Downtown Atlanta is alive and happening. The Fifth Group (Ecco, South City Kitchen, La Travola) amped up this vibrant scene when they opened Alma Cocina in the One-Ninety-One Peachtree Tower that’s adjacent to the posh Ritz-Carlton Atlanta. Driving this endeavor is the multi-talented chef, Chad Clevenger, who cut his teeth at the infamous Coyote Café in Santa Fe before heading to Denver to pick up a Best American Restaurant award while at Mel’s. His passion for Latin foods continued to grow and hit the street literally when he brought the taste and ambience of Mexican street foods to Denver with his food cart called The Porker. Pulling from these experiences, Chef Chad has put together an intriguing menu at Alma Cocina, which is not in anyway like your typical Tex-Mex food, but instead what you would find in small villages throughout Mexico and Latin America, yet with his own unique twist. The name Alma Cocina roughly translates as “soul kitchen” and there is no doubt that these bold, flavorsome recipes reflect a deep-rooted expression of love, aka “soul”.
The beverage team of The Fifth Group has put together an amazing cocktail selection that spotlights the spirits of the Latin America - tequila, mescal, rum, pisco, and cachaça. These concoctions are exhilarating and enliven the senses while matching oh-so well with the foods. There are a number of tequila-based cocktails to choose from, even one made with tobacco-infused tequila, but the one that’s a wow from the first sip is the citrusy yet refreshing Amatitán. Named after the renowned tequila-producing village, it is made with a special bottling of the ultra-smooth Herradura reposado tequila that’s double-barreled, orange curaçao that’s made from the dried peels of the laraha fruit, and fresh squeezed citrus juices. The Galantas Gland, a classic pisco sour - the national drink of Peru, is absolutely sinful to enjoy, and enjoy you will. Made with Pisco Portón, fresh squeezed limejuice, and egg whites, that’s shaken into a frothy bliss. Besides the multitude of well-crafted Latino inspired drinks, there is a terrific wine list that has superb offerings from Chile and Argentina, like the Colome Malbec that’s bio-dynamically farmed from the highest vineyards in the world - its has explosive aromas of violets and blackberries and a sensual silky mouth feel, what a treat to sip on.
The menu is extensive and for the most part served in a small plate or tapas format which allows for the sharing and the opportunity to explore a variety of tastes and textures. A good starting point is the Crab & Grapefruit Guacamole making for a delightful creamy nibble. The Pork Pibil Tamale is a chance to taste Chef Clevenger’s award winning recipe. The pork shoulder is rub down with the savory achiote spice then slow roasted in banana leaves. This fork tender, pulled meat is mixed with asadero cheese and is wrapped in a bacon-flavored masa, and steamed until fluffy. Taking this dish off the charts, a traditional New Mexico style green chile sauce is drizzled over the tamale making this antojito a total yum!!! Equaling these amazing flavors is the Crispy Pork Belly. It seems that pork belly is the “in thing”, but this offering is one of the most thrilling in the city. The belly is cured with a variety of spices to tenderize while imparting their distinctive flavors onto the meat. After several hours of slow roasting, the succulent belly is served with a sweet peanut mole, guava glaze, and a zesty celery ceviche; this mouth-watering dish surely came from hog heaven.
The seafood ceviche is a not to be missed, as it truly represents the centuries old love in Central and South America for eating the freshest fish that’s “cooked” ever so briefly with lime juice. Both the yellowtail tuna with its habanera-coconut broth and the red snapper with aji Amarillo pepper, corn, and sweet potatoes are sensation, bringing a lush refreshing feel to the palate. These sashimi-like offerings rival the best sushi out there yet offer so much more as the flavors are much deeper without compromising the allure of the fish. The food most associated with Mexican cuisine is the taco, and at Alma Cocina every offering delivers a knockout punch of flavor with each bite. The fried avocado taco with crispy cotija cheese, roasted tomatoes and a poblano pesto is stunning. Then there are the Huaraches, which originated in Mexico City, and consist of a grilled masa that’s topped with various meats or vegetables. The banana leaf braised goat huarache with a traditional birria marinade and is topped with a feisty tomatillo de arbol sauce that adds another dimension to this juicy, richly flavored meat. Pair any other these with the Elote – Mexican grilled corn-on-the-cob, and you’ll have a memorable meal that will fire the palate.
After eating foods of this character, it’s time to bring the palate back to reality, well maybe not quite, as the dessert menu is just as seductive in wowing the palate, but in a different way. The Coconut Tres Leches with its passion fruit sauce is simply divine, as each bite seems to heighten the degree of contentment. And then there’s the donut-like Churros that are rolled in sugar and cinnamon and served with three playful dipping sauces – a salted caramel-like cajeta, chocolate-espresso, and a tangy Meyer lemon. So when you get that itch to head somewhere South of the Border, but can’t break away, Alma Cocina can help satisfy that urge by bringing this highly spirited Latin American cuisine to you whenever you desire. ¡Buen apetito!
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