Monday, December 3, 2012

Slobblog: Alma de Average

The Slobs couldn't breakdown the humor defense of our waitress.

Rarely at Slobfest are the Slobs outshined by anyone. In fact, it's probably happened only once at Varalli. Probably not by much of a coincidence, this time at Stephen Starr's Alma de Cuba, the server once again made herself the center of attention. The difference is that while beloved Alicia at Varalli was engaged and basically an honorary member of Slobfest that night, this waitress was a point of confusion.

Only a few of us Slobs would consider ourselves funny in the general sense. Our humor is much more derived from a negative place. So when we do attempt to foll around with our servers it can go well or it can go poorly. At Alma de Cuba, however, it went over...indifferent.

It wasn't supposed to be quite as befuddling a night as it turned out to be. We all gathered at the downstairs bar. The ground floor of AdC is dimly lit with a nice corner bar set up. Further recessed is a more intimate area that appeared to be more of an alternative drinking venue than romantic dining spot. In standard Starr fashion, the place looked nice and invited you to have some cocktails. Along with that an order of the smoked hazelnut guacamole went a long way as we caught up and waited for one Slob to be dropped off by his girlfriend. Seriously, but it was due to a missed train and I'm pretty sure he didn't thank her and pie faced her on his way out of the car. So he gets a slow clap for that.

After having some beers, some sangria, a Dark & Stormy, and a Puesta del Sol, we were all squared and ready to meet our maker.

For the life of me I can't remember the waitress' name, nor can anyone else, so since the menu posts their names, I'm just going to go with...Katelyn. She looked like a Katelyn. Well, she looked like a cross between Rebecca Lobo and Diana Turasi minus a couple of inches.

From the get go our reception from Katelyn was ice cold. She immediately asked us for drinks, and we barely got our orders in before she wandered off to get the beverages. At this point it's fair to say that for the first time, it felt as though Starr was limited by the theme of his restaurant. The Cuban element of his menu left much to be desired regarding drinks. Most of the cocktails were sugary and very sweet; including many versions of a mojito or punch. Those drinks that did look a little more strong were advised as after dinner drinks or digestifs.

After a couple fair to average reviews of the cocktails, we all turned to beer or wine for dinner.

Upon Katelyn's return, we discussed appetizer options. We Slobs were still very much in the game planning stage of dinner. Looking at what some options worked and what didn't. When we asked Katelyn for options, she quickly made several suggestions, to which a Slob let her in about our little Slobfest dinner - as to make sure we had enough food. She certainly took that suggestion and ran with it, "recommending" a ceviche tasting and a couple orders of their Alma sampler, which is basically nothing more than a Marlin taco and some dates (Yum! Dates!)

At this point, some were okay to go along with Katelyn's "recommendations," but right as she was all but placing our orders without asking our preference, we had to shoot some holes in the tires of her $800 appetizer getaway car. After she left in a huff, we decided the best course was to just order up our own options and share if need be. Along with two more orders of the guacamole (it's pretty hard to f-up guacamole).

Several at the table noted there's no way they were missing out on the Berkshire pork belly skewers, while a nibble of Marlin tacos, and some ceviche were in order. There were a couple of misfires with the Chorizo sliders being so-so, and the grilled pulpo leaving much to be desired.

Marlin tacos, bread, and ceviche.
Big winners for the appetizers were certainly the pork belly and the Marlin tacos. The Marlin tacos were presented the best, and looked like a Slobfest appetizer should. We were excited for these dishes and they succeeded in starting the meal off right.

There was a trade for some pork belly skewers for a Chorizo slider, which may not be as bad as Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis for Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller deal, but it was close.

As for the pulpo, I mean the places we have been to in the past (Amada and Tinto) certainly made a point of their pulpo, and it could be assumed Alma de Cuba felt the same way about the cephalopod, but nay. The plating of the dish made it seem sparse, and it was.

Katelyn returned, and while we ordered another round of drinks, she kept trying to upsell us on all these different items. Oh, want to add this to your dish, or we have a reserve version of that. It became rather annoying as she attempted to pad her bill by just casually throwing out these other items that none of us wanted. We're experienced eaters here, Katelyn. Tell us what you have, and we'll decide. It was not appreciated that she was upping our dining steaks stakes.

I even overheard her doing it to other tables.

As she was taking orders, we tried to win her over with our personality. We tried being funny, charming, witty, self-deprecating and interesting, but we continued to get rejected as if we were taking a weak lay-up to the hole against her. As a group, we've never not been indulged in our childish antics before by our servers, you know, because they work on tips and are supposed to put up with us!

Desperate for something else to occupy our attention, we realized that next to us sat a mid-20ish Asian couple. They were clearly on some kind of date, but the motivation of each person was unclear. Soon enough, it became apparent that the guy was trying to win this girl over. Needless to say he was unsuccessful. She was not interested in him as anything more than a friend, as evidenced by her cheers of, "To a life long friendship," along with eavesdropping on our conversation and eyeing up a couple Slobs while her date was away at the bathroom.

We felt bad for the guy, but at the same time, he was acting pretty desperate. She could sense it because we all could. Just bail while you can, guy, and definitely split the bill.

Clomping back our way was Katelyn with our entrees. There was some steak, some tuna, and a lot of shrimp and grits. Again for a standard Starr restaurant, there is usually a lot of options, but for AdC, nothing jumped off the menu for any of us. One Slob did ask about the chicken ($22.50), to which she replied with a snarky, "chicken is chicken." So the Slob opted for the shrimp and grits ($26.00). You win again, Katelyn.

In fact, it was the tuna that kind of looked like tuna and the steak that kind of looked like steak. I'm pretty sure that if you paid $28.00 for steak and beans in Cuba, that would cover about a year supply.

At that point, after another round of attempting to banter with Katelyn, one Slob finally just said, "Do you find us remotely amusing?" Katelyn, to her credit admitted to not really paying attention to anything we were saying. We respected the honesty, but again, as a server working on tips and placing food/drink orders, I kind of feel "paying attention" is integral. Anyway, that at least solved a lot of questions for us.

Pork belly skewers.
The food though, was very filling and enjoyable. Many Slobs slowed significantly while working their way through the hearty food. Of course, this didn't stop one Slob from being ripped for ordering a glass of Riesling to go with his meal. There will be no pairing of wine with food at Slobfest.

The Riesling did serve as a spring board into a more sensitive subject matter. Wives and girlfriends and even a step further, babies and engagements! Oh yes, times are continuing to change for the Slobs. While we discussed the intricacies of marriage, timing for engagements, and dragging people down with you; we got into a bit of a detailed discussion on wedding rings. This, was not one of Slobfests finer moments.

There were debates on amount of money spent, carat size, and the like. Of course, when all this commotion was going on, who should decide to intervene but Katelyn! The one discussion that no matter how cold hearted a woman is cannot withstand the lure of wedding talk. When we allowed her to enter our conversation, she was adamant about ring costs being too expensive and not seeing the point. I guess this would be a good time to note that she did have a ring on her wedding finger. It was gold and had a small green emerald in it, so we started to understand 1. her hatred of us and 2. why she thought it's laughable to spend money on a ring. This ring, best case scenario, is a rare jewel that has been in her fiancee's family for generations. Priceless in value both monetarily and sentimentally. Worst case, is that her fiancee found this thing in his dead grandmom's jewelry box and said it was all of those things. Katelyn even suggested getting a CZ and pawning that off. Oh, silly Katelyn. I'm marginally sure you've never dated a woman before. That shit does not fly.

As we slowly crept to an end of the entrees, we were all full but not exactly satisfied. Making street food into something fancier is nothing new in the restaurant biz, but where this restaurant failed to hit its mark was not doing enough to make that food stand out as a unique creation. The lack of diversity and creativity brought out all the standard complaints about Starr restaurants; that it's all about the atmosphere and the drinks. Food is secondary. This is, of course, more true for some places than others, but Alma de Cuba certainly seemed to be the flag bearer for this notion.

Even though we were full of starches and seafood, we of course fought through to dessert. Some coffees and cappuccinos had to be had. The dessert menu was enticing (minus the flan), but the desserts too appeared to be put together incorrectly with heavy and rich desserts that made it tough to polish of a meal with. The show stopper dessert was AdC's chocolate cigar. An almond cake shaped like a Cohiba complete with inedible Alma de Cuba cigar gauge and edible match book that lit on fire. It was pretty cool, and very convincing as one Slob saw a picture and totally though there were actual cigars there.

Smoke em if you got em.

The let down of course is that, after a rib sticking meal like that, a cigar would be a great topper. Alas, you had to settle with some version of rich chocolate to stuff into your full belly.

As we settled the bill, the final part of our AdC trip was complete. Why had Katelyn been such lacking any attempt to feign interest in our act? We looked and saw that gratuity for 6 was already included. 20%. Like most places that do this (for 6 people, really?) the service did not live up to the %.

Alma de Cuba was largely disappointing, if only due to the fact that a lot of us had high expectations based on our previous experiences at Starr places. The lack of options on the menu stifled the experience, but the food wasn't poor. We left full of booze and food, and that's never a bad thing. Maybe Ozzie Guillen wasn't all that wrong.

-Slobs Out.

Alma de Cuba
1623 Walnut St.
Philadelphia, PA
215.988.1799

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