Bear Tooth Theatre Pub

January 19,2013 – Dinner and a movie?  The Theatre Pub in Anchorage has you covered.

“Beasts of the Southern Wild,“ with its four Academy Award nominations, is playing today on the big screen.  And the pub is offering a menu of mainly finger foods that you can take into the theater and to your seat, which has been designed with a tray to hold your dinner.  Wraps, tacos, burritos, pizza, Broken Tooth beer and a selection of wines.  A menu of well-loved foods that are easy to handle.

If you don’t have time for a movie you can just have lunch in the Pub as I was doing on this Saturday with my friend B.A.  (See Cooper Landing.)  I was hungry so I ordered nachos before he showed up.  They appeared on the table with the tortilla chips nicely crisped and browned where they showed around the edges of the blend of melted cheeses.  Just the way I like them.  Then came a layer of red and black beans, raw jalapenos, green onions and chopped tomatoes.  A crown of guacamole and sour cream topped off the platter.  I didn’t wait for B.A. but tried hard to save his half.

I also ordered a cream soda.  In between batches of beer the Broken Tooth Brewery makes great cream soda and great root beer.  I love cream soda.  Takes me back to my childhood.  With my cream soda in hand, sitting amidst the neon and small twinkling white lights of the Theatre Pub, I felt briefly like I was six years old again, hanging out with my buddy of those days whose parents owned the gas station/grocery store near my grandmother’s house.  The fantasy was fun while it lasted.

When B.A. arrived we studied the menu in earnest.  I decided on seared salmon tacos; B.A. ordered pan seared steak tacos.  Our young waitress had told us her name was Kira, spelled in the Russian way.  We asked if she was Russian.  “No,” she said, as she scurried away to deliver our order to the kitchen, leaving us laughing at the non sequitor.

The seared salmon came wrapped in warm corn tortillas with a blanca sauce of sour cream, a bit of mayonnaise and cumin, dressed with a very nice sweet chili sauce, accompanied by a spicy salsa fresca and sharing the tortilla with a nest of chopped cabbage.  The whole was a surprisingly complex dish with the treble sauces, all of which combined were not enough to dominate the wonderful flavor of seared salmon.  Rather the sauces complemented the salmon in a most unexpected way.

B.A.’s pan seared steak tacos came with an onion relish sprinkled with cilantro.  They were good.  I know because he let me taste one.  But he wasn’t satisfied.  He had his heart set on calamari.  Unfortunately calamari aren’t on the menu at the Theatre Pub.

Now here’s something really cool that happens at the Theatre Pub.  Calamari are on the menu of the Pub’s sister restaurant, the Bear Tooth Grill.  The two are separated only by a small room where takeout orders are picked up.  B.A. just stepped over to the takeout room and placed his order for calamari.  Within a couple  of minutes he was back with what appeared to be a miniature orange highway construction cone, which he placed on our table.  A few minutes after that a young man showed up to take the cone away and leave a heaping plate of calamari in its place.

Dinner and a movie.  And more dinner delivered from the restaurant next door.  How cool is that?

Broken Tooth Brewery

January 18, 2013 – To experience true happiness, someone once said, find something you love to do and figure out a way to make a living doing it.  Not easy to do.   My son, David, is one of the lucky few who have done it.

David likes beer.  He likes to brew beer and he’s good at it.  Fortunately he’s also lead brewer at the Broken Tooth Brewery in Anchorage.  Working with Head Brewer Tyler Jones, they’ve produced some of Alaska’s finest beers, good enough to bring home two gold and six bronze medals from the Great American Beer Festival as well as one silver and one bronze from the World Beer Cup.  And every day they provide the brew for a family of Anchorage restaurants that includes Moose’s Tooth Pizza and the Bear Tooth Grill and Theatre Pub.

It was in 1996 that Matt Jones and Rod Hancock opened the brewery concurrently with the pizzeria.  Moose’s Tooth pizza quickly became Alaska’s most popular destination for visitors and home folk alike with a taste for either traditional (pepperoni, cheese and such) or more creative Italian pies (think artichokes, grilled salmon, eggplant).  The excellent beer turned out by the brewery fueled the pizzeria’s success and it wasn’t long before the companion restaurants were opened to enjoy the same level of success.  All three tooth-related names, Moose’s Tooth, Bear Tooth and Broken Tooth, are also names of mountains in the Alaska Range, that line of grand spires that includes Denali, king of them all.

The brewery produces nine beers on a regular basis.  David tells me the Fairweather IPA and the Hard Apple Ale are the most popular.

In addition, each month features a new First Tap and brewers take turns creating an original recipe, producing a unique product for introduction in the brewery’s sister restaurants.  David has already brewed the First Tap that will be featured in February.  A Belgian Black IPA.  He hasn’t decided on the name yet but is thinking of calling it Ebbing Darkness.  In February there’s still more darkness than light in Alaska but the daylight is starting to gain.  The darkness is ebbing.

Let me be clear.  I know nothing about brewing beer.  But my son knows all about it.  I spent some time at the brewery recently getting a crash course in the process.  Fascinating.

The grain goes first into the mash tun, the rather squat container to the left in the picture.  It soaks there for perhaps half an hour before being transferred to the kettle, the more elongated tank on the right in the picture.  There it’s boiled for about 90 minutes though heavier, maltier beers must be boiled longer.  It’s here that the hops and any spices (apple, raspberry, chocolate, use your imagination) are added.

The next stop is the whirlpool where centrifugal force collects any solids in the middle and the liquid is cleaned.  It’s not beer yet; it’s wort.  Unfermented beer.

At this point yeast is added as the beer is moved to the fermenter, the tank with the cone shaped bottom.  Here it can sit to allow the yeast to do its work for as little as a week for ales to as long as two months for lagers.

The final stop in the process is the Brite tank where carbon dioxide is added to create the carbonation that gives beer its fizz and zing.

Once the carbonization process is complete the beer is ready.  The half barrels, 15.5 gallon kegs, are filled for shipment to the restaurants.  Half gallon growlers can be purchased directly from the brewery.  And now, thanks to a handy little canning machine, Broken Tooth beer is available for the first time in smaller cans, the kind that fit in your hand and come in a six pack.

Broken Tooth beer.  Good beer.  My son has found a way to make a living doing what he loves.  Happiness.

The Alaska Ulu Factory

January 20, 2013 – What the heck is an ulu?

In Alaska we’ve always known about the ulu.  It’s the traditional knife of Alaska’s Eskimo people, with a broad semi-circular blade.  Its ingenious design makes it a remarkably versatile tool for everything from slicing vegetables to filleting fish to skinning game. 

But when Dave Gransbury founded the Alaska Ulu Factory in 1973 it was a knife virtually unknown in the rest of the country.  There were also precious few items made in Alaska for marketing to visitors to our new state.

Dave spent a couple of years working in his garage, testing various woods and steels, developing a product that could be produced in quantity for the visitor market.  He designed a special, shallow bowl that fit the blade of the ulu perfectly to make it easier to use.  He even designed and had built much of the machinery that now works in the factory sharing the 12,000 square foot building that also holds the company’s retail store.

From its humble beginning in Dave’s garage the Ulu Factory has become the preeminent provider of fascinating products available to visitors with a desire to take home a memory of their trip to the Great Land.  The company’s retail store and factory is on every list of go to places for visitors to Anchorage.   Dave’s ulus are also available at gift shops throughout Alaska.

And a visit to the Ulu Factory is lots of fun.  Not only can a visitor wander through the store and find everything from jackets to cookbooks to candy, as well as ulus in three different sizes with handles made of birch, cultured ivory or even jade, but you can peer through the windows into the factory to watch the ulus being manufactured.  During fishing season, you can also go around back and watch fishermen pull king and silver salmon out of Ship Creek.

The Ulu Factory provides a free vintage trolley that roams through downtown Anchorage offering tired visitors a ride to the store, or simply allowing them to drop off anywhere along the way.  In the summer, Dave offers Alaska made food, including one of the best hot dogs you’ll ever eat.

The Ulu Factory is a great success story that has sent a little bit of Alaska’s native culture into homes around the world.  And thousands of visitors to our land have found the fun in taking an ulu home to let their neighbors ask, “What the heck is an ulu?”

 

 

Kriner’s Diner

January  13, 2013 – Look out, Anchorage.  There’s a new biscuit in town.

The folks at Kriner’s Diner bake their own biscuits every day.  They rise high, are substantial and, slathered with a thick pat of butter, leave that memorable taste of freshly baked bread that stirs our memories and makes wherever we are feel like home.

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day but only on Sundays.  Weekdays and Saturdays are too busy.  Not enough time to enjoy a leisurely breakfast.  It’s a meal best reserved for lazy Sunday mornings when there’s time to peruse a newspaper and have a cup of coffee before digging into eggs with ham or bacon or, in Alaska, reindeer sausage.  Or maybe pancakes splashed generously with real maple syrup.

This Sunday morning I was meeting my son, David, his wife, Amber, and my grandchildren, Quinn and Remy, for breakfast.  David told me about Kriner’s, a diner located in a building in midtown Anchorage that has seen numerous businesses open and close with regularity over the years.  I was sold.  If there’s a new diner in town I want to try it.

Owner Andy Kriner says the diner is “…the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.”  Andy’s experience in the restaurant business started at age 19 when his mother opened a diner in Soldotna on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage.  He left home a few years later to pursue a non restaurant career but always missed the business.  In 1998 he came home to manage the Soldotna diner and later a restaurant in Anchorage.

Finally, in 2011, the chance for Andy and Norann to realize their dream came along.  And judging from the scarcity of vacancies in the parking lot on Sunday morning, I’d say their chance to make a go of it is good.

It’s a real Alaska diner.  It’s warm and there’s a feeling of familiarity, like everyone knows everyone else, and the staff greets you like they know you whether they do or not.  It’s a place that makes you feel at home.

Andy makes no secret of his patriotism.  The walls are decorated with an American flag and pictures of men he considers heroes:  Douglas MacArthur and the martyred presidents Kennedy, Garfield, McKinley and Lincoln.  Instead of a menu he provides something more like a newspaper filled with facts about Alaska and sayings from more famous people.  (“Politics is not a bad profession.  If you succeed, there are many rewards; if you disgrace yourself, you can always write a book.” – Ronald Reagan)

The diner’s breakfast and lunch offerings are on the inside pages.  The description of their chicken fried steak got my attention.  “This is the best chicken fried steak east of C Street,” the menu claims.  That’s a big brag considering “east of C Street” includes Texas, where the chicken fried steak is something like the official state meal.

Chicken fried steak with eggs is one of my favorite breakfasts when it’s done well.  When it’s wrong it’s really wrong.  When it’s wrong it’s just a soggy, tasteless chunk of mystery meat.

Kriner’s Diner does it well.  The plate set in front of me was barely large enough to hold the gravy-covered chicken fried steak along with a generous helping of hash browns and eggs, over easy, and a huge biscuit precariously balanced on the edge.  Cutting into the steak, I found the breading nicely browned and crispy enough to stand up under the well seasoned gravy, the meat almost fork tender.  Just the right texture and chewiness you want in a chicken-fried steak.  It was done right.  I dug into Sunday morning breakfast.

I’m not sure that the chicken fried steak at Kriner’s Diner is the absolute best east of C Street, including Texas.  But it’s as good as you’ll get at least to the Canadian border.  And the biscuits are terrific.

New Year’s Eve at the Palace and State Bird Provisions

December 31, 2012 – We went to the circus for New Year’s Eve.  A grand glimmering circus of luxury at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco.  A never ending procession of small plate acts offered by the passing trays and carts at State Bird Provisions.

On the day that we read that Bon Appetit had named State Bird Provisions the best new restaurant in the nation for 2012 my wife phoned for a reservation.  Not a chance.  Nothing available for months.

She doesn’t give up.  She kept trying.  In October she scored a table for us!  And on New Year’s Eve, no less!  I immediately said, “Let’s book a suite at the Palace.”

The Palace was built in 1875 and has from the beginning been the definition of elegance.  It survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake but burned to the ground in the fire that broke out a day or so later.  The owners spent the next three years building the new Palace Hotel on the same spot.  More elegant than ever, the Palace reopened in 1909, offering such rare luxuries as redwood paneled hydraulic elevators, called “rising rooms.”  Each of the guest rooms was equipped with its own en suite bathroom and an electric call button to summon hotel staff.

For more than a century the Palace has been home to visiting presidents and monarchs, moguls and movie stars.  Some of them never left.  My wife’s enthusiasm for staying at the Palace increased by multiples when I told her that King David Kalakaua of Hawaii had died there in 1891.  She became even more excited when I told her that President Warren Harding had died at the Palace on August 2, 1923, collapsing suddenly while talking to his wife in their suite, perhaps the very one in which we would be staying.  It was even rumored at the time, I told her truthfully, that Harding had been poisoned.  That did it.  She was convinced a haunting was involved and she wouldn’t miss that opportunity for anything in the world.

For the record, there was no haunting.  Just elegance.  The hotel was the first ring of our New Year’s Eve circus.  We wandered through the marble columns, lights shimmering among the crystals of chandeliers suspended high above us and bouncing off mirrored walls.

Before leaving for dinner we visited the hotel’s Pied Piper Bar & Grill.  Surrounded by the bar’s dark wood and soft leather, the Pied Piper of Hamlin gazing down at us from the 1909 mural by the neoclassical artist and illustrator Maxfield Parrish, we surveyed the menu of cocktails.  My wife had her usual chardonnay.   I ordered a concoction of gin and cognac called a Ginger Smash.

Our waiter hesitated.  In his Hispanic accent he said, “How should I say this?”  And then he said it.  “That’s for girls, sir.”

I changed my order to a Charlie Chaplin, a mixture of absinthe and Old Overholt rye whiskey.  That ought to be manly enough, I thought.  The waiter seemed to agree.

It was New Year’s Eve and we had no idea either how long a drive we had to the restaurant or how long we would have to wait to get a cab.  As it happened, it wasn’t far and the wait wasn’t long.  We arrived at State Bird Provisions with more than half an hour to spare.  The hostess suggested that we go to a nearby bar and have a cocktail.  “We like Fat Angel around the corner,” she offered.  Off we went to take in a side show while awaiting our table.

We liked Fat Angel, too.  We each had a champagne cocktail.  The waiter who brought our drinks told us that the staff at State Bird Provisions often sent early arrivals to them and sometimes sent over snacks for the Fat Angel staff.  A symbiosis of neighbors.

When we returned to Provisions, we were immediately shown to our table and the main show under the big top began.  This is not a restaurant at which you consult a menu and then place your order for one course to be delivered after another.  Oh no.  There’s nothing linear about Provisions.  Chef Stuart Brioza and his wife, pastry chef Nicole Krasinski, have created a whirling experience of delightful food entertainment.  Truly a circus big top of dining.

There is a short menu from which you can place specific orders but most of the small plates come from trays and carts constantly passing by, much like the parade of clowns and acrobats and elephants, lions and tigers under the big top.  There were so many offerings we couldn’t keep up and even now they swirl deliciously in my taste memory.  Garlic bread with burrata; a raw oyster in kohlrabi kimchi; tuna tartare; lobster in a jar.  The albacore with baked new potatoes stands out as do the ricotta dumplings in a quail ragu.  The boudin noir was excellent and the waitress was patient, even cheerful, as I taught her the proper pronunciation of boudin.  (It’s boo-dan, and swallow the n.)

From the menu we ordered two of the specialties of the house, California state bird and sourdough pancakes with sauerkraut, pecorina and ricotta.  The California state bird is a quail, in this case boned, breaded and fried to a juicy tenderness.  The bite-sized pancakes offered a tart and creamy conflict that was very satisfying.

Finally we just couldn’t accept any more of the small plate offerings.  Well, except for dessert.  My wife couldn’t resist ordering “World Peace,” which turned out to be a shot of peanut muscovado milk.  It was tasty but no comparison to the chocolate mocha rice pudding with candy cap mascarpone.  The sweet Japanese rice finished the meal with the perfect taste memory.

We left Provisions happily content.  We considered going to the top of a nearby hotel for the view and the celebration but decided the crowd would be huge.  Again we were fortunate to find a cab quickly.  Back in our suite at the Palace, I opened a bottle of Mumm’s Napa Brut Prestige and we settled in to watch the ball fall at Times Square.

Happy New Year!

Red Beans & Rice

December 29, 2012 – Louis Armstrong loved’em so much he signed letters  “Red beans and ricely yours, Louis.”  He wasn’t the only Louisiana native who was fond of red beans and rice.  Most of us are.  It’s part of our food focused culture.

Traditionally red beans and rice were served on Monday, wash day.  You could put a pot of beans on to simmer and go about the business of the house.  Also it’s the day after Sunday so the bone from the Sunday dinner ham could be tossed into the pot.  That was a long time ago.  Now there are assigned days for neither red beans and rice nor for doing the laundry.

When I was in college I made a dollar an hour working at the local radio station.  In a good week I got a $40 paycheck.  My friends and I were always looking for cheap food.  There was a hamburger joint that sold small burgers for a dime.  Nothing but meat and bread and not much of either.  But we could get ten for a dollar, spend another dollar for a small jar of mayonnaise and a tomato and we’d have quite a feast.

Or for about the same amount we could cook up a pot of red beans and rice and eat for most of a week.

There’s one thing about which we need to be clear.  Kidney beans aren’t red beans.  Oh sure, a kidney bean is a bean and it’s red.  But when we say red beans we’re talking about small, red beans that come in a bag marked “Small Red Beans.”  It’s not hard to tell the difference.

 Red Beans & Rice

1 lb dried small red beans                                      1 smoked ham hock

3 T peanut oil                                                          3 cloves garlic, minced

1 onion, chopped                                                    1 bay leaf

1 stalk celery, sliced                                                Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

1 green pepper, chopped                                        Rice

6 C chicken broth

Place beans in a bowl and add enough water to cover them by a couple of inches.  Let them soak overnight.

In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil until hot but not smoking over medium high heat.  Add the onion, celery and green pepper (known in Louisiana as the Trinity) and sauté until beginning to soften, about five minutes.  Drain the beans and add them to the pot along with the chicken broth, ham hock, garlic and bay leaf.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.   Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for about an hour and a half.  Be sure that the beans remain covered by liquid.  If necessary add water.  In fact, if you don’t have chicken broth on hand water will work just fine as a substitute.  The ham hock and beans will create their own very tasty broth.

If you like your food a little on the spicy side, add some cayenne pepper or even toss in a whole jalapeno or other hot pepper.   You can also add some andouille or other sausage to the pot.

Serve the beans in a bowl over rice.  See Leftover Turkey Gumbo for rice cooking.

Bon Temps!

Christmas Dinner

December 25, 2012 –   I start wishing people a Merry Christmas on December 1st.  I love Christmas.  I love everything about the season.  I love the lights and the decorations and the tree and the beautifully wrapped presents under the tree.  I especially love opening the presents.  When it comes to opening presents I’m the biggest little boy in the room.

It probably will come as no surprise that I also love Christmas dinner.  Any day is an occasion to enjoy good food but Christmas is the best occasion of all.  I’m not big on turkey at Christmas.  Turkey is a Thanksgiving thing.  Christmas deserves something grand all its own.  For several years goose was my Christmas centerpiece.  Goose is delicious but let’s face it a goose just doesn’t have that much meat on it.  At some point I realized that unless I wanted to make the centerpiece geese instead of goose something more was needed.  Something grand.

For the past few years it’s been a prime rib roast.  Nothing is more grand than that king of all meat.  Nothing is more dramatic when it comes from the oven all crispy and browned on the outside, so tender and juicy on the inside.  No holiday table says Merry Christmas better than the one with a prime rib roast as the centerpiece.

My wife’s Christmas tradition with her children is cioppino and the way she makes it is a wonder.  Clams and mussels and long links of Alaska king crab legs bathed in a rich tomato-based broth with hunks of crusty bread for dunking.  The perfect start to Christmas feasting.

In addition to the cioppino and prime rib, we decided for 2012 that she would make a green salad and a fruit plate and I would make German potato salad.  Desserts we bought at Icing on the Cake, a bakery that turns out sweets so good they border on sinful.  We had our Christmas menu.

I decided I wanted to marinate the prime rib overnight and went looking for a marinade worthy of our centerpiece.  I found the Jack Daniels marinade.  Since they shared the recipe with me, and since anyone using it will have to buy a bottle of Jack Daniels Tennessee Sour Mash, I’m sure they won’t mind if I share it here.

 Jack Daniels Marinade

 ¼ C Jack Daniels Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey        ¼ C brown sugar

¼ C soy sauce                                                                  1 t salt

¼ C Dijon style mustard                                                    Dash of Worcestershire

4 green onions, chopped fine                                            Freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine all the ingredients and blend well.  Marinate the prime rib roast in the refrigerator overnight.  Use the marinade to baste the meat as it’s roasting.

To cook the roast, preheat the oven to 450.  Place the roast ribs down in a heavy, deep roasting pan.  Put the roast in the oven at the high temperature for about 15 minutes to sear the meat and jump start the browning process.  Lower the temperature to 325 for the remainder of the cooking time.  Baste the meat every half hour with the marinade, or if you’re not using a marinade, with the juices accumulating in the roasting pan.

Our roast had four ribs, about nine and a half pounds, a good size to feed eight people.  A roast that size  should take between  1 ¾ and 2 ¼ hours to cook.  But be smart and invest in a really good meat thermometer.  I set my thermometer for an internal temperature of 145, medium rare.  I wanted the roast to be about medium when carved so I took it out before it reached that point because it would continue to cook while resting.  I let it rest for about half an hour before carving.

Serve with a little horseradish.

——————

The idea for German potato salad came to me while reading about Luchow’s in Manhattan, once considered to be the finest German restaurant in the country.  August Luchow arrived in the U.S. in 1879 when he was 23.  Three years later, with a loan of $1,500 from William Steinway, founder of the piano company, Luchow opened his own restaurant which happened to be right across the street from Steinway’s showroom.

For a solid century Luchow’s reigned as one of the Big Apple’s most popular restaurants.  It was the go to restaurant for musicians from Paderewski to David Bowie; for show business notables from Jack Benny to Jane Fonda; for presidents from Teddy Roosevelt to Richard Nixon.  For anyone in public life Luchow’s was the place to be seen.

By the 1980s ownership had passed from the family to a restaurant conglomerate.  The neighborhood around the 13th Street location of the venerable restaurant had gone downhill with many empty, rundown buildings.  Several efforts to revive the grandeur of earlier days, including moving the restaurant close to Times Square, all failed and Luchow’s finally closed its doors in 1986.

But the restaurant’s recipe for potato salad lives on!  I made some changes in it but credit for the basic concept goes back to August Luchow in those exciting days of the 1880s.

 German Potato Salad

(To serve 6-8)

 6 medium potatoes                                                          1 -2 t salt, or to taste

8 slices of bacon, diced                                                     Freshly ground pepper to taste

1 onion, diced                                                                    1 t sugar

¾ C champagne vinegar                                                   1 egg yolk, beaten

¾ C chicken stock

Peel the potatoes and cut them into ¼ inch slices.  Boil until cooked through but not mushy.  Drain the potatoes and put them in a large bowl.

Cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp.  Add the onion and cook until translucent, about five minutes.  Add the vinegar, stock and seasonings.  Mix well and allow it to come to a boil.  Remove from the heat and stir the beaten egg yolk into the liquid.

Pour the mixture over the potatoes and toss gently, allowing them to absorb the liquid.

Bon temps! And Merry Christmas!