Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Alma Cucina Huitlacoche Dinner

Alma Cucina, the upscale Modern Mexican Fifth Group restaurant was kind enough to host us for its recent Huitlacoche dinner. Huit-la-what, you might ask? Huitlacoche is also known as corn smut (which brings visions of racy vegetable movies to mind), which means it's a fungus that forms on corn. 

Sure that sounds not so appetizing, but in Mexico, it's considered a delicacy. Upon our first visit to Alma Cucina, we tried huitlacoche in empanada form from their regular menu. So we were excited to attend part one of their Secrets of the Mexican Pantry dinner series. Alma's Chef Clevenger, in partnership with Roy Burns Huitlacoche Farm in Clermont, Florida, offered a 5-course menu for $40 per person (wine/cocktail pairings available for an additional fee).

The dinner took place at multiple communal tables, so it was a chance to get to know other adventurous eaters. We spent most of our evening chatting with an interesting couple who'd made the trek down from OTP. I always enjoy the communal aspect of these dinners. There's a risk inherent in not knowing who you're going to dine with, but the vast majority of the time, it's fun to talk to people you might otherwise never have met. Another couple at the table never said a peep to anyone else, so you've always got that option, too. We also had a vegetarian and a gluten-free diner at our table, and the restaurant was able to accommodate both.

There's no point in going into too much depth on the dishes as they are not on the regular menu, but I wanted to at least showcase the variety and creativity you could expect at future dinners. I realize in hindsight that huitlacoche dishes in low lighting do not make for very pretty photography, but know that it all tasted better than it looks!

First Course
Roasted Cauliflower & Red Pepper Salad with huitlacoche kernels, huitlacoche sauce, avocado, fried epazote, and huitlacoche paper

Second Course
Huitlacoche Tamale with mushrooms, charred tomatoes, roasted garlic, pickled onions, and ranchero sauce

Third Course
Huitlacoche Masa “Fettuccine” with roasted butternut squash, mushrooms, huitlacoche cream sauce, cotija, cilantro, and boiled Marcona almonds

Fourth Course
Confit Pork Cheeks with arroz con crema, huitlacoche brown butter, and grilled sweet potato greens

Sweet Corn Atole with huitlacoche cream, dried corn, and sweet potato churro

Huitlacoche is actually quite subtle with an earthy taste not far off of mushrooms. As per usual, dessert was my favorite dish of the night. Sweet potatoes made for fluffy churros and the sweet corn atole with huitlacoche cream made for a perfect dipping sauce. Who knew fungus could make for a delicious dessert?

If this dinner was any indication, you can expect great things from Alma's dinner series. There certainly aren't many upscale restaurants in town where you can try such an authentic and adventurous delicacy, and as I noted in my original review, the vibe there is quite conducive to a stylish night out. And at $40/person (without pairings), it's a bargain compared to comparable communal theme dinners at other restaurants and supper clubs.

*Full disclosure: Although my meal was comped, I always endeavor to offer my unbiased opinion of the experience!



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