Our Way to Eat at Restaurant Alma in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Pot Du Creme at Alma

(612) 379-4909 528 University Ave SE Minneapolis, MN 55414 www.restaurantalma.com

There wasn’t a lot of forethought before our 9 p.m. decision to go to Restaurant Alma for dinner the other night.  We’ve never been there, and it was on the list of places to try.  A quick call while en route from Saint Paul confirmed that there was no wait for a table for two.  This was not surprising at 9 p.m. on the first bone-shocking -12 degree night of the winter.  Restaurant Alma deserves anticipation, but this is how dining out decisions tend to go for us:  it had gotten late, we were hungry, interested in the place and there was a table available, so why not?

Alma is a nicer restaurant, but I found it immediately comfortable because of its unpretentious atmosphere.  Not being “on the list” was not a problem, and our server was down-to-earth, friendly and attentive.  We came in from the blustery cold night into the warm, open room and were immediately seated. Our server greeted us, and we told her that we had not been there before.  She gave us a helpful overview of the restaurant’s approach.  The menu changes seasonally and ingredients are locally sourced to the extent possible.  The restaurant offers a three course tasting menu, with both meat and vegetarian options.  Alma embraces the tasting menu concept because it allows the small kitchen to operate efficiently, and lets you try a number of dishes and dine at a relaxing pace.   Eating three courses sounds like feast, but the portions are sized correctly to allow you to enjoy the variety without feeling over-fed.

Celery Root Flan at Alma

Even though the restaurant was nearly full, service hummed along at a calm, pleasant pace.  At the server’s recommendation, we both started with the Celery Root Flan – warm julienned celery root salad topped with caviar, served side-by-side with a silver dollar-sized truffle-oil brushed toasted brioche with a small, round flan. The flan and celery root salad were pleasantly bitter as would be expected with celery root, the garnish –itty-bitty chopped chives subtly balanced it.  The challenge of this course was getting the celery root and caviar part of the dish into your mouth, I had some success when I piled the salad on top of the tiny piece of toast.  The flavor and texture combination of smooth flan, salty bursts caviar and crunchy toast was unexpected and tasty.Poblano and Salsify Soup at Alma ourwaytoeat.com

For the second course, I ordered the Salsify & Poblano Cream Soup.  The ingredients arrived in the bottom of my bowl – poblano, salsify and some nutty sautéed mushrooms.  Mushrooms replace the chorizo in the meat-eaters version of the soup which is also on the menu.  Salsify is a root vegetable that looks like a pale, dirty carrot.  When cooked, it has the texture of a carrot as well.  I found it innocuous– its lack of popularity is probably due to the fact that it has little detectable flavor.  The server poured the light, creamy soup base over the vegetables from a small pitcher.  Again, there were minuscule chives which provided a faint, but pleasant oniony-ness, that along with the flavorful mushrooms and poblano, balanced out the creamy base of the luxurious soup.  When the server came to check on us, I told her the soup was “lovely” a word which I used to excess by the end of the meal.  Carolina Grits at Alma ourwaytoeat.comFor Bjorn’s second course, he ordered Carolina Grits served with pork broth, shrimp, shiitake mushrooms and garnished with scallions and fresh grated horseradish.  He loved this dish. Taking the southern classic of shrimp and grits infusing Asian elements of pork broth and shiitake made the dish interesting and new.  The horseradish provided heat that was noticeable without being overpowering.  Bjorn described the dish as “excellent, a mouthful of flavors.”

Duck Two Ways at Alma ourwaytoeat.com

For Bjorn’s main course he ordered the duck which came two ways:  confit and pan roasted.  The duck was served with roasted parsnips, oyster mushrooms and “cumin mojo.”  He reports that it was awesome.  To the untrained, vegetarian eye, the duck looked tender and perfectly cooked.  Squash Migas at Alma ourwaytoeat.comIn a rare moment of boldness I broke with my habit to order the pasta as my main course, and instead tried the Squash “Migas”.  I should do that more often.  The Migas were a heap of bread and tortilla crumbs with small pieces of squash made into a hash piled atopt charred chili puree and garnished with fresh cheese, and topped with a soft poached egg.  I enjoyed the dish– it was spicy, flavorful breakfast food.  I found the chili puree to be a bit on the salty side, but I have a salt-sensitive palate, so it may have been fine for others.  The fresh cheese was mild, with a flavor and texture similar to queso fresco.  I loved the poached egg- it tasted amazingly fresh.  I wish I could find where they buy these wonderful eggs and learn to poach them perfectly– keeping the white tender and intact and finishing the yolk to creamy-perfect doneness as it was on my Migas.

Pot Du Creme and Tea at Alma

Throughout the meal, neighbouring tables ordered desserts that looked intriguing, but I usually don’t have dessert unless it is going to be extremely special, so I ordered a small pot of chamomile mint tea.  Bjorn ordered port and a desert, a Honey Chocolate Pot du Creme with honeycomb candy, grated chocolate, chocolate angel food cake and honey sabayon.  Fortunately, he was willing to share.  The dessert was phenomenal and probably my favorite part of the meal.  All of the textures and flavors were luxurious, but not overly rich, and mildly sweet.  Following a bite of creamy chocolatey honey goodness with a sip of port, the nutty, vanilla flavor of the port came alive and left us warm and sleepy.  A perfect ending to a LOVELY meal.

I would recommend Restaurant Alma, and will certainly go back.  It it a perfect place for an intimate, relaxing meal for a small group, especially a mixed group of vegetarian-omnivore eaters.  I loved the fact that the vegetarian menu followed the regular menu closely.  Thoughtful substitutions of mushroom for chorizo in the soup, and squash for lamb in the Migas meant that I could sample the most interesting dishes on the menu.  Some nice restaurants make the vegetarian menu feel like a special cause, and many others don’t have vegetarian offerings at all.  I like having intentionally meat-free dishes to choose from, but at the same time I’d rather eat close to what everyone else gets to eat.  The classic elements of the dishes we sampled at Restaurant Alma were adeptly executed, and the dishes as a whole were infused with thoughtful and imaginative international flavor elements, making for a special and memorable dining experience, late on a cold winter’s night.


How We Stayed Warm in the Winter

Amazing sunset from CozumelLast year, we won a trip to Mexico.  We liked it so much, this year we paid for the privilege to return.  We went to Cozumel, and it was lovely, colourful, warm and most importantly, relaxing in every possible way.  It was a few months ago, but for all practical purposes, we have barely seen the sun since.  The late and rainy spring here in Saint Paul, Minnesota makes us extra glad we were able to have a winter getaway.    Cozumel Sun Cover

We spent the majority of our time in Cozumel on the beach.  I spent a good portion of my time on the beach considering this functional branch and palm leaf umbrella that filled the gaps between the palm trees on the beach, providing shade.  I wasn’t thinking about making one, or how someone made it, just that it exists, it is functional, humble and pretty and provides shade.  That is all I could ask of the umbrella, and of myself.  That, and snorkeling every day to look at the sea rays, seashells and pretty fish.  Fire-breathing dragon! This is a fire-breathing dragon sunning himself at our resort.  Someone might mistake him for an iguana, but that person would be wrong.  According to our scientific research, this is a fire-breathing dragon.How we spent our winter vacation Here is me, posing with one of the books Bjorn read on our vacation.  I might have taken this picture to show off the manicure I gave myself on the beach.  Bjorn read two books on our short vacay:  Love Rock Revolution – K Records and the Rise of Independent Music by Mark Baumgartner and Big Day Coming – Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock by Jesse Jarnow.  He devoured them and clearly enjoyed both of these non-fiction histories of his one of his favorite indie record labels and his favorite band.  Since the trip, we have joked that Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley (of Yo La Tengo) were on the trip with us.  Side note:  on our vacation I only managed to read 5 magazines and one chapter of Big Day Coming and paint my nails.  I really needed to be on vacation.  Reflection

Classic vacation photo:  the subject is extra good looking, you can see a reflection of a palm tree and the ocean in his Ray Bans and there is a guy taking a snooze behind him.  And the model is extra good looking.  Sideways Sol on ourwaytoeat.comThat good looking vacationer came up with the perfect drink for a Mexican vacation or a Minnesota summer day: the Sideways Sol.  This consists of a Sol beer and a shot of tequila.  Add salt and lime if you like.  This is a simple drink for vacation in Mexico slash summer.  Don’t over think it.  Don’t complicate it.  Just enjoy it.En Concierto This is what I mean about Mexico being colourful.  There are mod murals on walls like this one.  I don’t know what it is advertising, but I love the colour scheme.  Sanjor

This is another mod advertising mural.  The colours of Mexico are vibrant, saturated and I can’t get enough.Tacos de Tripa on ourwaytoeat.comEating off-resort favors the bold, experienced and bilingual.  For a taste and texture adventure, one option we came across was tripe tacos.  They are reportedly tasty!Chips, Pico and Fresh GuacWe could have ventured out to eat, but we didn’t.  We took the path of the utmost easy-going every chance we could on this vacation.  Early every morning when we walked to the beach we passed the snack bar at our resort where the cooks were scooping out the ripe green, soft interiors of halved avocados with large spoons, and chopping scores of tomatoes and onions and piles of cilantro and limes.  The result was a lovely plate of chips with pico and guacamole like this one, that we enjoyed several times throughout this lovely, lazy, restorative trip.  I hope, I so hope that we’ll get to go back.

Inspiration for Winter Salad Season

Mixed Greens with Beet, Grapefruit and Avocado with Grapefruit-Thyme DressingYou might think a person’s natural “Salad Season” would occur in the summer.  Since I started photo-documenting the food we eat, I have discovered our true salad season occurs in the deep winter.  We certainly don’t have a dazzling array of garden and local produce available, but even so, we do our best to choose the best produce and canned goods available to get by.  This is probably the season when we need hearty salads the most here in the Midwest.  Our bodies are hiding in bundles of clothing, we spend our time mostly indoors and in natural darkness, and we inevitably encounter a number of virus threats on a weekly basis.  I consider these light, bright, crunchy, energizing, nutrient rich, colorful salads, [along with sleep] to be one of the secrets to a maintaining a pretty reliable immune system.  They are also my January-February hope that when spring arrives, I will feel and look more springy than a person feels in the depths of winter.  Shaved Carrot, Purple Cabbage and Sunflower Seeds on Romaine

Our first salad, shaved carrot, Parmesan,  radish, white bean and raw sunflower seeds on romaine. Cukes, Halved Grape Tomatoes, Celery Chunks and Kidney BeansI start preparing our salads by adding its prominent components to a bowl.  Chop something crunchy (celery), add a protein (kidney beans), add any other vegetables you have on hand and wish to include (here, cukes and halved grape tomatoes) , toss with greens, (here, romaine and spinach).  If you care to, add a flavor/texture  “treat” such as seeds, nuts, avocado, egg or a bit of cheese.   This is the way to make a great winter a great salad.Radish, Celery, Cuke and Kidney Beans with Spinach and RomaineI typically toss greens with either some citrus juice, lime, lemon, orange or grapefruit or a flavored vinegar.  My favorite vinegars are red wine, balsamic or tarragon vinegar.  Then I drizzle just a few drops of olive oil and toss the greens.  It is surprising how little oil you need to bring all of the flavors together.  Sometimes I add a tablespoon or two of Dijon mustard, or a teaspoon of honey or jam to the oil and vinegar/citrus mixture before mixing vigorously to add further flavor and help the dressing to emulsify before tossing the liquids with the greens.   Chopped fresh herbs or dried herbs along with salt and pepper added according to taste complete the dressing.  Beet, Bosc Pear and Cucumber on Mixed GreensThis salad is composed of beets, peeled bosc pear and sliced cucumber on mixed greens dressed with leftover grapefruit juice and fresh thyme dressing and a little pepper and salt.  Don’t hesitate to open a can of beans, beets or citrus canned (hopefully BPA free) in its natural juice.  There are many health benefits and few sacrifices when you add these nutrient-rich ingredients the easy way.  ourwour

The next salad is composed of sliced radish, sliced pear, white beans and a few slices of brie on spinach with citrus-preserve dressing. Black Bean, Corn, Radish, Grape Tomatoes and Pepitas

Another great salad is composed of corn, black beans, peeled and quartered cukes, minced scallion, halved grape tomatoes and pepitas dressed with lime juice, olive oil, honey and chili flakes over romaine.  Beet, Avocado and Grapefruit dressed with Grapefruit Juice and Thyme on Mixed GreensIn my book, this winter salad is special, grapefruit supremes, sliced avocado and red beets on mixed greens with grapefruit juice and olive oil dressing with thyme leaves. Shaved Carrot and Chickpeas on RomaineHere is another hearty and satisfying salad we’ve enjoyed composed of shaved carrot, celery, chickpeas, sliced radish and provolone on romaine-spinach mix.

Salads in winter are limited by the produce in season, but those limitations can open up room for creativity.  Salads like these complete a meal as a healthy side dish or stand as a meal on their own.  Certainly, they brighten your plate and the winter— try ’em.


A Lesson in Lefse for Bjorn from Grandma Eldrice


This gallery contains 20 photos.

My father is Norwegian by birth, and so some Norwegian characteristics have come to me naturally.  Having hearty tolerance of long winters and cold temperatures has been truly helpful throughout my life.  Even so, I have wished on more than … Continue reading

Chef Shack Food Truck at the Mill City Farmer’s Market in Minneapolis

We visit the Saint Paul Farmer’s Market every weekend that we’re in town.  We had friends visiting from out of town last weekend, and so we decided to change up the routine and venture out to the Mill City Farmer’s Market to check out a different market and sample a much-buzzed Twin Cities Food Truck that parks there on Saturday mornings.  We weren’t surprised to find that the Mill City Farmer’s Market is a great place for crowd watching, beautiful produce and good eats.

The Mill City Farmer’s Market is tucked between the Guthrie Theater, the Mill City Museum, and the Gold Medal Flour elevator and the condominium building that houses Spoonriver, my favorite restaurant in Minneapolis.  The Mill District and nearby Saint Anthony Main, which is directly across the wonderful pedestrian-only Stone Arch Bridge over the Mississippi are two of the most fun pockets of Minneapolis to stroll through.  I love their lively atmosphere and unique architecture which reflect the area’s evolution over time from a riverfront industrial district to the cultural center of the city.   Even though I love visiting these places, this was our first trip the Mill City Farmer’s Market.  Although the vegetable stands were overflowing with organic veggies, it is much more than just a place to stock up on heirloom tomatoes.  People gather, music is played, there are artisanal cheeses, chocolate and baked goods, handmade clothing, furniture and other art for sale.  The space was packed to the gills by mid-morning with strollers, camera-wielding bloggers, Iphone-ing instagrammers, gawkers, some shoppers and people like us who are there to eat.   

Once we toured the market, we joined the lengthy line at the Chef Shack food truck.    The line moved quickly.  It gave us just enough time to peruse the chalkboard menu.  Bjorn ordered a Walleye Sandwich and a bag of the Chef Shack’s renowned Indian-Spiced Mini Doughnuts for the group to share for dessert.  As you can see, the sandwich consists of a meaty walleye fillet, fried crispy and served on a fresh baguette with lettuce, tartar sauce and veggie trimmings.  Bjorn confirmed that the sandwich was one of the best he’s had.  The four of us devoured the mini doughnuts so fast that I couldn’t even take a picture.

Our friend Ben was out for adventure.  When he placed his order for Beef Tongue Tacos, the guy handling the cash register told him that he eats a Beef Tongue Taco every week he loves them so much.  The meat eaters who sampled the tongue confirmed that it was a dense, beef flavor and texture, more offal-like than muscle-y.  There!  You can see the tongue poking out from below the corn!  The vegetarian in me says “eek!” and the foodie says “cool!”

I swung by the Spoonriver food stand and purchased a refreshing glass of unsweetened Mango Iced Tea.  Their Cucumber Water and Watermelon-Basil water were also beautiful and looked refreshing.  It was very tempting to try a savory Spoonriver crepe, but I wanted to stick to the Food Truck option for today.

I was the sole vegetarian in the group.  I ordered the Sweet Potato Tacos, one of several vegetarian offerings from the Chef Shack.  They were tasty.  I piled on some of the house-made garnishes available in tubs: pickly cukes and cauliflower, a dill pickle and some slaw.  I am a sucker for garnishes.  The double-layered tortillas were extremely fresh and delicious.  I was glad to have the second tortilla layer, because the bean-corn-sweet potato mixture in the tacos was on the watery side, though wonderfully flavorful.  The tortilla kept it all contained.  I crumbled a little fresh feta from Singing Hills Dairy, purchased in the market on top–I won’t lie, I do prefer veggie tacos with cheese.

Our friend Jenny ordered a grass-fed, all-beef hotdog and also piled on the house-made condiments and garnishes.  One of the Chef Shack chefs greeted us at the condiment table, and asked us cheerfully if we found what we needed.  Yes, we certainly did.  We walked away from the market, plopped down on a flat rock that served as our seating and table and enjoyed a wonderful, unique and tasty lunch.

I’ve visited a handful of food trucks in Minneapolis and Saint Paul and this was by far the best food truck meal I’ve experienced to date.  This is the sort of truck that justifies its existence.  The food simple, inspired and is as good or better and more fresh than many restaurants, served casually, quickly and is perfect for outdoor eating on the go.  If you find yourself in Minneapolis on a Saturday between the hours of 8 and 1, I highly recommend a trip to the Mill City Farmer’s Market followed by a delicious lunch from the Chef Shack.  Delish!