The Other Critics

Rodell Labels Alma A Gem; Gold Gobbles Fish Heads at Hunan Mao

Alma's seaweed beignets
Alma’s seaweed beignets Photo: Tatiana Arbogast

Besha Rodell plunges into Ari Taymor’s Alma, skipping the temptation of the flanking hostess bar and weed shop that give this block the feel of a “post-apocalyptic world.” “It’s clear…that we’re looking at the beginning of something very exciting,” she writes of Taymor’s “highly conceptual” conceit, while still recognizing that his merging of nature and chef-guided aestheticism doesn’t instantly make him “the next Rene Redzepi…Not yet.” Rodell thinks, “his food sometimes can channel the arrogance of youth, the fallacy of ego over generosity,” while recognizing some of these same tendencies are fading as Alma ages. Meanwhile she witnesses “each exactingly selected component melding and harmonizing with the others, the flavors both unexpected and somehow predestined,” with special attention given to his way with salads. The critic concludes of this striking restaurant and its relatively low prices, “It’s the beginning of something new, a gem for L.A. to stumble upon.” [LAW]

Jonathan Gold details the carnage of eating fish heads at a Hunan restaurant, “prying off chunks of soft meat, scraping down silvery skin and digging around in the cranium for gooey cartilage and bits of custardy brain.” The critic is eating at regional “standard-bearer” Hunan Mao in Rosemead, owner by “the Johnny Appleseed of Hunanese cooking in California” and he’s loving it. Named for Mao Tse Tsung, but not in the tongue in cheek way found at Mao’s Kitchen, and serving one of this favorite dishes, Gold urges you to go for the smoky “Bludso’s-level” Hunan ham, traditional dishes like spicy lamb ribs and shiso cucumber stir-fry and extremities like “gooey strips of pigskin tossed with chopped chiles, magma-thick Hunan hot pots or the fearsome dish called Hot Over Spicy.” [LAT]

Brad A. Johnson shuffles on down to The Cellar in San Clemente, a perpetually packed wine bar, larder, and music venue “mobbed with a two-deep line waiting to order drinks.” And that’s at 5:00 P.M.! Appraising new chef Daniel Villalovos, the critic finds his “somewhat limited” menu “is devoted to things that reveal far less about the chef than they do about the retail boutique’s buying savvy.” The dishes have the power to convert a clam-hater into a clam-fanatic, while Johnson gets excited for the first time in a long-time over porter-braised short ribs that are “better than most.” Two stars! []

Rodell Labels Alma A Gem; Gold Gobbles Fish Heads at Hunan Mao