Sunday, August 31, 2008

Carnival Pleasures

It's Alaska State Fair time, which means lots of deep fried things, lots of things on sticks, and lots of good eating!

We went to the fair on the last Saturday, the 30th, after gathering much advice from locals. There were so many recommendations that we decided to just graze, getting small portions of everything that looked good and sharing them. By use of this tactic and by pacing ourselves, we managed to sample a good portion of what was available.

From Great Alaskan Food Adventure, we got a pork chop on a stick and fried cheese curds. The pork chop was absolutely delicious, tender and salty and smoky. I would guess it had been brined, but have nothing to back that up but the moistness and flavor. Their fried cheese curds were also great. The batter was light and crispy and the cheese had a rich, creamy flavor.

Then from Denali Cream Puffs, we had a - well, a cream puff. You can get them topped with chocolate, mixed berries, or caramel pecan. We got the caramel, and it was really good. If you have a sweet tooth, this is the treat for you. The cream puff itself was good - the puff had a nice light flavor and good structural integrity, and the cream was very rich and tasty. The caramel sauce, which was what pushed it over the top, was sweet and rich and had a lot of nuts in it.

A little while later, Mr. Eating Alaska got a bacon-wrapped scallop kabob, which he said was pretty good but could have been cooked a little longer for him.

Then a while after that, we got fresh cooked garlic potato chips. The chips where a hair thicker than you would get from a bag, but they were fresh and hot and crisp. They were liberally treated with parmesan, parsley, and garlic - a sure recipe for dragon breath, but worth it!

Then I got brave and had a salmon kabob. The reason this took bravery on my part is that I am not a seafood fan. Not even a little bit. However, since this is Alaska, and salmon is the big thing, I decided I better try it and give it another chance. Hence, kabob. Well, it was pretty good. Savory chunks of salmon were interspersed with onion, green and bell peppers, and corn-on-the-cob wheels, all cooked just right with a little bit of grilling char. Well, it's not my new favorite food, but it was definitely pretty good.

Since no fair experience is complete without a french fry component, we went to the Alaska Grown produce stand and got the deep fried peanut potatoes, which are small fingerling potatoes fried up crispy. They were served with a little cup of bacon ranch dressing! I really shouldn't need say any more. MMMMM!!!!

Then, on to the Hawaiian Shave Ice stand, which for those of you on the east coast, is a sno-cone. As advertised, they are shaved ice, and you can indeed get Hawaiian flavors, such as pineapple. Sweet and refreshing - good stuff!

We finished out the day with an Alaskan treat from our friends at Indian Valley Meat - a caribou steak sandwich! This was not a Philly-style steak sandwich, but rather a rectangular steak of caribou meat, served on a firm roll with some stewed onions and peppers and some cheese. The meat is kind of Slim-Jim flavored, but not quite as peppery. It was very tasty, and was a good end to our great Alaska Fair eating adventure.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

In the spirit of the Olympics...

Yep, another Chinese restaurant. We visited the midtown branch of China Garden, which appears to be a local chain for lunch on Monday. This is of the ornately-decorated, gold-and-red, big-gold-lion-dogs-by-the-door school of Chinese restaurant. They have a pretty ecumenical panAsian menu with a good variety to choose from. I had Bul Go Kee beef and Mr Eating Alaska had Sesame Chicken, which is one of his benchmarks. My beef was a bit gristly, but had a good flavor. It came with a side of tempura carrots and celery, which had a slightly odd texture, but tasted good. However, like many other batter fried things, you need to eat it pretty quick, lest it become soggy and oily. When I started the veggies, they were pretty good, but they got icky by the end of the meal. The Sesame Chicken had a good sweet and sour sauce which was not as thick and sticky as it normally is. Overall, it is a passable restaurant.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Straight Out of Philly!

Straight Out of Philly is at 210 E. Fireweed in Anchorage. As those of us hailing from eastern Pennsylvania know, there are many pretenders to steak sandwich greatness. Many places say they have authentic Philly cheesesteaks, but sadly, they do not. To be completely fair, this issue is a bit compounded by a certain amount of quarreling among natives as to what constitutes a real steak sandwich. Most participants in the quarrel are not willing to admit deviation, and consider any who oppose them not only wrong, but also dangerously insane and of poor moral character to boot. I am not that strong on the subject, but I do need to see a steak sandwich conform to at least certain guidelines. The meat has to be actual beef, very thinly sliced, and then fried. An actual steak, such as might be used to advertise the concept of grilling, stuck in some bread, does not make a steak sandwich. Chicken does not make a steak sandwich. Beef, thinly sliced. I prefer onions, and if possible, green peppers. As long as the cheese is some basic sort of American or provolone variant, I am fine with whatever. The bread component has to be some sort of semi-firm white bread roll, not sliced plain bread or a croissant or whole wheat anything.

So, with my critical basis right out in the open, I think Straight Out of Philly makes authentic, and more importantly, absolutely great tasting cheesesteaks. The meat is very thinly sliced, very flavorful and perfectly cooked. The tasty beef is accented with lightly fried onions and green peppers and gooey melted American cheese all in a good firm roll. Their fries are delicious too, floury inside and crispy outside - perfect! Although they have a variety of different ways you can get your steak served ( mushrooms, A-1 sauce, marinara, etc) we stuck to the basic for this first visit.
The menu also has a variety of wings, burgers, sandwiches and appetizers, so there are plenty of options. There is even a minimal nod to Philly in the decor, which consists of a pennant from each of Philly's sports teams hung on the wall.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Gang of Four Chinese Restaurant reviews

OK. Back to restaurants for now. (Sourdough will be back! Still collating information.) We have eaten out a bunch of times for lunch over the last week or so for a variety of reasons, and it is almost always Chinese. So here is the report:

Teriyaki Box at 4th and I in Anchorage. This place has a variety of teriyaki "boxes" which if you are eating there are served on regular plates, but still. Appetizers include fresh and fried spring rolls and dumplings. Mr. Eating Alaska had a Beef Box, which included teriyaki beef, a fried vegetable mix and fried rice. I had the Vegetable Box, which was the same thing without the beef. We also had an appetizer of fresh spring rolls, which came with a delicious peanut chili sauce. While I'm on that, a word about the condiments - they have teriyaki, soy and sricha chili sauce on the tables, and a variety of chili sauces and vinegars up front. The rolls were very refreshing, and contained imitation crabmeat, cabbage, carrot, and cilantro. The restaurant itself is an interesting seems like the building was originally the home of a cabin-oriented business. There is a strong log cabinny vibe to the building and the decor - even the tables are massive, heavily lacquered chunks of tree. But there is veneer of orientalness overlaying it all. Weird look, good food.

Chinese Kitchen in the Sears Mall. This is a Chinese stand in the mall's food court, and has a somewhat limited but basic menu. I had Mongolian beef, which was very tasty and tender beef in a nice sweet-salty sauce. It came with fried rice and a dumpling, both of which were passble but not really outstanding. Mr. Eating Alaska had Sesame chicken, which was really really good. The chicken was all well-cooked in a crispy coating with a delicious sweet sour sauce and the same side dishes. It is very basic but decent Chinese food if you are in a hurry.

Because he eats at the following places much more frequently than I do, Mr. Eating Alaska will be doing the next two reviews:
Panda Restaurant is at Northern Lights & Gambell sts. Once awarded one of the "Top 10 Places in the US to Eat" as per USA today. It deserves this award! Great Chinese food in a great atmosphere. And only half a block from my office! The mongolian beef is great and the teriyaki beef is especially tasty. The place is small, always busy but never crowded.
Yen King is at the north end of the Old Seward Highway. It's the first place I ate at when I landed in Anchorage. The decor is really nice and the atmosphere is relaxed and welcoming. I had the Ma Po Tofu (one of my favorites) and it was the best I ever had! The owner made me feel very welcome which was nice for my first night in town. I've been there two other times; the second time was as good but the third time I had the lunch buffet and was disappointed. I still highly recommend Yen King, just order a meal from the menu and give the buffet a miss.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Bored? Try sourdough!

I have been unemployed for about a week now. In that time, I have sent out roughly a hundred resumes a day, cleaned the apartment as much as I plan to, and caught up on some reading and crafts. There will, of course, be more of these things on a daily basis, but I need a project, something to really grit my teeth over. So, naturally, I thought of sourdough.

I tried it once before, years ago, and it was not pretty. I wound up with a bowlful of pink, stinky slime, which I promptly threw out. (Our house at the time was in the woods and I threw it out the back door into the woods. Wild animals wouldn't even touch it. It laid there, stinking, until it finally decomposed about a month later.) Anyway, this time will be different! I am living in one of America's two hotbeds of sourdough - the other being San Francisco - so for some reason I think that will make a difference. There's some thing about frontier gold rush locations that brings out the need for fermented bread products.

I plan to approach this project in steps. First step - info gathering! Next will be resource gathering. Then I will actually try to produce some sourdough sponge. Then I will attempt to make some actual food based on the sourdough. So this should keep me out of trouble for a week or so - if anything can. Stay tuned, gentle reader, for the next installment of The Sourdough Chronicles

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Alaskan Jerky!

When we visited the Ulu factory ( of earlier post fame), Mr Eating Alaska was drawn to a display of various types of jerky, as often happens. As this is Alaska, there was no beef jerky. (You can find standards in the stores, but this is a tourist place.) He bought and eagerly consumed venison, caribou, buffalo, and salmon -yes, salmon - jerky.

The various game meats were...well, they were gamy. Descriptive words that come to mind are meaty, jerked - pretty much exactly what you would expect. They were, like the reindeer dogs (of earlier post fame), kind of like beef in texture, but not in flavor. I took a bite of each, and particularly liked the caribou. It had the most distinctive flavor of the bunch - very savory. Of course, it's hard to tell how much of that was the jerk flavor and how much was caribou itself.

So...the salmon jerky. It was different from the other jerkies. First off, the texture was different. It flaked apart when bitten, where the game meats had to be torn off, like beef does. Second, it was oilier. This is not a bad thing, it wasn't greasy, there's just an intrisic oiliness to it. Third, it definitely smells like fish. There is more of fish smell than a taste. It tasted more of the jerky than salmon itself. On the balance, it was interesting - not bad, but not great either. Although I am sure there are people who absolutely love the stuff, it seemed more of a curiousity to me than something I would eat on a regular basis.