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[Phil Leff/The Daily Pennsylvanian]

A yellow and white entrance and uber-chic interior welcome diners to an oasis of "Nuevo Latino" cuisine -- a term coined by chef Douglas Rodriguez -- at Alma de Cuba.

The restaurant, now a Walnut Street staple and Stephen Starr creation, opened in 2001. In the past two years, it has clearly made a mark for itself, claiming a spot among the city's truly exquisite dining establishments.

Upon entering, my guest and I were escorted up a tree-lined staircase -- quite exotic for an urban locale. The building's second story is accented with dim red lighting, sleek black fans and white and brick walls.

We were immediately made to feel welcome as our knowledgeable and friendly server rushed to assist us and continually made sure that our evening was without flaw.

Alma de Cuba 1623 Walnut Street (215) 988-1799 Fare: Innovative Latino Over $20 Featuring modern Cuban dishes and live music Wednesday nights.

To begin, we each tried a mojito de fresca ($9), a blend of fresh strawberries, lime juice and mint, that only hinted at the explosion of flavors that were headed our way.

We were then presented with our first course. I opted for the truffled wild mushroom empanada ($11). The empanada dough was filled with a medley of flavorful mushrooms, perfectly accented with a sweet corn sauce. My guest chose the anticuchos ($13), a trio of succulent meats presented in a manner reminiscent of modern art.

At that point, we thought things could not get any better. But get better, they did.

My main course, cilantro honey mustard glazed salmon ($23), was delightful. The entree was coated in a sauce, whose sweet kick was the perfect punctuation to the delicately prepared fish. The entree was additionally served over a banana-lentil salad and the fresh chunks of fruit were a nice addition to the dish's sweet flavor.

My guest opted for the evening's lamb special ($24). The meat was prepared to perfection and the presentation attracted the gaze of many of the restaurant's patrons.

To wrap things up, we settled on two chocolate desserts. My guest chose the highly recommended chocolate cigar ($8), an almond cake in chocolate mousse served with ice cream in the shape of a cigar. I opted for "Dats da Bomb" ($8), a uniquely named domed dessert heavy on the chocolate. Its smooth texture glided down my throat, coating what was an absolutely fantastic meal.

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