Wednesday, October 29, 2008


One of downtown Anchorage's nicer eateries is Orso - a modern Italian restaurant of the funky-chic style. Last weekend, Mr Eating Alaska and I went there for dinner to celebrate our 13th anniversary. We arrived earlier than our reservation time, but they had no problem seating us a bit early. We had a short wait, though, which we passed in the bar. Mr EA had a Cuba Libre and I had a gin Martini, both of which were very tasty and reasonably priced.
We started dinner with a cheese plate, which consisted of well-chosen cheeses artfully presented, and Orso's signature appetizer of bread and very garlicky hummous. Mr EA's entree was a steak, mashed potatoes and crisp-fried onion strips. His steak was perfectly done and very tasty, as were his accompaniments. I had pasta with a sort of minimalist sauce, which was also very good. I challenged the waiter a bit by asking for wine and letting him bring whatever he thought would complement the dish. I know virtually nothing about wine and find that sometimes this approach brings decent results (of course, some times it results in hideous disasters, but you pays your money and you takes your chances.) In this case I was rewarded for my trust - the wine he brought went perfectly with my pasta. Mr EA says "They put on a good show."

Then by strange chance, I went there with a group of coworkers for lunch today - it was my boss's birthday - so I had a chance to sample a few more of their things. We ordered appetizers of Caprese salad and calamari to share. I tried the calamari, which made me feel very brave, and found it pretty good. It did not have a lot of taste, but I am told it is a texture food - it was quite tender and not rubbery at all. The Caprese salad was delicious - although I have trouble imagining how it could possibly be screwed up. Then for actual lunch I had a sandwich of more fresh mozzarella and some prosciutto, which was OK but not stunning, and a curry pea soup which was delicious.
This second visit confirmed my initial opinion, which is that Orso is has great atmosphere, great service, good food and reasonable prices for this level of restaurant. All in all, a good bet for a nice meal.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Sugar Spoon

Wherever you go, there's a coffee shop.
In this case, a shop with coffee and all the associated hot beverages, and some of the best pastries and desserts I have ever tasted! Anchorage has a plethora of this type of place - independent little beverage and sweet shops that range from darling to funky to utilitarian. This place is of the funky variety, with sort of modern takes on classical deserts.
I knew I would like the place as soon as I saw the menu. Thank God, their drink sizes are "small" "medium" and "large". It irks me beyond all sense and reason when places have these nonsense size names - it's just pretentious. And they insist on using their terms, like a toddler who has to tell you about how he went potty all by himself. If you say "small coffee", the cashier will smirk at you, and say "Did you mean a venti?" I want whatever one is the small one. You go ahead and call it whatever makes you happy.
Well, anyway, now that the rant is out of my system - back to the Sugar Spoon. My visit there was part of a "girl day" I had with some ladies from work. We went to the Anchorage Museum to see a bead show, and then went for coffee and desserts. We all got the beverage of our choice, then buzzed between our menus and the showcase up front, trying to decide what we wanted. Everything looked so good and so interesting! (As indeed it all proved to be, but I am getting ahead of myself.) We decided to each get something different and then share bites with each other. I got a stonefruit tart, which was a slice of plum in a ground almond filling inside a buttery puff pastry casing, with a red wine reduction and candied almonds. It may sound like there were too many things going on there, but it was incredibly delicious. The rich ground almonds played against the crispy crust and the crunchy whole almonds, and the wine sauce added a bit of tartness that cut the rich flavors of the rest of the dish. Another lady in our group got a slice of a lemon cake and cream thing that was very tart and sweet, and basically tasted like sunshine. A third member of our party got black rice pudding, which was forbidden black rice cooked in coconut milk and cardamom with stawberry lime sauce - which was very tropical and delicious too. The fourth lady in the group got a chocolate mochaccino creme pie slice, which had layers of chocolate, coffee, and white chocolate creme and a chocolate crumb crust. That too was delicious. I don't have fuller descriptions of the other ladies' desserts, because I had a bite of each, which is not enough to fully consider the wholes.
We did tell our waitress that they could make a mint (which, by the way, they have mint chocolate pots du creme that I intend to try on my next visit!) by offering sample plates with little bites of a selection of their desserts. She just said "We don't do that." We know, but we wish you did. Well, guess I'll just have to go back!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Aladdin's - Guess the nationality!

This evening, Mr Eating Alaska and I tried out one of Anchorage's ...yes, you guessed it! Middle Eastern restaurants. They are trying more for your fine-dining-although-we-are-in-a-strip-mall atmosphere, which means it is not too Middle Eastern. Even if it is.

When we walked in, the music playing was something wretched of indeterminate origin, and we spent a good portion of our non-eating time trying to figure out what it was. Algerian cabaret? German tavern music? Yugoslavian pop? In the end, we could not really pin it down, though we amused ourselves trying. The decor was very bland, which is unfortunate. There is one picture of the sphinx on a wall, and one decorative hookah stuck up on the wall over the cash register. I like to see a place a little jazzed up, but not everyone loves the hoke, I suppose. Also, when the waitress told us the specials, they were Southwestern corn chowder, something about salmon, and halibut something. I honestly wasn't listening because I had geared myself up for middle eastern food, and did not want southwestern anything. But then we opened our menus and all was right with the world again.

I had a sampler platter, as I dislike choosing and would rather have a little of a lot of different stuff, and Mr Eating Alaska had lamb kefte. Both meals were absolutely delicious! The sample platter had a little cup of hummus, a kibbe patty, 2 dolmades, tzazaki sauce, and 2 falafel in a spicy sauce. My dolmades were kind of gross - way overcooked until they were mush and not much flavor, but everything else was delicious. The falafel was much lighter and more flavorful than it normally is, and the tzazaki and hummus were garlicy and chunky - not as processed or bland as they sometimes are. Mr. EA's lamb was delicious - juicy and flavorful - he was very happy with his choice. Both portions were ample without being ridiculous. We were planning on having baklava, but the mom and daughter at the next table got into an Ophrah-level emotional exchange, so we just left.

That leads me to a side remark about Alaska. This is not a shy state. People will just come right out in public with stuff that people in the northeast would at the very least save for a private moment, and in the most extreme case, internalize and carry unexpressed to their graves. I am not saying one method is healthier or better than another. The Alaskan way probably leads to fewer ulcers. I am just saying that for a person who lived in Pennsylvania for 40 years, it is a bit jarring. You simply don't know what to do. Should I pretend I can't hear them? I mean, I can hear them - you can't help it. They emit the sound waves, which bounce off my eardrums, and then my brain interprets the signals. Physics and biology have conspired to make this the way it works. I don't want to hear it, but there it is. Should I just go ahead and join in their conversation? You just don't know where to look. Oh, it's all very well to say "Just ignore it." But you try just ignoring a full-strength emotional scene going on 2 feet from you head. Can't be done.

But anyway, that is not the Aladdin's fault. In spite of their minimalist decor and annoying mood music, they have great food and possibly the most attentive staff in Anchorage. Go there. You won't be sorry!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Thai Village - Eh

I had an actual food-based lunch today in defiance of the delicious shake regime that is ruining my life. Tragically, I was not well rewarded.

I will admit right up front that I do not have a lot of experience with Thai food, and what I have had has been somewhat uneven. I have loved about half of it, and been left underwhelmed by the rest. Today I had some kind of beef curry thing. It came with a sweetish cucumber salad that was pretty good. The curry sauce/soup was OK, but the beef chunks that were swimming in it were kind of greasy and bland. There were also mushy potatoes and a few swollen pasty things that kind of freaked me out until I realized they were peanuts. It wasn't horrible or upsetting. I'm sure it provided nutrients and possibly some trace minerals to my body. It just wasn't good. Maybe I was missing some subtle artistry, or possibly I got the one thing on the menu you don't want, but overall, I doubt I'll go back. Anchorage has far too many great places to eat to waste time and money on mediocre ones.