Often to referred to as the godfather of Nuevo Latino cuisine, chef Douglas Rodriguez is a man of many talents, but he has a particularly sharp skill for creating sublime ceviche — the man knows his fish! We at COOK were lucky to have the founding chef and co-owner of Rittenhouse’s long-running Alma de Cuba in to school us on the particulars of this Latin specialty.
Cooking in kitchens since the early age of 13, Rodriguez has honed his craft all over the country, zeroing in on the food and culture of Miami, his hometown. He has restaurants in both Florida and New York, and in 2001 joined forces with Stephen Starr to open the beloved Alma de Cuba in Rittenhouse. Since he has been at the helm of AdC, he has warmed Philadelphia up to the diverse flavors of Cuba and set the culinary bar high for this style of cooking, in particular fine ceviches. The basic definition of ceviche is fresh raw seafood both flavored with and cooked by citrus instead of with heat. Of course, there are numerous variations on the dish that vary from country to country, restaurant to restaurant and family to family. Rodriguez stressed important high-quality fish is in the preparation of ceviche — since it’s such a delicate process, only the best should be used.
After pouring a round of Alma’s top-notch mojitos for the crowd, Rodriguez got down to business. He created a menu based around Alma’s most popular dishes, so naturally he began with a ceviche trio, representing some of the biggest sellers at AdC. He and his ace team plated up hiramasa ceviche with lime and red onion, a mixed seafood ceviche with tropical fruits and coconut milk, and a pomegranate and citrus kissed scallop ceviche. The colors on that plate almost looked too pretty to eat — almost!
For his second course Rodriguez treated everyone to the delicious sugarcane tuna, rich tuna loin seared and served over a bed of hearts of palm risotto, pickled chayote and with a sugarcane-sesame vinaigrette. To finish up the savory portion of the evening, we moved away from ceviche and into a special dish known as “mother and child chicken” — an innovative cross between an arepa, the savory flat bread common in South America, and the traditional British “toad in the hole” bread-and-eggs breakfast. Rodriguez carved out the middle of the dense arepa and filled it with a spicy tomato-based chicken ropa vieja topped with a runny egg. This was a huge hit with everyone and a great change of pace from the ceviche-centric tasting up to this point!
Dessert brought along creamy old-fashioned tapioca pudding Rodriguez served island-style, right inside a young fresh coconut with guava oatmeal bars on the side. A sweet ending indeed. Do yourself a favor and head to Alma de Cuba to try these dishes and much more from their spring menu.