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Alma

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Alma

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Address: 187 Columbia Street
City: Brooklyn, NY
Zip: 11231
Phone: (718) 643-5400
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Map: Map
Cuisine: Mexican
Area: Carroll Gardens
Entree Price: $15-20


Review:

I've had several dinners and one brunch at Alma, on the western edge of Carroll Gardens, and it's official: I don't know of a better or lovelier restaurant currently serving in this city. (And I eat at restaurants--more often than I'd normally care to admit.) The ground floor here is occupied by the B61 Bar (so named for the bus line that passes right nearby). I've heard only good things about it, but I haven't yet had drinks there. Nor have I eaten on the first level of the dining room, though I've heard that's really pleasant as well. I've passed these by so far because I'm hooked on the roof deck, a truly great space looking over the East River and out onto the Manhattan skyline. I've eaten there in winter, when a clear plastic tent and heating lamps keep things warm; and in warm weather that allows for al fresco meals. Both are wonderful experiences. My recommendation: Go now, while we've still got some warmer weather left, and again when it's freezing out and the sense of eating comfortably outside feels like a blessing. Gary Jacobson's New Mexican menu is varied, with fantastic combinations, but never pretentious. At dinner, the salsa that arrives first is a must: well-seasoned, always featuring prime tomatoes (how do they do it in winter?), and a great introduction to the meal (as is the not-too-sweet sangria as well). I love the pan-roasted tuna steak topped with amarillo-chile citrus sauce; and especially the tangy grilled, marinated shrimp with cucumber-mango salsa. The satisfying Enchiladas Chile Colorado can be served with chicken and cheese or as a vegetarian dish with cheese only; my table particularly liked the topping of pumpkin-seed sauce. Pablano Relleno (poblano chile with chicken and goat cheese) was also well-received. For dessert, we were instantly addicted to the ancho-chile flourless chocolate cake, from nearby Margaret Palca Bakery. For brunch on weekends, follow similar instructions regarding the salsa (and the sangria, if you so desire). We enjoyed the guacamole and loved the fried plantains in rich mole poblano sauce, the Mexican potato salad with jalapenos, and, surprisingly, the side dish of seasoned rice: much more distinctive on its own than we'd had reason to expect, and a delicious base for the various sauces and toppings. Huevos Oaxaca, with black beans, spicy tomato salsa, grilled jalapeno potatoes, and plantain, was filling but never oppressive. The coffee was strong without being overly bracing. Great basic ingredients, creative but unfussy recipes, warm service, and that amazing roof space combine for an experience that celebrates the foundations of a great meal. Jacobson and company seem to know that when you've got the right stuff, you don't need bells and whistles to jazz it up; letting quality shine through is the way to go.

Review By: Pamela Grossman


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