South

October 16, 2015 – The blackboard in the bar at South said the day’s sparkling wine was Mumm’s.  OK.  I’m in.

The cocktail menu boasts a French 75.  A favorite.

And anyone who knows me knows my kinship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his legendary character Sherlock Holmes.  They would understand why the Basil Rathbone cocktail got my attention.  Cucumber, basil, lemon peel, pink peppercorns, Bombay Sapphire Gin & Fever Tree Bitter Lemon Tonic.  It could become a favorite.

South is bright.  Vibrant.  Glittery.

I want to go back in the evening for cocktails.  But today was about food.

South is the latest restaurant opened by Laile Fairbairn and her partners.  It joins Snow City Café, famous for its breakfasts, and Spenard Roadhouse, that cozy, family-friendly eatery that reminds me so much of growing up in what was then the south part of town.

There’s the feel of a French bistro about South.  I asked Laile if that was their intent.   “We were definitely thinking European,” she told me.  “French, yes.  But evenings have more of a Spanish influence.”

General Manager Tyler Crenshaw has done a good job of creating an atmosphere that encourages friends to meet for lunch.  Or even better, brunch.

Executive Chef Shane Moore has developed a brunch menu that features European classics alongside southern standards.  (Biscuits and gravy anyone?)  Spanish-influenced dishes like Huevos Divorciados.  (Eggs over corn tortillas with black beans and pico de gallo.)   And what Alaskan restaurant wouldn’t offer Crab Benedict on a brunch menu?  It’s our own classic.

I was meeting my long time friend and colleague Marnie Brennan.  Her husband, the journalist and author Tom Brennan, had been scheduled to join us.  But as it happened he had doggy duty that day.  His job, Marnie explained, was to take their two dogs, Bonnie and Clyde (both females, by the way), to the doggy hotel to demonstrate that they could play well with others.  As one with a King Charles Cavalier who sincerely believes she is a princess I fully understand doggy duty.  Still it was Tom’s loss.

Milan, the young man assigned to tend our table, greeted us with a cheerful, “Bonjour!” thereby adding to the French bistro feel.  Milan is from Serbia.  He’s been in Alaska for about a year now.  He says Alaska is a beautiful place to be.

He also said the chef was offering a seafood New England style chowder.  I had to try a cup.  Good decision.  The small bowl was brimming with Alaska seafood.  Shrimp, crab and cod in the traditional milk-based soup.  The chef accomplished a difficult task.  The milky liquid of the chowder gave body without being floury.  Sliding noticeably but subtly beneath the milky texture was the distinct flavor of the sea.  Terrific.  Just Terrific.

Marnie decided to be good.  As in healthy.  She ordered the egg white omelet with zucchini, asparagus, kale and tomato.  Sprinkled heavily with feta and arugula sprouts.  Since she had made the moral decision to be good and be healthy, she wasn’t expecting great flavor.  She was pleasantly surprised.  Delectable, she said.  Packed with flavor.  Healthy can be tasty.

When it came to ordering an entrée I was very much into French bistro mode.  The menu has both a Croque Monsieur and a Croque Madame.  Traditional bistro dishes.

A Croque Monsieur is simple.  A grilled ham and cheese sandwich.

A Croque Madame is the same but more.  It traditionally is served open faced, topped with a fried egg.  At South the Croque Madame is presented on brioche with Black Forest Ham, grilled asparagus and caramelized leeks.  Covered with a pungently delicious Gruyere Mornay sauce.  Topped with the traditional fried egg.  I asked for smashed potatoes on the side.

It was not only delicious, it was beautiful.

On our way out someone called, “Hey, Marnie.”  So Alaska.  We always think of Alaska as a very large land mass with the feel of a small town.  It’s wonderful to find a place like South that still has that old Anchorage feel.  That Alaska hominess.  Where you still run into people you know.

I can’t wait to go back for dinner.

And, by the way, if you’re in a hurry and want something light, on the other side of the maître d’s desk is South’s Coffeehouse.   Pastries, light sandwiches and Kaladi Brothers coffee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Casa

May 25, 2015 – Fusion restaurants are all the rage now.  It’s exciting.  Producing  interesting, sometimes delicious dishes by combining flavors of different cultures.

It has occurred to me that there is a downside to carrying food cultural diversity too far.  I wouldn’t want some of my favorite foods to become memories.  Then I recall the first fusion restaurant I ever visited.  Mestizo in Baton Rouge.  The brain child of Chef Jim Urdiales, born of Mexican and Cajun parents, combined two of the world’s great cuisines to create something remarkable.  Something memorable.  You really haven’t lived until you’ve had a shrimp and crawfish stuffed chili relleno.

This week I was joining my Inupiaq friend Willie Hensley for lunch.  Willie is one of Alaska’s most respected statesmen as well as a good friend.  When we get together the conversation is interesting, substantial and significant.  So is the food.  Willie’s willingness to experiment with new food concepts matches my own.

Today I suggested a fusion restaurant I had heard about on the east side of Anchorage.  We made our way through the road construction detour on Muldoon Road.  (It’s said that Anchorage has only three seasons:  winter, almost winter and road construction.)  We found Casa in a non descript stand alone building.  As we entered we saw a bar with pool table to the right.  We were guided to a booth on the left side.  The restaurant side.

The room was decorated much as one would expect in a Mexican restaurant in Anchorage.  But the menu was far different.  Casa is a Mexican-Korean fusion restaurant.  How could we pass on the chance to try that?

Casa is the latest offering by Ronnie Lee, the Korean born chef who came to the United States to study fashion design.  Instead he discovered Japanese food and became enthralled not only with the food itself but with the color and design used by sushi chefs in preparing their presentations.  Lee has opened two successful sushi restaurants in Anchorage.  Casa is an experiment in a new and untraveled direction.

We placed our orders and very quickly the ubiquitous chips and salsa of a Mexican restaurant appeared.  Each of us also received a small bowl of chicken soup with threads of egg white.  Much like an egg drop soup.  We were in a fusion restaurant.

Willie ordered bibimbap, a traditional Korean dish that translates literally as “mixed rice with meat and assorted vegetables.”  The meat was pork.  The rice was Spanish rather than the customary white rice of Korea.  The classic presentation of bibimbap includes a raw egg on top.  At Casa the egg was replaced with a dollop of sour cream.

The sampling I tasted was highly pleasant.  I was especially pleased with the hint of sesame oil.  The flavors of Mexico and Korea were working well together.

I opted for the bulgogi burrito.  Bulgogi is another dish those accustomed to Korean food will recognize.  It translates to “marinated beef.”  The marinade usually includes soy sauce, sesame oil, green onion, garlic, shiitake mushrooms and onion.

The burrito set before me was huge.  Massive.  I told Willie there was no way I could eat all that.

I focused first on the sides.  There was, of course, the standard accompaniment of refried beans and rice one would expect in a Mexican restaurant.  There was also a beautiful tempura shrimp and slices of tempura sweet potato.  I forgot about the beans and rice.  The tempura was delectable.  The breading light and perfectly cooked.  Just nicely crisp on the outside without overcooking the delicate shrimp and sweet potato inside.  Beautifully done.

I turned my attention to the burrito.  Like the breading on the tempura, the tortilla encasing the bulgogi was cooked just right.  The marinated beef inside was very tasty, the complexity of the marinade prevalent with each bite.  The addition of cojito cheese, sort of the Mexican version of Parmesan, was a good choice.  It added a bit of tang to the other cheese, more conducive to melting, that was included.  Green and red sweet peppers, onion, tomato and cilantro,  a touch of salsa, and a swipe of guacamole on top.  All combined to make a highly palatable meal.

Mexican Korean fusion works.  Works well.  I did eat the whole thing.  And l’ll do it again.

 

 

Moose’s Tooth Pub & Pizzeria

August 3, 2014 – I’ve not kept it a secret that I’m fond of the Broken Tooth Brewing Company in Anchorage.  My son David is lead brewer.  He brews great beer.

Rod Hancock and Matt Jones started the brewery to supply their restaurants.  They’re still supplying the restaurants but the beer is so good and so popular it stands on its own reputation.

I’ve written about the Bear Tooth Grill and the Bear Tooth Theater Pub.  But where it all started was Moose’s Tooth Pub & Pizzeria.  Rod and Matt opened Moose’s Tooth in 1996 and it was immediately successful.  A decade and a half into a new century it’s become legendary.

Every table in Moose’s Tooth is filled every day.  Come early.  You will be waiting for a table.  You might wait as long as 45 minutes.  You won’t begrudge the wait.  The food, and the beer, is that good.

My wife and I were meeting David, his wife Amber, and my grandchildren, seven year old Quinn and three year old Remy, on a late Sunday afternoon.  A warm, sunny afternoon.  We arrived first.  We got our names on the list and were given a buzzer that would let us know when they had a table ready for us.  Then we went outside to sit in the sunshine.  We both grew up in Anchorage.  We know that when it’s summer and it’s warm and there’s sunshine in Alaska you sit in it.  There will be many days when it won’t be warm and sunny.

The buzzer went off shortly after David and Amber arrived.  We were shown to a table in a corner alcove.  About as secluded as it gets in Moose’s Tooth.  The room was buzzing.  In a good way.  Buzzing with energy.  People enjoying themselves.

My wife and I followed David’s advice and tried the apple ale.  It’s one of Broken Tooth’s most popular products.  I’ve had  it before and knew it was good.  My wife found it delightful.  Deliciously crisp and apple-y.

Moose’s Tooth is not just any pizza parlor.  Sure, they have the old standards.  But if you can think of it, they put it on a pizza.  And if they haven’t thought of it yet they’ll probably try it if you think of it.

We decided to order two pizzas and let each adult choose a half.   Quinn and Remy were happy with their small cheese and pepperonis.  Pizza family style.

For her half, my wife chose Spicy Chicken Picante.  The topping of blackened chicken was spiced with jalapenos and dried chili flakes, and rested on a cream cheese base.    Yes, cream cheese on a pizza.  Who knew?

Amber went with the Avalanche.  Sort of an adventurous diversion from the standard pizza.  There was pepperoni and blackened chicken but also bacon.  Cheddar cheese was added to the usual pizza mix of mozzarella and provolone.  And barbeque sauce took the place of marinara.

David chose the Meatball Parmesan.  A meatball sandwich on a pizza.  Moose’s Tooth excellent marinara support the meatballs and accompanying black olives, green peppers and basil.  Parmesan is added to the mozzarella and provolone.  A touch of garlic oil adds a little zip.  Pizza  or sandwich.  Meatballs with tomato sauce and garlic are hard to beat.

I was least adventurous of the group, opting for the All American.  Meat eaters special. A marinara sauce covered with pepperoni, ground beef and lots of mushrooms.  Criminis.  At my request the kitchen was happy to leave off the olives and replace them with jalapenos.

It was a tasting party with everyone trying everyone else’s chosen pizza.  Hard to say which was best.  They were all good.  Better than good.

My wife summed it up.  “This is the best pizza in Alaska.”

The best.

 

 

 

 

 

Rustic Goat

August 1, 2014 – The Kaladi Brothers have scored again.  Added to their string of coffee houses scattered around southcentral Alaska (and one in Seattle) is now the full service restaurant quirkily named the Rustic Goat.

The goat part of the name comes from the company.  It’s long  been a symbol of Kaladi Brothers.  I’ll explain that but first, to fully understand anything related to the Kaladi Brothers you have to know that there aren’t any.

According to company legend there was once a goat herder named Kaladi who noticed that one of his goats was acting weird.  He was all jumpy.  Full of energy.  He watched the goat and discovered that he was eating a certain berry from bushes that grew along the path.

Kaladi decided to try some of the berries himself.  He discovered he, too, was full of energy after eating the berries.  Well, one thing led to another and wouldn’t you know it?  Coffee!  So the next time its six a.m. and you’re hoping that first cup will get your eyes wide open, thank Kaladi.  Or his goat.

Instead of brothers the Kaladi Brothers company started out with a few guys operating a portable stand selling coffee in a downtown Anchorage park back in 1986.  Today two of that group, Tim Gravel and Brad Bigelow, run Kaladi Brothers.  They’ve turned it into one of Alaska’s best loved and well run locally owned companies.

The restaurant is located in an old warehouse that has been beautifully converted using a lot of glass.  Hence, the “rustic” part.  But there’s nothing truly rustic about the place  Both floors feature glass walls that let in lots of light.  A long bar dominates the first floor with tall bar tables scattered throughout the room.

Dining tables are on the second floor, reachable either by a set of rather steep stairs or a thoughtfully provided elevator.  A balcony stretching down the west side of the building provides outdoor dining.  Though it was a day of bright sunshine it was a bit windy and cool.  We opted to enjoy the best of two worlds by selecting an indoor table by one of the glass walls.

I love hot dogs.  Especially when they’re spicy.  I couldn’t resist the Rustic Goat’s “Educated Dog.”  A Louisiana hot link made by the Alaska Sausage Company served on a challah roll, slathered with a tomatillo chutney and stone ground mustard.  Deliciously messy!

The accompanying fries were salted after they came out of the hot oil when they are most receptive to seasoning and then were sprinkled with grated parmesan.  My wife declared them the best fries she has ever eaten.  It was all I could do to save a few for myself.

In fairness she did give me one of the tacos she ordered.  Soft corn tortillas wrapped around pulled pork.  The pork rested on a dollop of mole bean puree and was decorated with candied jalapeno, roasted corn salsa, chopped fresh cilantro and green chili sour cream.   Outstanding!  Simply outstanding!

Hot dogs and tacos.   Old standards presented in delightfully innovative style.  And all thanks to a mythical, coffee loving goat.  An amazing world in which we live!

 

 

 

 

 

Lucky Wishbone

July 28, 2014 – I was probably 13 years old the first time I had lunch at the Lucky Wishbone.  I know we hadn’t been in Anchorage for long.  The father of one of my new Alaska friends took us there.  And that day I had the first burger, fries and milk shakes of many yet to come.

George and Peg Brown had opened the restaurant four years earlier, in 1955, and have been famous for fried chicken, burgers, milk shakes and friendly customer service ever since.  George is 92 now but still works in the restaurant.  Peg passed away a few years ago.  Their daughter Pat is in charge when her dad isn’t around.  And Pat has maintained the Wishbone’s reputation for good food and friendly service.

The Lucky Wishbone was one of the social centers of Anchorage in the early days  of statehood.  Many of the state’s political, business and social leaders could be found there.  It was a favorite of Alaska’s three term governor and founding father Bill Egan when he was in town.  I was reminded of that when my wife and I had lunch recently at the Wishbone.  Looking across the parking lot I recalled the small building that sat there.  It was Governor Egan’s headquarters in the days immediately following the Great Alaska Earthquake.  And I was a 17 year old Civil Defense volunteer assigned to be his errand boy for a few days.

My wife was born in Fairbanks and grew up in Anchorage.  I was surprised, then, to learn that she had never been to the Lucky Wishbone.  She was long over due.

Inside the décor hasn’t changed.  On the wall next to the entry are scores of small photographs of customers, including several famous faces.  The wall at the far end of the room still holds pictures of World War II era aircraft.  In a world that moves so rapidly it’s a comfort to find a place that hasn’t changed.  They just keep doing what they have always done and they do it well.

Our waitress, Mckenzie, told us that George wasn’t there.  He had a visitor from out of town and was playing tour guide.  Pat was in charge that day.

As usual when I’m at the Wishbone I ordered a chocolate milk shake.  And also as usual, Mckenzie brought it immediately and I had finished it before our meal arrived.  There’s nothing like having dessert first!

I love their fried chicken.  And they make a great chili burger.  But they’re also one of the very few restaurants that offer two of my favorites:  chicken livers and gizzards. You can order them individually or you can order what they call “giblets.”  That’s a combination of livers and gizzards.  Now I know chicken livers and gizzards aren’t for everyone.  But they definitely are for me.  I ordered the giblets.

My wife was far more conservative.  She ordered the fish sandwich.  But then she said maybe it would be a shame to not try the fried chicken since the Lucky Wishbone is famous for its fried chicken.

Mckenzie had the perfect solution.  “Why don’t I substitute a couple of pieces of chicken for the fries that come with your sandwich?” she offered.  My wife thought that was a grand idea.  To sweeten the deal Mckenzie also showed up with a small bowl of cole slaw, one of my wife’s favorite side dishes.

My giblets were wonderful.  Livers and gizzards both lightly breaded and perfectly fried.  The gizzards had the delightfully gelatinous chewiness that make them so uniquely good.  The livers had the creaminess that makes them so delicious.

People who like gizzards and livers will understand this.  People who don’t like them, well, stick with the fried chicken and burgers.  You’ll be just as delighted.

 

 

 

David’s Smoked Chicken

May 26, 2014 – My son David is becoming a master of the grill.  Especially the smoker.

We were planning a cookout on Memorial Day.  I told him to pick something that he does best.  Something terrific.  Something over the top.

We met at Mr. Prime Beef, the butcher shop that  has been providing Anchorage with quality meats for 41 years.  With the practiced eye of the connoisseur, David looked over the displays of beef, pork, lamb and poultry.  While he was doing that, I snagged a link of reindeer sausage.  Why not?  We’d have a hot grill.  Might as well use it all.

Finally David said the chickens looked best to him.  Chicken it would be.

On Sunday night David placed two chickens in a brine of chicken stock and dry onion soup mix.  The birds rested in the liquid for about 16 hours.  They came out of the brine plump and ready to soak up all the flavor he could deliver.

On Memorial Day, he filled the grill’s separate firebox with chunks of hickory and pecan, some of which he had thoroughly soaked in water.  We wanted lots of smoke.  Wet wood makes smoke.

David actually uses a method called smoke roasting, or smoke baking.  In this process the meat is not over direct heat.  The coals are in a separate firebox.  Heat is maintained at about 250 degrees, hotter than you would want for cold smoking.  Meat that is smoke roasted is fully cooked and ready  to eat.

He set a tin pan of apple juice below the grill where the birds would be lying.  The evaporating sweet liquid would keep the chicken moist while adding another layer of flavor.

Back to the birds, David next applied a generous rub of chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, sugar and cayenne.  Another layer of flavor.

I enjoyed the next four hours watching him make adjustments to the wood in the firebox.  Maintaining a delicate balance.  Keeping the temperature at 250.  The smoke roiling around the closed grill.  Making sure the birds weren’t cooking unevenly.  That they weren’t browning too fast or too much.

After two and a half hours he began to periodically baste the birds with the apple juice into which some melted chicken fat had dripped.  Not a lot of fat, he said.  But some.

Fat has its purpose I told him.  Remember the words of Julia Child:  “Fat is where the flavor is.”

Four hours of bathing in hickory and pecan smoke.

Four hours sucking up flavor from the gurgling, bubbling, fat infused apple juice.

The plump, brown chicken came to table accompanied by baked beans that David had made from scratch and Amber’s potato salad.  Each bite a burst of juicy flavor.

Chicken over the top!

 

 

 

 

Fusions Southern Food & Bar

May 22, 2014 – It looks more club than restaurant.  Lighted bar.  Lights in the dance floor.  Laser light beams flashing all around.  Fusions Southern Food & Bar in Anchorage exudes energy.  Excitement.  Fun.

I was there with my friends Dave Gransbury and Carol Holder.  I had checked out the menu earlier.  Any restaurant that has okra, chicken & dumplings and collard greens on the menu gets my attention.  And this menu reads like Sunday dinner at my grandmother’s house.

A very pleasant woman named Sharon showed up at our table to take our drink orders.  I was reading the menu again and was interested in “Robert’s Famous Red Hot Fried Ribs.”  I love ribs.  I like red hot.  Couldn’t ever recall having fried ribs.  Sounded like something I should try.  I asked Sharon who Robert was.

“He’s the owner,” she replied, then turned and waved over a young man who turned out to be, indeed, the owner.

Like so many of our residents, Robert Alexander arrived in Alaska with the military a few years ago.  Since leaving the Air Force he has been busy developing into quite the entrepreneur with multiple businesses.  He’s a busy man.

I was right about the club atmosphere.  Robert said they serve food in the early evening.  Later the band arrives and the dance floor fills up.  Tonight, he said, was Motown night.  He said they do karaoke on Wednesday night.  Dave said he wants to come back for karaoke.

I asked Robert about the ribs.  He said they’re spicy.  I said I like spicy.  But, he said, the ribs aren’t the best thing on the menu.  What is the best thing, I wondered.

“Have the oxtails,” Robert said.  “They’re slow cooked for five or six hours.  And if you can’t eat it all I’ll be here to help,” he laughed.

I’ve eaten oxtails.  I’ve cooked oxtails.  And I know when done right, they are amazing.  I took Robert’s word and ordered the oxtails.

But first, we asked for fried okra and fried pickles for appetizers.  Both were just great.  Crunchy on the outside with the wonderful flavors of okra and dill pickle on the inside. For me, both are like potato chips.  You can’t eat just one.

When our entrees arrived, I discovered that Robert was right.  The oxtails were astonishing.  Large chunks of slow-cooked meat with just enough gelatinous quality to make them even juicier.  Fork tender.  Served with rice and gravy.  A deep, dark astounding gravy.  The chef who prepared it knew a little something about making a roux.  It was as good as I’ve ever eaten.

Carol had ordered fried catfish and let me taste it.  Thick slices of the delicate, snow white fish with a nicely spiced breading.  Fried perfectly.  Another stunning dish.

Her catfish came with what was described as a “spicy” coleslaw.  She let me sample that also.  It was spicy.  It was very good.

Robert was right.  I couldn’t eat all the meat on my plate.  Besides I was saving room for dessert.  It was a wise decision.  Fortunately Robert had left the building to attend to other business so I had plenty for the to go box.

The large helping of nutmeg-scented peach cobbler placed in front of me was shockingly good.  I savored every mouthful.  Each bite taking me back to those Sunday dinners at my grandmother’s house.

Dave hadn’t said much.  He had ordered the giant fried pork steak and then the peach cobbler as well.

Near the end of the meal he took time to say, “Gordon, this is good.”

And then a moment later, “I’m coming back for karaoke night.”

 

 

Villa Nova

May 17, 2014 – The enticing aroma of garlic greeted my son David, daughter-in-law Amber and me as we entered.  I hadn’t been to Villa Nova in Anchorage for a while.  It was David’s birthday and he had selected the location of his celebratory dinner. His friends Brandon and Andrea Renner would round out the evening’s party.

I was pleased with his choice.  Villa Nova has been a favorite of mine since Chef Georgio Chrimat opened it some three decades ago.  I have always been impressed by the food, the atmosphere and Chef Georgio’s philosophy.

Born in Sicily to a family of restaurateurs and a graduate of both the Culinary Institute of Milan and Le Cordon Bleu in France, Chef Georgio refused to be rushed in the preparation of the dishes he would present to his guests.  Two tastefully decorative signs hang on the wall, giving voice to his philosophy.  The first reads, “Please be patient.  Good food takes time.”  And the second, “Eating good food also takes time.”

The atmosphere at Villa Nova made it easy to be patient.  To enjoy a good wine amidst the warm aromas of garlic and basil and oregano enlivening simmering sauces in the kitchen, which could be glimpsed through a miniature Roman arch next to our table.  We ordered chianti and prosecco and began to enjoy the pleasant process of being patient in comfortable surroundings.

Our server, Nick, told us he is Chef Georgio’s nephew.  As he filled our glasses I asked if Chef Georgio was still working the kitchen.  Nick didn’t answer.  He just kept pouring.  I thought perhaps he hadn’t heard me and was about to repeat the question when he spoke.

“Chef Georgio passed away a few weeks ago,” he said.

I was stunned.  Saddened.

I expressed condolences and held up my glass of prosecco.  “To Chef Georgio,” I offered, with respect.  Four other glasses touched mine.  And then, with a smile, Nick lightly touched our glasses with the bottle from which he was pouring.

“To Chef Georgio,” he said.

I was glad to hear that the restaurant would continue on with Chef Georgio’s recipes and staff.  Nick told us that Sean Lyon, the dignified musician who has played classical guitar at Villa Nova for more than 20 years, has bought the restaurant.  Nick seemed pleased that no changes were planned.  So was I.

For the table David ordered pan-fried calamari, bruschetta and Mozzarella de Bufala, fresh mozzarella laid over slices of bright red tomato sprinkled with slivers of basil, olive oil drizzled over all.

The slices of calamari were thick but so tender and with a marvelous delicate flavor.  The accompanying red sauce was loaded with horseradish, which I found surprising but delightfully so.

The large platter of bruschetta was a beautiful picture when brought to table.  It reminded me that so often the finest dishes are the simplest.  In this case, slices of crusty bread drizzled with olive oil, covered with chopped fresh tomatoes, seasoned with garlic and basil.  The influence of garlic on the tomato was subtle.  As it lingered on my palate, I was amused to see another of Chef Georgio’s wall hangings.  This one said, “Garlic breath is sexy.”

For an entrée I had ordered one of the house specialties, Steak Cordon Blue.  A nice slab of beef stuffed with Canadian bacon and Fontina cheese.  What we in the U.S. call “Canadian bacon” is cut only from the loin and includes no pork belly.  Stuffing the steak with the Canadian bacon gave it a pleasant smokiness without adding fat.

The addition of the Fontina added to the earthiness of the dish.  Fontina is a cheese that melts very nicely with a flavor that is reminiscent of mushrooms and deep forest.  The earthy, smoky nature of the dish was enhanced with the mushroom sauce dressing the steak and the pasta that I requested in place of the usual potatoes.

The ingredients in the dish were so well integrated, each complimentary to the others, all so delicately balanced on a theme.  Eating it seemed more like tasting a fine wine.

At the end of the meal I took another sip of prosecco, offering a second toast silently.

“To Chef Georgio.”

 

 

 

 

 

The Red Chair

February 28, 2014 – “A red chair always stands out in a crowd,” Barbara Whitney said.

I looked around.  My friend, BA, and I were sitting on black chairs.  So was everyone else in the room as far as I could see.

“Do you have a red chair?” I asked.

“We have one here somewhere.  It moves around,” she said.  “Oh, there it is.  Back there.”

Sure enough.  There was the red chair.  The only one.  In the very back of the room.  Standing out in the crowd.

And that’s how Barbara and her partner, David Seube, named their restaurant.

The Red Chair is located in the McKinley Building, which was the first high rise building in Anchorage, followed closely by the building now known as the Inlet Tower.  Now Anchorage has a beautiful urban skyline set against the backdrop of the Chugach Mountains.  But the McKinley Building was there first.

I ordered a cup of coffee when I was seated.  It turned out to be one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had.  Barbara told me they blend their coffee in house.  They know coffee.  They should.  Barbara and David operated a couple of coffee stands for several years before taking the plunge into being all in restaurateurs.  They opened the Red Chair in October of last year.

Chef Shana Whitlock has put together a very interesting menu.  I was drawn to several possibilities.  My first thought was pancakes.  I’d been craving them and the Red Chair offers cornbread pancakes.  That got my attention.  But then BA and I started discussing the menu with Barbara.

Before I knew it my taste imagination was dancing around like a cut power line. It was out of control.  Sparks flying all over.

I flopped from pancakes to the stuffed poblano pepper.  I love poblanos and the Red Chair fills theirs with cilantro and cheese, sausage and scrambled eggs, green onions, mushrooms and red peppers.  Hard to resist any of those things, especially when they’re packed into a poblano.

They offer both a traditional eggs Benedict as well as a “Tustumena Smokehouse” Benedict, replacing the ham with smoked salmon bacon.  Enticing.

Before I knew it I had been lured into the lunch menu.  A lot of temptation there.  They offer a hoagie with steak that they cure in house, served with a roasted garlic spread and caramelized onions.

I was briefly tempted by both the Tesla Burger and the Fanciful BLT.  But in the end I retreated, as I often do, to childhood memories.  I had seen it when I first sat down but was still focused on the cornbread pancakes.  My eyes kept going back to it.  In spite of the allure of so many other interesting dishes in my heart I knew where I would wind up.

BA ordered the Skyline Sandwich.  Chicken with applewood bacon and provolone with a smoked poblano aioli.  He was happy with the sandwich and the side of quinoa salad, which I sampled, was excellent.  Refreshing.  Snappy.

I ordered the Trailer Trendy.  Within minutes I was back at my grandmother’s house with a sandwich of thick-cut, fried bologna with tomato and peppered aioli on a hoagie roll.  It was accompanied by perfect French fries.  Thick cut slices of potato, cooked to the ultimate brown on the outside, impeccably soft on the inside.

The sandwich was terrific and fun.  Eating it just made the day sunnier.  And as for the fries…well, when fries are done right, there’s nothing better.  These fries were done right.

The Red Chair’s breakfast and lunch menus are imaginative.  Artistic even.  And Barbara told us they’re now open for dinner.

Yeah.  I’ll be back.  I’ll give the dinner menu a try.  Have to see if it’s as inspired as breakfast and lunch.

But first I have to try the cornbread pancakes.  They’re calling to me.  And I must answer.

 

 

 

 

Pho Vietnam

February 21, 2014 – The first bowls of pho appeared in the villages near Hanoi about a hundred years ago.  Pho (the o is pronounced, as far as I can tell, like somewhere between the a in fat and the e in tepid) is basically beef broth, rice noodles, herbs and either beef or chicken.  It’s likely that it originated as a variation on the French stew known as pot-au-feu during the days when Vietnam was a French colony.

In the first decade of the 20th century, street vendors carrying their kitchens attached to long poles across their shoulders sold bowls of pho, usually in the mornings and evenings.  By around 1918 the first pho stand appeared in Hanoi, quickly followed by others.  Pho rapidly became the favorite street food of Vietnam.

There are, of course, regional differences.  Generally grouped around Hanoi in the north and Saigon in the south, the variations revolve around the size of noodle, sweetness of the broth, and spiciness of the ingredients.  It’s common in both north and south to provide on the side a small plate of basil, bean sprouts, cilantro, chili peppers, and lime wedges to be added at the diner’s discretion.  Always there are sauces close at hand.  Hoisin sauce.  Fish sauce.  Chili sauce.  And a very dark liquid of which I was wise enough to add only a small amount to my bowl.  That tiny addition provided heat sufficient to make the dish interesting without doing any real damage to my mouth.

I was meeting my son, David, for lunch at Pho Vietnam, a restaurant he has often visited but a new experience for me.  I ordered spring rolls and egg rolls while I waited for him to arrive.

The spring rolls in their sticky wrappers of steamed rice paper were packed with noodles, cucumber, lettuce, mint and cilantro.  Each came with a slice of chicken and a large shrimp.  The very fine peanut sauce for dipping was a perfect contrast for the crisp vegetables.

But the egg rolls were even better.  Rolled and wrapped tightly in wonton paper, stuffed with ground pork, carrots, taro, jicama and glass noodles, they were fried to a golden brown exterior and nicely chewy interior that allowed the mixed flavors to dance on the palate.   A tip-top offering.

While David opted for a bowl of Thai noodles, I wanted to remain a purist on my first visit to the restaurant.  I consulted with our young waitress who suggested pho tai nam.  Noodles in broth with beef filet and flank steak.

“You get two kinds of meat,” she said.  I couldn’t argue with her logic.

The bowl in front of me was huge with a cloud of steam rising above it.  The aroma was enticing; irresistible.  Thin slices of beef (two kinds, she said), noodles, cilantro, parsley, green onions.  All swimming in an aromatic broth exuding a flavor that was distinctive.  Yet I couldn’t quite place it.

I asked the waitress what it was.  She laughed.  “It’s a secret.”

I ate more noodles; more beef; more broth.  I told David I knew what it was.

“Cinnamon,” I told the waitress confidently.

She laughed.  “No.  It’s secret.”

As we were leaving the restaurant I made a final try.

“Tamarind.  It’s tamarind, isn’t it?”

I could hear her musical laughter as I left, clutching the container of pho with its intoxicating aroma.

It’s tamarind.  I know it’s tamarind.