Table Hopping — Alma Cocina, Atlanta
Alma Cocina is part of a rebirth of downtown dining as an alternative to chains like Planet Hollywood and Hooters and an easy choice for me as one who is looking for something more in a dining experience. Open less than a year, the Fifth Group with Chef Clevenger at the helm has created a modern Latin escape in the middle of the south where the city population is less than six percent Hispanic. While the current audience may be conventioneers like myself, office workers, a few tourists, this is a destination that Atlantans may want to put on their must try list.
Latin Elegance. Warm woods, sleek and modern and a decor that reflect “Latin” without yet another stucco and tiled environment. Friendly southern hospitality exudes from the staff who are knowledgeable about the menu and make even a solo diner feel comfortable. Even I felt hip sipping my vanilla hinted mojito while waiting for the Salsa Sampler (fire-roasted tomato, tomatillo-avocado, salsa negra and roasted mango-charred with chicharrones, plantain, malanga coco, corn chips.) Honey, this is today and bold flavors with a counterpoint of textures take us out of all that is ordinary.
What lengths you would take to get the recipe you wanted? I often wonder about those who write in to Bon Appétit requesting recipes for favorites or dishes so special they are compelled to write in. Let’s just say I am a little more impatient. Why not just ask the Chef directly, “would you share this recipe?” With that I scheduled a phone call.
I’ve learned long ago, that to ask the question is to be willing to hear no, but hope for yes. With such a mindset, there is little risk in asking. After all, it is just a question. My travels may take me near or far, but the human element remains the same. If you are interested enough, polite, enthused and sincere, people will respond in a like manner. Or not. My current record favors the former rather than the latter and my darling dear just chalks it up to his perception that, “people just like to do things for you.”
And so, I engaged in a conversation with Chef Chad Clevenger, Executive Chef of Alma Cocina in Atlanta about cantaloupe soup — gazpacho rather, with lump crab and cilantro micro greens. Earning the best taste award at the annual A Taste of the Highlands, a favorite food festival of the area. By popular request Clevenger’s concoction made the summer seasonal menu. It may be that “Every one’s palate is different,” according to Chef Chad but this dish is a runaway winner. Creamy texture, surprisingly savory and a touch of fruity heat. The tender crab plays well with the bright cilantro microgreens and the drizzle of avocado oil brings in a bit of butteriness.
Chef Chad is surprisingly humble and modest considering the bold and textured dishes that make up the menu of Alma Cocina and attributes his success with constantly learning and searching out what the industry has to offer. “After culinary school, I pushed myself to learn as much as possible, read a lot of cookbooks, cook at home, working to better my technique and palate. I eat out to see why chefs are doing different things.” His efforts are playing off too, with an invitation to be the Host Chef of 2012 Atlanta Rising Stars, scoring high on flavors and plating at this event put on by StarChef’s, an online magazine for culinary insiders. Not bad for the new guy in town with less than a year in Atlanta.
191 Peachtree Street NE
Atlanta, GA 30303