By Christine Fillat | Photography courtesy of Alma Cocina Latina
Alma Cocina Latina, in Baltimore’s Canton neighborhood, is a chic urban restaurant, serving sophisticated Venezuelan fare. When our group of three swelled to nine with my husband’s happy hour cronies, a brief moment of mayhem ensued. Most of our party had no clue what to expect of the cuisine and the menu contained such unfamiliar dishes that we did what we have often done in the past and enlisted assistance from the staff. Would it be possible to bring us a selection from the menu that we could all share, and get an understanding of Venezuelan cuisine? No problem, and all we had to do was sit back, sip sangria and leave the driving to the chef.
Chef Enrique Limardo has cooked all around the world. He brings the techniques he has amassed to inform his cuisine. “I always use my Venezuelan roots,” the Caracas native explains, “I have played around with other techniques, but most are from South America.”
“He’s an artist,” says owner Irena Stein, who is also from Caracas, “He paints at night; he never stops. He is very creative, the colors, the amazing surprises that he magically puts together, the vivid imagination. The most wonderful thing is that he doesn’t copy anyone. You could go to any other Venezuelan restaurant and you won’t eat what you get at Alma.”
First dish to come to the table was a little bite of cherry tomato on a cracker. The tomato was rich and savory, like summertime on a cracker.
Next offerings were sticks of fried yucca, drizzled with a house-made sriracha. This was very spicy, with a heat that exploded in the mouth, then dissipated. Like fireworks. Some of the fellows in our group weren’t fond of the heat, but it was nothing a sip of sangria couldn’t fix.
The parade of dishes that followed seemed to embody perfect little worlds of their own, each so exquisitely engineered to contain all of the nuances of flavor that make food exciting. Like the Crudo de Mero, a marinated sea bass. Here we have a microcosm of flavors, the silky fish, the pineapple-ginger puree, a roasted and spicy blend of avocado and jalapeño, a smattering of a tiny salty fish called Camiguana, and the freshness of micro greens.
From the De La Granja section of the menu, the Wagyu Tartar. Arriving in neat layers in a perfect tower, the finely chopped steak is topped with red onion, chives, Dijon mustard, garlic-rosemary-vanilla infused oil, goat cheese mayo, cilantro powder and crispy quinoa. Mind blown. Rich, spicy, savory, crunchy. The meat is rare. It is really, really good.
Parrillada Marina. Mini arepas, topped with grilled fish. The arepa is a soft, grilled cornmeal flatbread, traditional to Venezuelan cuisine. With octopus, calamari and shrimp, this dish embodies the balance in flavors. Peppers and onion provide the crunch, smoked chili pepper the spice, garlic flakes the umami, and preserved lemon vinaigrette the bitter.
There is surprise in the Mandoca B&W. Here we meet mandoca, a cornmeal ring (another regional specialty), with black beans, avocado sauce, tomatoes and Alma’s special sauce. It is topped with a generous grating of cheese imported from Oaxaca, Mexico. The cheese is hand grated, Irena explains, and it is luscious. There is something in the way it is grated that renders this exquisite. I think this dish is infused with love. There is no other way I can explain it. This is a lovely dish.
So far we have tasted some pretty amazing flavors. But the final dish to arrive, Arroz con Pollo y Camaron, truly soars to new heights. A chicken thigh, wrapped around shrimp, is garnished with radish, snap peas, onion, caper aioli, rice, mushrooms, bacon powder, cilantro mojo, homemade sriracha, green beans and preserved lemon. This dish is pure genius in its rendering.
There is a lot going on here. To truly taste every dish, you have to slow down and pay attention to just what is sitting on that plate in front of you. “Even if you were to come with a friend and only gotten four things, you would get all of the flavors,” says Irena. In my fantasy world of food, I envision myself making a pastime of coming to Alma Cocina Latina at every possible opportunity, and ordering a single dish with each visit. Every subtlety of the compositions could then be savored. Eating here is like going on an expedition into an unknown land where surprise and mystery make up the thoughtful offerings.
Alma Cocina Latina
2400 Boston Street
Baltimore MD, 21224
Hours of Operation
Monday–Wednesday: 5–9:30 p.m.
Thursday and Friday: 5–10:30 p.m.
Saturday Brunch: 11 a.m.–3 p.m.
Saturday Dinner: 5–10:30 p.m.
Happy Hour Monday–Friday: 5–7 p.m.
1/2 Priced Wine Selections on Wednesdays
Parking available at the Can Company.
See also almacocinalatina.com/location.
Christine Fillat lives on the Magothy River and is an aficionado of Chesapeake Bay cooking and living.
Annapolis Home Magazine
Vol. 8, No. 2 2017