I feel like I must be in a food hangover from the first two nights of Restaurant Week. I’m not even exaggerating. It’s just that, every time I sit down to write this post, I feel as comfy and exhausted as if I’ve just eaten (both of) the meals in the pictures from Monday and Tuesday, and I just need to take a nap. But no longer – I am loading up on coffee as we speak, just to bring you this post about our Winter 2013 Blogger Dinner!
This season’s Blogger Dinner was held at Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen in Regent Square, a restaurant that specializes in Latin-American cuisines from all over the region. We were excited about this for a number of reasons: first, it counts as part of our Restaurant Week Achievement AND our Regent Square Achievement. Second, we loved their sister restaurant, Abay Ethiopian Cuisine. And finally, it’s so nice to see a restaurant actually thriving at the corner of Braddock and Forbes, where so many spots have opened only to close months later in the recent past.
We enjoyed a few house cocktails at the happy hour prior to the dinner, hosted by the folks at PG Plate. (I recommend checking their site out: it’s a bit of a work-in-progress right now, but it’s on its way to being full of foodie goodness, from restaurant reviews to recipes to general food news.) On the left is a Pisco Sour (brandy, egg whites, limes, and sugar), and on the right is a Blackberry Caipirinha (cachaça, which is a sugar cane rum, with sugar, lime, and fresh blackberries). The drinks were delicious, although a bit sweeter than I’m used to with all the sugar, so I swapped out for Malbec during the next round.
And of course, no Blogger Dinner would be complete without a toast from our fearless leader, Brian of the Pittsburgh Tastebuds, who runs RW and puts in all the hours and hard work of making this event such a success.
We met a few new bloggers at this event, including Katy from Baking, Domesticity, and All Things Mini and Anna from Tastearama, the latter of whom joined us and our good friend Linda from Dinner Plan-It for the meal. We had a great time chatting with everyone and swapping URLs to add to our blog readers.
For dinner, the full Alma menu was available, but they are also running a Restaurant Week special three-course menu for $25 per person. We opted to get three different options each from the featured menu, but we also added on an order of the empanadas.
Michael started his meal with an order of the Canja Sopa, which is a Brazilian chicken and rice soup. We both thought this was delicious: the broth was light, and the chunks of chicken were hearty and huge.
For my appetizer, I got the Ceviche de Hongos. I’ve been on this major ceviche kick lately, so when I saw it on the menu, I had to try it. And while I loved the presentation and the huge slices of avocado, it wasn’t exactly what I want out of a ceviche. This dish was a veggie ceviche (which I wasn’t expecting, I guess because I didn’t read the ingredient list closely enough lol), and while it was tasty, I found myself liking the soup better.
What I did love was the plate of empanadas we added on! They do a rotating ’empanada of the day’ appetizer, and we had corn and potato-stuffed empanadas. We’ve been searching for a good empanada replacement for Tango Cafe, which closed a few months ago, and Alma’s empanadas are definitely the replacement we’ve been searching for. Crispy shell, hot and filling stuffing, served atop a light salsa.
While we were enjoying our appetizers, we heard from Heather and Jamie, who own Alma and Abay. We met them last year at a Restaurant Week event, and not only am I crazy jealous of their restauranteur-lives (oh how I hope I someday have the guts to do a career change from my ‘sensible’ job to follow my foodie passions, and carry it off as flawlessly as they have!), but I really appreciate their dedication to the Pittsburgh dining scene. Even if that dedication means searching out fresh-as-can-be ingredients in the dead of winter for their tropical dishes (which, for the record, we diners truly appreciate).
Before we knew it, we were on to the entrees. Michael got the Chuletas de Puerco con Pina y Batata: a grilled pork tenderloin topped with cilantro and jalapeno, served with pineapple and white sweet potato puree. The pork was tender, the sweet potato puree was very flavorful, and the portion was just enough to be filling without making you feel too full.
But I have to say, I liked my entree even more. I got the Frituras de Maiz Tierno, which was the vegetarian option. These fritters were more like the consistency of potato pancakes (which led to an interesting conversation of what makes a fritter – I always think of them as more falafel-like in shape), and they were somehow so light and crispy despite being so massive. I was impressed! The plantain hash underneath the fritters was reminiscient of a fruity, mango salsa, and the poblano aioli drizzled over the top was rich and creamy. I would absolutely make a return trip just for an order of empanadas and this dish!
And I got the chocolate cake, served with cinnamon ice cream. On its own, cinnamon ice cream might seem a bit overwhelming, but paired with the rich chocolate cake and warm, gooey fudge sauce, it was an excellent accompaniment.
I’m glad we finally had a chance to get out to Alma. Despite driving past it most days of the week, we had never had an opportunity to stop in for a meal. But now that we’ve gone once, I have a hard time imagining we’ll be strangers there, even if we just pop in to the Cantina for a round and an order of empanadas. Check them out – you’ve still got a few meals of Restaurant Week left!