ALEGRIA Cocina Latina’s Grand Re-Opening
Vamped-up Alegria renews our palatable desires
115 Pine Ave. | Long Beach, CA 90802 | Facebook
In a continually unpredictable economy, the wonderfully evolving world of taste and style, finding the “exception” is always a challenge. The city of Long Beach has become a city to keep an eye on for interesting boutique shops to playful restaurants. In the quest for something great, I came across Alegra Cocina Latina when invited to attend their grand re-opening. Tucked away under a swath of trees along Pine Avenue, guests enjoy a comfortable patio space whilst flamenco guitar music spills around their ankles, and South American-inspired cuisine fills the air. Alegria Cocina Latina’s literal translation is “happiness”.Alegria owners, Adrian Amosa and Miguel Baeza, are confident that the evening will result in smiles for our group of twenty-or-so writers, bloggers, and photographers.
DECOR: The thrumming of guitar strings herald your arrival into a space that is both festive and subdued, romantic with ambiguous familiarity, all the while retaining a quality of quaint serendipity for those suffering from hunger pains. Crawling along the walls are the colorful projections from unseen lamps, dipping in and out of a red-tinted ceiling. Although the dwindling daylight from outside subdues the full effect, it isn’t hard to envision an evening spent equally admiring the spectacle of effect while digging into the cuisine.
EXPERIENCE: Servers bedecked in smart black button-downs, slacks, dress shoes, and complemented with sharp red ties, weave through and around our group carrying trays of various size and cargo—nachos, tacos, ceviche, calamari—igniting the air with the unmistakable savoriness of braised meats and refreshing eats. Luckily for us, two of these platters (the ceviche and calamari) make their way to a counter nearby, around which a small crowd soon forms. As my guest and I wait for a chance to scoop in, a waiter carrying a tray arrayed with various cocktails approaches. He introduces the House Sangria, a dark burgundy infusion of apple and wine, and the White Peach Sangria, both of which, we’re told, are absent of any additives such as the fruit juice or corn syrup you might find elsewhere. They taste much like you’d expect, but the freshness here is nevertheless a constant signature in its tempered echoing of fruits against taste buds in a nice uplifting beat. The third Sangria, boasting a rich gold countenance, is part of the restaurant’s Seasonal collection; depending on what time of the year it is, the beverage will play host to a number of varying fruity tannins—this particular glass is concocted from a careful combination of plum, pomegranate-plum (not unlike the grāpple), cognac, and hot blossom honey syrup. It is this “liquid gold” of the plum Sangria that really holds my attention—not too sweet, not overwhelming, and tinged with just a dab of mystique.
The FOOD: The calamari and ceviche were delicious—notably the latter, which went wonderfully with the peach Sangria—but it is the Cuban-inspired shredded beef on fried corn tortilla, topped with an arugula salad and feta cheese, that really cements for me how Alegria got its namesake. A passing waiter notices my expression (which I can only imagine must’ve been somewhere over the moon in that instant) and playfully warns me to be careful: “that’s one of our more addicting entrées.” (No kidding!)
Luckily for me, and the rest of this review, our group is asked to get seated before I can go back for seconds. After a few moments of getting acquainted with those around us, the first dish is brought out to the table: Humitas Chilenas. The server has barely placed the plate down in front of me before warm, rich spices invade my space around me. I just manage to snap a photo before digging in to the fresh sweet corn tamale, topped with bits of sautéed shrimp and chives bathing in a pepper cream sauce. The result is, once again, as expected. In perfect step, the creamy spiciness dances in tandem with the corn’s sweet inflection, eliding paradigms of quaint morsel for something a bit more sultry. I could easily see myself coming back to Alegria for this alone.
The table is soon cleared away to make room for the next entrée of the evening, the Paella Valenciana. I love paella; the overabundant smorgasbord display of mussels, clams, scallops, shrimp, etc., wading in a vat of the iconic saffron-yellow rice, continually envelopes my being whenever I pay a visit home and we have it for dinner. So it might be fair to say that the Valenciana is going up against a heavy-hitter this round.
As the dish hits the table, savory aromas of sausage, saffron, chicken, and seafood, waft around the table, but notably punctuated with the citrusy notes of a flower-cut lemon centerpiece. Digging in, I have no problem finding the initial familiarity of the iconic dish’s flavors. But as I continue , I realize it is a familiarity that also lacks any sort of unique qualities, as if I’m eating just saffron rice, but with bouts of varying textures pending whatever meat varietals are being masticated at the time. The promise of lemon is absent as well (but then, none in our group opted to squeeze the cut wedge over the family-size portion), and there are murmurs around me as to whether the chicken could have been a little less dry. Unfortunately, they’re right. Fortunately, it’s an easy fix for the restaurant.
Next up is the El Gaucho, a grilled skirt steak topped with a citrus-scented chimichurri sauce with a side of fried steak potatoes and sautéed spinach. I thought it was very nice of the restaurant to include one of those thick serrated steak knives, but completely unnecessary as the El Gaucho pretty much begs to be pulled apart, with a consistency somewhere between warm bread and hot butter. The taste is not so different—in a way that only good steak can – it seems the entire room pauses and quiets in a pleasing moment. It IS worth the bite. The party doesn’t stop there; in a smart out-maneuvering of expectations, the chimichurri sauce does a magnificent job of simultaneously cleansing the palate as the steak juices once again bathe the contour of taste buds’. The steak potatoes and spinach, for their part, do what’s asked of them, but let’s not beat around the bush: this is all about the meat.
The evening is concluded with the aptly named El Grand Final!, a generously-sized platter of the restaurant’s desserts, all in bite-size. To go over each delicacy will take more than this article can handle, so suffice to say: apple and banana-sliced bread pudding, dulce de leche liqueur, hand-dipped chocolate strawberries, honey and powdered sugar drizzled over a vanilla-flavored flan. The voraciousness with which I approach each dessert may have been surprising to my guest, and perhaps some of those around me, but there you have it. In a twist of irony, you may very well be fighting amongst those in your party to nab a dessert from this plate meant for sharing. Were I to single out one of the desserts for a more intimate tasting, I would choose the Tres Leches—I’m not a huge fan of chocolate-on-chocolate cake, but I just might have been converted.
Perhaps not without cause; they not only own this venue, but two others along Pine (Gaucho Grill and Agave Kitchen & Tequila) as well. And all three are thriving. Although this is my first visit to Alegria, past and present patrons will be interested to know that the restaurant recently completed a six-month long renovation, which not only resulted in said chandelier and sound system, but in completely new furnishings (tables, chairs, and cloth), a renovated back patio with a wall of succulent plants for added ‘au natural’ intimacy, and a fresh paint job to really supplant diners with a eutopic resonance. To be perfectly honest, I can’t imagine the restaurant looking any other way. This was a memorable meal and experience I plan to endure again.
Some candid iPhone shots from the evening:
Restaurateurs Adrian Amosa and Miguel Baeza, owners of such Pine Avenue restaurants as Gaucho Grill, Agaves Kitchen & Tequila and Sevilla are about to unveil a new look for their newest establishment, Alegria Cocina Latina, a Pine Avenue restaurant and nightspot with a menu and drink listing inspired by the cuisine of Latin America and Spain. The 20-year-old Alegria, which means “happiness,” now boasts a more festive atmosphere with a number of updated features.
Amosa is widely considered the kingpin of the vibrant Latin-dining scene in Long Beach. With the recent acquisition of Alegria, which recently underwent a remodel and offers a new menu, the busy restaurateur now operates 3 bustling restaurants on Pine Avenue including Gaucho Grill and Agaves Kitchen and Tequila. He also owns and operates a 2nd Gaucho Grill in Brentwood. Alegria is located at 115 North Pine Avenue. Visit www.alegriacocinalatina.com.