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.”