Nestled in Regent Square at the corner of Braddock Avenue and Forbes Avenue is a restaurant which adds a new tropical dimension to the Pittsburgh restaurant scene – Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen. This locally-owned restaurant strives to bring an authentic Latin american presence to the Steel City with dishes and drinks from many different latin cultures. Alma means “soul” in spanish.
For Pittsburgh Restaurant Week – Summer 2012, the TasteBuds took the prime opportunity to visit this up and coming spot for the first time. Starting off with some latin-inspired drinks. TasteBudA had the Caribbean Martini, a house creation. I had the Mojito Diablo, a Cuban-inspired drink. Ensuring we got the most out of restaurant week, we each ordered from the restaurant week menu – three courses for $25. TasteBudA had the Soup of the Day and the beef-entree, while I opted for an arugula-mango salad and the chicken entree. We both decided to finish the night with the same flan caramel dessert.
While waiting for our first course, we sipped our drinks which opened our eyes to the beauty and flexibility of rum. Just when you thought that a martini had to be made with gin or vodka, TasteBudA was very pleasantly pleased with his rum martini. Personally, my mojito didn’t last long. The mint and berry flavors were a devilish combination that had next to no hint of liquor taste, a dangerous thing for a pre-dinner drink. Thankfully our first courses arrived just after I finished the drink before I started feeling the affects of the rum. The arugula-mango “Ensalada sencilla con mango y rucula” salad was refreshing and plentiful (photo coming soon) – perfect for a summer evening. TasteBudA’s soup was smooth and rich. The flavors melded so beautifully that it wasn’t hard to look beyond the warmth of the weather outside and enjoy this warm first course.
As our night flowed smoothly, our main courses arrived, both looking somewhat similar each on a bed of rice, though tasting very distinctly different. TasteBudA’s slow-roasted beef brisket melted in his mouth. After his first bite, the flavors of the beef drew his focus so intently that he even lost his train of thought and the rest of the dish our conversation was all about what we were eating. I’m not sure we even finished (or even remember) the conversation we were having when our entrees arrived.
My entree was braised chicken with a spice mix which made my mouth water. The chicken literally fell off the bone. The sauce which covered the chicken and was soaked up the rice was an aji-cilantro mix which perked up my taste buds. The pickled onion atop the chicken added the perfect contrast bringing the focus to the meat and spices – a very similar effect that a little lemon juice has on fish. Needless to say, I cleared my plate and the thought crossed through my head to ask for a piece of bread to sop up the rest of the sauce, but I didn’t knowing I still had another course to go.
Dessert ended the night for me with a very sweet pleasure. Though the texture of custard isn’t always something I enjoy, the toasted coconut that surrounded my caramel-topped flan added a complimentary crunch. For TasteBudA, dessert was bittersweet, because as he tried to take a picture with his new smartphone, he dropped his phone right on top of the flan resulting in a very sticky mess – and an indented dessert. After he got beyond the mishap, he was able to fully enjoy his dessert.
Food-wise, the place was a huge hit. The flavors aren’t something you can just go to any Pittsburgh neighborhood to find. In fact, TasteBudA has since recommended the place to a former native of Latin america who has been in search of “food that tastes like home.”
Sure the food was great, but the highlight of the entire night had to be the service. Our waitress was extremely knowledgeable, friendly and always smiling. The restaurant was busy, inside and out, and she never lost her cool. Her attitude and the ambiance of the restaurant will certainly ensure that the TasteBuds return in the near future. Perhaps we’ll check out the live music on Wednesday nights. I’ve never heard Flamenco music, but think it would only add to the cool Latin-vibe of the restaurant.