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Alma Cocina Latina makes waves at the bar, too

The Can Company, a dining and shopping site on Boston Street in Canton, is a place I associate with quick trips.

Usually, I pop by on the run — a coffee to go here, a bagged burrito or salad there. There are exceptions, like the underrated brunch at Langermann's, but for the most part, my friends and I view the Can Company as a location of convenience rather than leisure.

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That perception shifted on a recent Saturday evening when I found myself seated at Alma Cocina Latina's bar in no rush to leave. Surrounded by name-brand behemoths like Starbucks and Chipotle, this sharply designed, 90-seat restaurant — which was packed this night — stands out as a welcome original.

Opened in April by Irena Stein, Alma has made headlines for its Venezuelan cuisine, particularly its stuffed pocket-like sandwiches, arepas. (A Baltimore Sun review from June called it "the best restaurant to open for years" in Canton.) On this weekend night, Alma's thoughtful consideration for its food applied to the bar's offerings as well.

With the dining room buzzing with conversation, a friend and I grabbed the two open seats at the end of the L-shaped bar. Despite the sleek surroundings, my eyes immediately honed in on the menu's Los Cocteles (the menu is in Spanish) and their intriguing combinations. The cocktails surpassed expectations.

La Sombra ($12), served in a Margarita glass and garnished with a brandied cherry, attracted the eyes first. The Lillet Blanc and agave nectar provided sweet notes, while the Suerte Reposado (a tequila aged in bourbon barrels for months) and Alipus mezcal balanced the cocktail with an expected spicy kick.

The use of Filibuster bourbon in La Chunga ($12) made the next decision easy. The D.C. company ages its spirit in charred oak barrels. The twist comes after, when Filibuster rests the bourbon one final time in French barrels made for chardonnay production.

Filibuster's "dual-cask aging" adds a complex finish that enhanced the timely cold-winter cocktail, which also included Clear Creek pear liqueur, a housemade syrup and cardamom bitters. The necessary bite from the alcohol quickly mellowed out and soothed. The garnish, a slice of red apple sprinkled with spices, perked up the cocktail nicely, too.

La Isla Margarita ($11) lacked the intrigue of other cocktails' lists of ingredients. (Other examples: The Papa Hemingway ($11) uses a grapefruit liqueur called Giffard Crème de Pamplemousse Rose, while Ipanema ($10) utilizes a blackberry coulis, which Google explains as a French term for thick sauce. Next time, then.)

Still, it was a solid margarita with little to criticize. The Suerte Blanco tequila rightfully took center stage, while the brightness of freshly squeezed lemon and lime juice brightened the profile just enough.

But exploration of Alma's drink menu should not be limited to its 11 types of cocktails.

On my visit, there were 19 types of beers and ciders available between $5 and $10. There were no draft lines, but the bottled collection included options from Baltimore (Union Craft Brewing) and Maryland (Burley Oak, RAR). For those less interested in craft beer, the Mexican lager Sol seemed to be the go-to standard. The only thing missing: a Venezuelan import. Perhaps the absence could be attributed to, at least partially, the country's recent supply shortages for beer production.

Beyond beer, Sangria ($8-$9) was offered in three versions — blanco, tinto and sparkling. Twenty-three types of wine ($8-$15 by the glass) were for sale as well. Only one wine option, a pinot noir from California, didn't come from Chile, Spain, Portugal or Argentina.

Service was fine, but unremarkable. The two bartenders were busy, helping customers seated at the bar and making cocktails for the wait staff to deliver to diners. The staff member who served us answered our questions adequately, but I hoped for more unprompted information about the menu. That's easier said than done, of course, but Alma is offering a unique culinary experience new to Canton, so further explanation would have been nice.

But I've worked behind a bar, so I get it: Sometimes, like on a packed Saturday night, discourse simply is not in the cards. And ultimately, it didn't matter, as I walked away from Alma satisfied and already excited about my eventual return.

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