Saturday, October 9, 2010

Cafe Alma, St. Petersburg, FL

The hint of coolness and lower humidity in the air this week inspired us to seek out an alfresco and "family-friendly" dining experience. The kids have been badgering us for weeks to take them for a R-I-D-E and it felt like the perfect day for a mini-roadtrip to play for awhile in Downtown St. Pete's Vinoy Park before enjoying a relaxing early dinner.

I think downtown St. Pete is such a's so beautiful and tranquil, and it offers the best selection of independent restaurants in the Tampa Bay area, IMO. Oh...and most importantly, it's also very dog-friendly.

We arrived at Cafe Alma at around 4:30, fully intending to take advantage of their half-price tapas offer from 4:30 to 6:30. The patio was extremely charming...a little oasis surrounded by lush vegetation and twinkling mini-light strands.  

Bowls of ice water were promptly served and most appreciated...

 was a tall glass of Sangria for the thirsty hubster and a goblet of Fabian's recommended Franciscan Chardonnay (which perfectly suited my request for an oaky white wine).

In fact, we were all very well taken care of by our server, Fabian, throughout the course of our meal.  He was a doll and really had a gift for balancing laid-back friendliness with efficient professionalism.  But I digress...back to the food!

Once we saw the $25 3-course + mini-dessert prix fixe dinner menu, we couldn't resist it and segued from our original tapas plan.  The selections were short, but all very appealing.  UD started with Alma’s Crispy Fried Shrimp (tender shrimp with Thai aioli and Asian slaw), which were sweet, quite plentiful for a starter, and enrobed in a delicious light and crispy batter.

It's always tough for me pass up duck, so I had to have the Pulled Duck Quesadilla (tender pulled roasted duck, roasted red peppers and Asiago cheese).  I really liked it.  The quesadilla was hot and nicely grilled, the duck was moist and flavorful...and duck was the main event, which I appreciated (the quesadilla contained just enough of the other ingredients to enhance it without mitigating it).

Oh, and some verynice hot, crusty bread (I'm not sure what type it was...maybe a molasses oat bread?) and some seasoned butter showed up around the same time. It was all snarfed up in short order.

Salad time!  Underdog and I try not to order the same things so we can sample each other's selections as well as our own, but we both zeroed right in on the Alma House Salad  (mixed greens, figs, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, roasted peppers and feta with lemon herb dressing).  Our other two choices were the House Caesar (which I've done to death) and Manhattan Clam Chowder (red chowders aren't generally my favorites).  It was a beautiful little salad and I adored the fig and feta, but it was my least favorite offering of the evening.  The dressing was very light and, honestly, I should've asked for a little more on the side.  I like a LOT of dressing on my salad...otherwise, why bother, right?  Lightly dressed salads are for dieting (and I am not doing any such thing until tomorrow...Monday at the very latest)!  ;)   My better half, however, really loved the lightness and freshness of it.

For my main course, I selected the Alma Trio (marinated petite sirloin with demi glace, jumbo lump crab cake with spicy aioli and a grilled shrimp and scallop skewer with charred pineapple mango salsa).  I was expecting a much smaller dish for a $25 prix fixe menu entree, but a ton of food showed up!  It's possible that you can't tell that there's a huge, meat-laden crab cake behind that small tower of (what is it, 6 oz.? ) perfectly marinated and grilled sirloin chunk and skewer of two jumbo shrimp AND two jumbo scallops...all served atop a bed of rustic mashed potatoes with some fresh, sauteed zucchini and squash on the side.  What do I look like...a lumberjack???  Okay, don't answer that.  :/

Have I mentioned lately that sirloin is one of my totally favorite veggies?  If you need any help finishing that, I'm here for you.  Just sayin'.

The spousal unit opted for the Paella of Spain (roasted chicken thighs, chorizo sausage, Serrano ham, pork loin with sofrito, artichokes, garbanzo beans, peas, Spanish rice all simmered in a saffron infused broth topped with manchego cheese). could this possibly be bad?  Oh, couldn't be!  I thought it was a different twist on paella, as no seafood was included and it was a little "wetter" than most paella dishes I've tried...but it was chock-full of sausage, ham and chicken and was absolutely wonderful.  There was also an abundance of garbanzo beans and artichoke hearts in this paella, which were tasty additions.  It was a gargantuan serving and we both hated having to walk away from about half of it, but we were forced to due to the huge portion size.

OMG!  You are SO right, daddydawg...this paella rawks!

The Strawberry Cheese Cake Bite (mascarpone cheese whipped with strawberries and honey cream) was the perfect sweet ending to this beautiful, relaxing meal.  Isn't that pretty?
When everything was said and done, we walked away after a very pleasant two-hour dining experience for right around $100 before gratuity.  That's including three $12 glasses of Chardonnay for me, and a glass of sangria and two bottles of Mich Ultra for Underdog.  Unbeatable...we likey.

Do we really have to go home now??  Ohhhh Noooooeesssss!  Help...I want more paella!  I've been kidnapped from Cafe Alma...somebody call the ASPCA!

Cafe Alma on Urbanspoon

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