Alta Adams, the new joint venture from Watts’s own Keith Corbin and San Francisco’s Michelin-starred Daniel Patterson, is clearly a neighborhood favorite in West Adams—and on both visits it was filled with people who seemed to be having a very good time indeed. In part, that’s because this historic section of the city doesn’t boast a wide choice of dining options at this level, for better or worse. But it’s also because Alta is good enough to potentially become a destination for people across the city.
The snacks listed at the beginning of the short, Corbin-led menu are definitely some of the highlights of Alta’s soul-food experience. The cornbread with honey butter ($4) is delivered warm, and the crisp outer layer gives way to a soft, crumbly interior; there’s also just enough of a salty kick to work against a honey butter so good we ordered more after one taste. The black-eyed–pea fritters with herb dipping sauce ($8) had an almost falafel-like texture, and the bright sauce was again so good that we requested a large bowl of it—and kept spooning it onto our plates throughout the meal. I am a sucker for pimento cheese ($7), and loved the fact that the excellent version here came unapologetically served with a plate of Ritz crackers. The pickles on the side were equally bracing in their acidity, although this time, it was much less welcome. That acidity continued through a kale, avocado and grapefruit salad with ginger dressing ($12), which I liked a great deal but proved more challenging to my dining companions.
Main courses were a mixed bag: The skillet fried chicken ($22) was dry on both visits, and the grilled pork collar ($21) was overcooked to the point of unpalatable toughness—a shame, because the Southern chow-chow relish atop it was spot on.
Much better was a smothered hanger steak ($31) that was not only cooked medium-rare as requested, but came covered with an earthy, savory sauce that made me clean the plate with my fingers after the meat was long gone. Best of all was a dish that should soon be appearing in every self-respecting “best dishes in the city” list: The oxtails and rice ($23) is as good a version of this classic as I’ve tried in many years. The four-hour slow braise avoids the oiliness this dish sometimes brings with it, so the oxtails retained just enough bite to support picking up the bone for an unseemly moment of sucking and chewing (no sniggering at the back of the room), while the miso-rich, deep-flavored braising liquor had been allowed to seep into the perfectly cooked rice. It’s a dish not to be missed, and definitely one worth crossing the city to try.
Sides rarely steal the spotlight in restaurant reviews, which for Alta would be a shame as they’re all rather good. The collard greens ($6) came rolled cigar-style, slightly charred and with a pleasing vinegar kick, and the green beans simmered in a spicy tomato sauce ($6) carried just enough heat to stand up against the bold flavors in the rest of the meal. And, if you’re looking for a sweet note, the candied-yam gratin ($6) came layered in soft slices with spiced pecans.
We encountered another less successful dish when we ordered dessert: A milk tart with berries ($7) was cold, stodgy and unappealing enough to be returned to the kitchen after a bite. It was replaced immediately by a cookie plate ($7), which was so successful that our friends ordered another plate just to take home with them.
The poor milk tart, added to the other slightly-off culinary moments in our meal, impacted the star level of this review—however, there’s enough about Alta to make me think it has a rosy future. The welcome is immediately warm and engaging, and the service is consistent throughout the meal. The atmosphere already feels like the best kind of neighborhood joint, and when they get the food right, they really get it right—with bells on.
I am now going to sit in a quiet room and think about that oxtail.
WHERE TO SIT
There are lots of great seating options at Alta Adams. If you’re on your own, snag a seat at the lively bar. The counter seats in front of the kitchen are perfect for a couple on a date, and the booths are perfect for larger parties. There’s also a lush back patio, which will prove a great spot when the weather permits.
WHAT TO EAT
If you order one of each of the top-notch snacks—order two of the cornbread, to avoid squabbles—then follow with a kale salad, an entrée of the oxtails and rice, and finish with a cookie plate, you should have a most enjoyable evening.
WHAT TO DRINK
The martini and the Hemingway daiquiri were both beautifully done, as were the house cocktails. The wine list is short, but well-assembled and offers a decent selection by the glass. A bottle of Grenache-Cinsault ($56) was a good choice to pair with most of the dishes we ordered, and there’s also a small selection of beer and cider.