Alma Cocina de Mexico delights diners at The Grove

Alma Cocina de Mexico transports guests to Cabo San Lucas. (photo by Jill Weinlein)

Mexico City’s new Alma Cocina at The Grove makes you feel like you’re at the Hacienda Beach Club in Cabo San Lucas. When I shared this impression with Kevin Morales, director of operations for Grupo Hunan de Mexico hotels, he said that the Hacienda is one of 24 restaurants the company owns, 23 of which are in Mexico City. Alma Cocina de Mexico is the first to open in the United States.

The former Dominique Ansel Bakery LA has been converted into an evolving new Mexican dining experience. Under the direction of Cuaik Comprehensive Design Studio, the ground floor terrace features tables and a lively bar where signature Alma margaritas are shaken to sip tacos, quesadillas and other Mexican fare.

A new escalator transports customers to the gourmet restaurant on the second floor. Colorful flora and fauna are arranged throughout the terrace and inside the elegant sand-colored dining room. Soothing wood, handcrafted chairs made in Mexico, and banquettes create a peaceful atmosphere. Hand-painted Mexican tiles and flickering candles adorn a fireplace and mantle. Draped macrame art accents the walls.

An array of Mexican dishes looked appealing on the beautiful embroidered menu, such as a variety of raw seafood entrees, salads, and grilled meats.

We ordered a Paloma and Alma margarita made with Cazadores Blanco tequila, fresh lime, Cointreau and agave. The margarita was made with 100% unaged blue agave tequila offering a slightly sweet citrus kick and smooth finish.

A circular wooden platter with a small cast iron pot filled with hot refried beans and melted cheese served as a classic queso while three Mexican salsas ranging from mild, medium and spicy and a basket of crispy tostada chips served as placed on our table. One of the salsas was very hot and we found that biting into a garnish of sliced ​​orange that was in the Alma margarita, neutralized and calmed the heat of the hot pepper.

A colorful Hacienda salad was our next course with layers of sliced ​​bright red strawberries, juicy chopped mango, goat cheese and crispy jicama julienne strips, plus a handful of crunchy spicy pecans. The refreshing salad was tossed with a delicious tamarind vinaigrette.

The ceviche in a citrus sauce arrived with red onion, thin slices of radish, chopped tomatoes, sliced ​​avocado and cilantro. We also tried the aguachile de camaron in a black habanero ash based sauce. Although not as colorful as the ceviche, the shrimp was flavorful and the cucumber, cilantro, avocado and red onion provided texture.

For our starters, we selected pan-fried sea bass and a beef dish. Two sea bass fillets on a base of sliced ​​baked plantains were topped with habanero butter sauce and a side of white rice. The fish was moist and the plantains were a nice addition. They weren’t too sweet, but a tastier starch than rice. Be careful, this dish is served with a wickedly hot orange pepper.

When Haberno’s beefy Robalo en Matequilla arrived, it reminded us of the queso fundido at the Hacienda Resort in Cabo. Alma Cocina de Mexico’s melted manchego smothered seared strips of beef cooked in tomatillo sauce. On top, there was a fanned avocado and a touch of cream. It was served with a basket of colorful tortillas.

For dessert we ordered a chocolate mousse with crushed chocolate “earth” and fresh blueberries and a bunuelo which looked like a fresh Napoleon pastry. It arrived on a plate with three golden-colored crispy donuts, layered with sweet seasonal strawberries and whipped cream cheese.

For an authentic Mexican dining experience, Alma Cocina de Mexico offers savory dishes inspired by Mexico’s rich culinary history. Don’t forget to visit la tiendita – “the little corner shop” – to find imported Mexican products, novelties, cookbooks, leashes and unique collars for dogs. They also sell premium beer, tequila, and mezcal, as well as homemade seasonal ingredients, such as hand-pressed tortillas, freshly made salsas, moles, and seasonings. Open daily at 11:30 p.m. for lunch and later for dinner. $$-$$$, 189 The Grove Drive, (323) 879-9596.

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