Alma Cafe completes renovation, re-opens as hotel-cafe

The restaurant near the University of Minnesota campus is considered one of the best in town.

Patrons dine at Cafe Alma in Minneapolis on Monday, Nov. 28, 2016.

Chris Dang

Patrons dine at Cafe Alma in Minneapolis on Monday, Nov. 28, 2016.

Joe Cristo

I couldn’t stomach the idea of going to Alma and spending $58 on its three-course tasting menu. I’m sure it’s good. In fact, I’m sure it’s delicious.

But I also know I could eat like a king for a week with that kind of money.

I’ve watched hundreds of hours of Mario Batali, Giada De Laurentiis and Wolfgang Puck. After school, I would race home from the bus stop to watch the newest episode of Molto Mario to learn how to cook fresh pasta and soup.

Ever since then, I’ve had an odd disposition towards food — an urge to dismiss food that is too pretentious or overpriced. It’s not hard to wonder whether or not a meal you just paid $30 for is worth it, or if it would have been better to just go to the grocery store and make something.

Alma is considered one of the best restaurants in town and it’s definitely one of the best fine-dining experiences near the University of Minnesota. The restaurant closed down this August for renovations and has finally opened back up. Between the advertised quality of food and the re-launch, I had to at least check out something from there.

The good news is that Alma has a cafe section which offers a much cheaper menu of standard fancy fare.

So, I was able to try a couple of things without playing the role of the miser (even though I play it so well).

The space is as gorgeous as you would expect — not ostentatious or over the top. It’s hyper modern, blending utility and the ornate.

I ordered the Tomato-Bread Soup and Fried Egg Tartine. This is essentially my favorite combination: soup and a sandwich. Alma’s cafe has an early, a day and a night menu, each offering a distinct set of small plates.

While spending close to $20 for soup and a sandwich is a lot, the fact that I didn’t know what a tartine was made it OK. My money was also spent on an eye-opening experience.

When I read the tartine’s description, “Smoked whitefish, mustard, shaved vegetables, arugula,” I expected something different. Whitefish on a sandwich, especially when it’s not fried, sounds like a mushy disaster. By making the sandwich open-faced, most of the misgivings I had were left behind.

I finished the meal off with a Danish pastry, which was incredible. If there’s something Alma does extremely well during the day, it’s having moist, sweet treats at the ready.

There is no way I would be able to make Alma a regular stop in my restaurant rotation, but it works well for the occasional lunch. I’m sure the “premium” tasting package is mind-altering, but on a college tuition-strapped budget, the best we can hope for is its cheapest cuisine.

As for whether it’s worth it to spend a small fortune at the cafe, that’s relative to how well you can cook for yourself.