Throughout moves to various continents, mealtime provided consistency for Irena Stein's family as they dropped everything to enjoy one another's company around the table.
Now Stein strives to confer the same sense of togetherness at Alma Cocina Latina.
"We always grew up considering that food and eating is part of a communal experience, and therefore from day one we never ate alone in the house," she said. "It's always been for me incredibly important to design and have a place where the food, the service, the deliciousness and the environment, the space are inviting and warm so that when you do come it's an extension of your home where you feel completely at ease."
Stein has introduced many a Baltimorean to the sweet and savory flavors of Venezuelan cuisine while aiming to boost the profile of South American food in Charm City and beyond.
"I constantly look at ourselves as pioneers," she said. "Nobody generally knows about Venezuela except for the unfortunate sad news in the press."
Arepas — corn pockets stuffed with all manner of fillings and the "daily bread" of Venezuela — were among Alma's first menu items to become widely popular. And the complex flavors that make Venezuelan food pop keep customers coming back.
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"Despite the facts that the ingredients when you read the menu can be unfamiliar to you, it's very easy to love," Stein said. "It's the interesting combination of flavors that even if you're not aware if [what] they are, you are surprised by them and you are pleasantly surprised."