Friday, February 27, 2009

Simon and Seafort's

View from our window-side table!
One of Anchorage's "fancy" downtown restaurants is Simon and Seafort's. Known especially (among everyone who has told me about them, anyway) for their appetizers and wine flights, they are a bastion of fine but not fussy dining. They are also pretty much out of our price range, at least for dinner. They do have a more affordable option in the form of lunch, which I believe is only available on weekdays.
I recently visited them twice for lunch - earlier this week for a friend's birthday and this afternoon for with Mr EA. Both times I had great food and a great time! It is situated in the first floor of a biggish office building by the waterfront. Although they make gestures toward a wild west heritage with their saloon references and great big moose antlers here and there, it really is quite an elegant place. Marble tables, nice linens, and graceful fixtures help it feel luxurious. Also, the view. Although most seats probably have a decent view, if you love scenery, try to get a seat by the windows. You will be rewarded with a stunning view of Cook Inlet and the mountains on the other side of it. That view is one of the reasons we moved here, and I don't believe we will ever get tired of it. Today the Inlet was choked with ice, boulders and floes of it, drifting on the water. Sleeping Lady was pretty clearly visible when we were eating, as was the range to the south of her. Amazing.
When I was there earlier in the week, I had mushroom ravioli in cream sauce. This was two enormous raviolis, probably about 4-5 inches square, bathed in a creamy cheesy sauce thick with wild mushrooms. Mmmmmmmm! I was tempted by the desert menu, but it would have killed me. That day, anyway, but I am getting ahead of myself. The meal was proceeded by warm bread, which I believe is sourdough, but maybe is just tangy, and whipped butter - mmmmm! My friends had a salad and an openfaced crab and artichoke sandwich, which they reported were also delicious.
Upon hearing about my luncheon adventure, Mr EA immediately wanted to visit as well. Since we are on a vacation, or as the parlance of last year had it, a "staycation", we visited them earlier today. This time I had a roast beef sandwich with au jus and their house made chips, and Mr EA had Fish and Chips. His fish was lightly battered and had a nice flavor - not at all heavy or greasy like normal fried fish. My beef was very tender and flavorful and the au jus was so good I was dipping everything in it -chips, bread, sandwich...I was tempted to just drink it. But that would not have left room for desert. I had purposely saved room for the Pudding Trio. Served in little demitasse cups, this was vanilla bean pudding with a little mint sprig garnish, butterscotch coffee pudding with a little orange peel garnish, and dark chocolate pudding with a cocoa powder garnish. This came with three shortbread cookies dipped in dark chocolate. Mr EA had Key Lime pie, and was equally happy with his choice.
Although it is a nice restaurant, it is not at all snobby. We were wearing Tshirts and jeans along with our big boots, as were quite a few of the other patrons, and were not in the least made to feel weird or underdressed. They have an actual coatcheck, which is actually pretty sensible in a town where people are wearing huge spheres of down and/or alternate padding. However, prepare for the coat check person to tease you about whether or not you will get your coat back. Note to the literal-minded: they are joking. You will get it back.
All in all, if you are in the mood for some truly fine dining in a luxurious, comfortable atmosphere, Simon and Seafort's is an excellent choice.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

General Scene - Part 2

Fast Food

There is an interestingly varied fast food environment here in Anchorage. The American standards are all here: McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Arby's, Taco Bells, Carl's Jr's (largely a west coast chain). All these places are almost exactly like they are everywhere else in the US. As it's nod to the locality, McDonald's has a special Alaskan burger, call the McKinley burger, which is distinguished by being stupidly huge. I don't know a single person who has successfully eaten one. But there you go. I actually wish we had one or two more chains up here. West Coast standards In-N-Out Burgers and Sonic would both be welcome additions. To those who would argue the sensibility of a drive-in place, you don't know Alaskans. Temperatures well below 0F would not be a bar to commerce at such a place here.

In addition, there are also a lot of local places that fit into the same mold. Being small outfits, usually family -run, they are of course much less polished than the big chains. And like the big chains, these places exploit different niches of the fast food landscape. Our favorite of the burger genre is Arctic Roadrunner - good food, great atmosphere, reasonable prices. Our favorite fast food of the Mexican genre is Taco King - same as above. In the sadly underexploited Greek genre, Zorba's is the best of the bunch I have found. Study of the local places is very rewarding here - there is a huge variety and all of it is worth trying out!

Friday, February 20, 2009

The general scene - Part 1

It occurs to me that I have not really ever given a general overview of Anchorage's restaurant scene. The reason this occurs to me is that a distant friend recently asked me if we didn't have any chain restaurants up here. "All you seem to write about are these little mom-and-pop operations" she said. And that's true. But it's only part of the story. There's a lot to say about the eateries in this city, so I'm going to take it in parts. Because I don't have that much time all at one go. Enjoy!
Coffee shops
While we aren't quite as infested with Starbucks as a lot of your more populous cities, we certainly have quite a few of them. The other semi-big chain here (also based in Seattle, I think) is Kaladi Brothers coffee. They have more of a focus on coffee (as opposed to coffee based confectionary beverages) and a funkier vibe. There are also a lot of indie coffe shops - some upscale, some not so much. Some of those places seem to sell coffee mainly to keep the art and poetry rebels who are hanging around there awake, and in others the coffee is the point. Depending on your mood and your personal goals at the time, either type can be fun. Another very prominent feature of the coffee landscape is the plethora of little stands (of earlier post fame) all over the place. For those of you who have never seen one of these, they are a small trailer - probably about the size of a horse trailer - from which food or beverages are sold. They are kept open in all weathers, in the face of all logic and sense. Many of them are long-established businesses with loyal clientelle. They are usually excellent in their wares and their service ethics. Or else they quickly go out of business, so you are usually pretty safe. I have read that people in far norther climates drink the most coffee, which makes a great deal of sense when you think about it. Just judging on the coffee-shop-to-population ratio, I would say Anchorage supports that theory. In short, if you enjoy hot caffeinated beverages, you will not find a dearth of options in Anchorage.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Golden Gate Chinese

Today for lunch I went with some friends to Golden Gate Chinese, located in a strip mall on Tudor (same mall as Thai Kitchen and one of the Taco Kings). We have been there several times, and I've tried a couple of different meals. A bunch of their lunch plates are combos - with more than one type of entree per plate - as well as rice and an egg roll. Lunch comes with tea and a bowl of a vegetable and egg soup, which come more or less as a matter of course. I have had a couple of beef dishes, Szechuan vegetables and a sweet and sour chicken - all have been good! Today's lunch was Hunan beef, which was good, although I could not finish. This leads me to a side comment. Word to the spicy heat sensitive - when you say spicy, prepare to burn. The proprietress asked how spicy I wanted it, and I shrugged offhandedly and said "Spicy, I guess". I knew I was in trouble when it came out and looked like a plate of hot pepper fragments and seeds. It was only by dint of vigorous excavation that I got to the layer of beef and vegetables. It was so tasty that I ate about half of it even though it was hurting me. I was sweating and my mouth was burning like crazy. What I got of the flavor, before my taste buds died, was very tasty - the beef was tender and flavorful, and the vegetables at that perfect state of crisp-tenderness. Although today's meal hurt me, I haven't had a bad one yet. They have a good selection of Chinese-American standards, all of which they prepare really well. Add a nifty decor and a friendly proprietress, and you have a good place to eat!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Snacks from across the sea

My Mom and Dad, after a recent visit to my cousin in Hawaii, kindly sent me some snacks from their tropical vacation. They sent us some Kona coffee, Kona coffee candy and several varieties of macadamia nuts, and we're glad they did!
The Kona coffee is very good - very rich and with a bright sort of flavor. Produced by the Hawaiian Isles Kona Coffee Company, it is clearly a product of specialists who focus in on their key product to its benefit as well as ours. When you go to their website you see that focus. They do Kona coffee. That's basically it. Oh, there's a decaf, and a couple of flavored versions, and a few macadamia nut treats, probably for the tourists. They also don't offer different roasts or blends. They do one kind of coffee - here it is. It is in the rotation of special weekend coffees with our Raven's Brew blends. The Kona coffee candies are delicious little squares of hard candy that have the flavor of coffee with milk and sugar - almost a caramelly richness. They are a huge hit both here at home and at my work, where I took in a scant handful to share.
The macadamia varieties they sent us were Lightly Salted, Caramel Coated, and Kona (yes, more coffee!) Coffee Glazed. All were delicous and had that great crisp, rich snappy texture you get from fresh nuts. The caramel and coffee glazed ones had great candy coatings, which is gilding the lily, but it's delicious gilding. The caramel was a good balance of salty with sweet that made them really delicious. The coffee glazing was sweet and strong enough to give a good coffee flavor without overwhelming the macadamias. Mmmmmmmm!
They also sent us pictures of a Burger King menu with Spam as a breakfast option. We may now need to go to Hawaii too!