Sunday, November 19, 2006

another operatic adventure-ALMA de CUBA in Philly

As I sit on the Amtrak Acela train back to Washington in FIRST CLASS, I am totally bombed that they can't find a glass of red wine on board. They have offered everything from the sweetest yuck to a white wine I'm not in the mood for (they don't even have sparkling water!). The First Class attendant even tried to pawn a glass of red wine from the cafe, but they won't hear the likes of it. What is the point of spending the extra money (and I'm in this business!)? I used to enjoy a Grand Marnier on this late train home, but that's another item they dropped; and who can bide Bailey's?!!- AS I WRITE THIS lo an behold, after complaining to the conductor, someone at Customer Service forced them to give me a 1/2 bottle of HAHN 2005 Cabernet Central Coast (yuck, cheap, but decent) I drop my complaint heretofore.

At least tonight's dinner was a huge success. I was joined by two dear clients after their performance in Rossini's La Cenerentola (Cinderella) here (well, back there) in Philly for a totally fabulous dinner at ALMA de CUBA (at 1623 Walnut St. in downtown Philadelphia). Upon arrival we could not decide what to order for our appetizers because there were so many wonderful selections, and then our server gave us the exciting specials. WHAT TO CHOOSE? We finally agreed to order and share three ceviche dishes:

The CALAMARI & CONCH Special with Pomegranate-Orange Sauce and Roasted Sweet Potatoes was actually the least exciting, while my RAINBOW CEVICHE had loads of tuna, salmon and fluke in lime juice with jalapeno and Roasted Sweet Potatoes as well. This was a more Asian style preparation than the others, but totally delicious (and huge). The FIRE & ICE Ceviche was FLUKE in preserved lemon & sage with Crispy Lemon Rings and a Hot Garlic Oil poured over it by the server. I can't recall having fluke before (and I must have) but it makes a great ceviche.

We ate these with CARMEN (how appropriate for opera singers) Sauvignon Blanc 2005 from the Rapel Valley in Chile that was crispy, citrusy and refreshing--perfect for all the dishes.

The small white Cuban sweet rolls came to the table warm and were irresistible with their cilantro/garlic oil that we poured over them. Luckily, these were cleared with the appetizers or we would never have eaten our entrees!

We suddenly had a yen for the CRAB EMPANADA SPECIAL which provided the three of us one large OPEN FLAME ROASTED Empanada over a White Asparagus & Cucumber Salad with a Tomato Chutney---it was supreme. Our red wine was a simple yet smokey TERRA NOBLE 2004 CARMENERE GRAN RESERVA from Chile that our charming server Amelia recommended. It was perfect with our meat entrees: BEEF TENDERLOIN CHURRASCO Style with Asparagus Spicy Crab Dressing and Ancho Chili Chimichurri--this was superb, and my excellent VACA FRITA "Fried Cow" of twice cooked crispy skirt steak with onions, Cuban oregano, the traditional black beans with rice and a tomato escabeche.

I must also note that while one of the entrees got screwed up, the manager immediately brought a special "amuse" of a bacon stuffed date so that one of us would not be without food. Indeed, I was quite amazed to note that the menu lists ALL the employees from servers to managers to dishwashers so that everyone on premises gets credit and we know who they are.

Dessert was difficult to refuse, so we decided to choose two: CHOCOLATE TRES LECHES with Caramel Espuma, Vanilla Poached Oranges and Salted Caramel Ice cream (need I say more) was the easy hit, but my choco-intense CHOCOLATE CIGAR with Almond Cake in CHOCOLATE MOUSSE dusted in chocolate with DULCE de LECHE Ice Cream was clearly too intense for moi. Three bites and I divided the rest. It was a gorgeous presentation looking just like a Cuban cigar and even with the little ALMA de CUBA Cigar wrapper!

Indeed, it was such a fun and tasty evening, that I look forward to returning to the yummy food of Philly soon!