First Bite: Latin American Chef Re-Emerges With Alma in Highland Village
Chef David Guerrero recently had to close his east-of-downtown restaurant, Andes Cafe, just over a month ago. The good news is that he has already debuted a new one. Alma recently opened in Highland Village at 3974 Westheimer. It is in the former Drexel House space and fans of that locale may recognize Guerrero’s touch, since he consulted on the menu there. With Alma, he hopes to bring authentic South American flavor to the neighborhood. The menu focuses on small and large shareables, including Guerrero’s trademark fresh fish dishes, and incorporates influences from Latin America, South America and Mexico.
The menu includes a selection of raw and cooked dishes reflecting a range of tastes and textures. The former includes Ceviche de Pescado, an ample, well-executed dish showcasing cured grouper with leche de tigre, crispy Peruvian corn, onions and a dollop of sweet potato mousse. Another raw dish selection is the Ceviche Sensei with yellowfin tuna, scallops, octopus, Peruvian chilies, avocado and shallots, all in a blood orange leche de tigre sauce. Garnished with ginger and katsuobushi (dried, fermented, and smoked skipjack tuna), it offers a delicate balance of the three fish with just a kick of spice.
Guerrero offers a wide array of cooked dishes, too, of course. Octopus lovers will want to dive into the grilled Pulpo Parrillero drizzled with smoky Peruvian chili sauce and served with buttery confit Yukon potatoes. There is also Cachapas de Cochinito, or pork belly with nata and queso de mano served over sweet potato corn pancakes, and lobster Anticucho de langosta with yucca bread and a poached egg drizzled with a yellow hollandaise teriyaki sauce.
These dishes combine South American and Asian influences, resulting in intricate preparations filled with careful blends of flavors and textures. The generous sides include Zanahorias, or carrots with corn, blood orange and nata and the decadent Stir-fried Quinoa with pork belly, ginger and green onions topped with a quail egg.
Chris Morris (formerly of Hunky Dory) and Rob Lares (of FM Kitchen and Bar) head the drink program. Morris has done some work overhauling not just Alma’s cocktail program, but the actual bar itself. Changes include condensing the seating, enlarging the liquor display, moving the well and adding rails. He says more changes are coming. Morris developed Alma’s signature Pisco Sour that meticulously blends acholado and italia piscos, gomme syrup, lime and lemon with egg white adorned by Amargo Chuncho (Peruvian bitters designed specifically for sours). He also contributed the La Yapa Old Fashioned in which Maker’s Mark whisky meets Singani 63 (a brandy from Bolivia) with roasted carob syrup and coffee & ginger bitters for a unique spin on the classic cocktail.
With a fresh look, an invigorated menu from Guerrero and new cocktail program, Alma is off to an encouraging start that demands a revisit in the future.