than worth braving the Sunset Strip to try, but it seems you would do well to explore other sections of the menu, perhaps dishes centered around eggs, which seemed to be the main item that was consistently cooked perfectly.

I wonder how much creative control Taymore has over the brunch menu, or what kitchen staff executes the menu as a lot of these dishes seemed below Alma standards of creativity and execution.

But still… that patty melt…mmmmm

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Since Alma has moved to the Standard we have dined there about half dozen times and it was always an incredible dining experience with subtle flavors and delicate preparations.
Yesterday, at Alma, I have experienced one of the worst meals in years. Taymor was apparently out of town in Australia. The execution of the dishes was deplorable. Flavors and textures of every dish were off. I realized how nuanced and balanced are his preparations, so the food went from incredible to inedible in his absence. Beignets were soggy, uni/burrata/caviar was mushy and tasted horrible, and the octopus was definitely the worst I ever tried. They might as well have served a sliced piece of rubber. In hamachi “crudo” the fish was really warm some reason. The frozen foie gras felt like porridge. The only dishes that worked were warm smoked salmon and cabbage salad.
All the sauces were very acidic. There were easily 15-20 minute gaps between each plate coming out, even though the restaurant was nearly empty.
I do not know what to make of it, but there is no way I am dining there again, so strong is the revulsion caused by this meal.
Perhaps if anyone goes they need to check if Taymor is in the house.

@beam If it was that bad, did you mention it to your server or the manager on duty? Did you send back any of your dishes? When things get dire, I am not shy about mentioning it to the staff while you are there. Have you contacted them this morning? If I was them, I would want to know about these egregious discrepancies ASAP, and offer a returning customer something in exchange for the sub-par performance.

I really did not want to cause any fuss while we were there. I am not sure what they could have done about it anyway. We did not send any dishes back, mostly because we were 4 people and shared a lot of the dishes (some were double orders), but still we each got a few bites and the dish was gone!
I really do not want anything in exchange. If I had an easy way to contact Taymor I probably would let him know how bad it was. Not sure that he will realize that I am actually doing him a favor by sharing my experience with him.