Thursday, March 19, 2009

Angelina's Philippine Cuisine

This evening Mr EA and I tried out Angelina's Philippine Cuisine in a strip mall at 36th and Minnesota. What a treat! This is another example of the genre of places that don't look like much from the outside, but are comfortable meccas of great food when you get inside. Angelina's has straight meals available, but the best best for Philippino newbies is their assortment of combo plates available from a buffet type of arrangement.
We are relative newbies ourselves - there was a Philippino place in PA, but it was not as sophisticated as Angelina's, not by a long shot. They had dishes like Meat On Stick. If you asked what kind of meat, the proprietress would look at you for a minute or so and either say "Meat - you like. Eat!" or "You will no like. Eat Rice Dish." They did not last long. Anyway, Angelina's is a wonderful contrast to that, as the counterman on duty when we went in was very willing to educate us on what he had on offer. He was friendly and helpful, and went out of his way to make us feel welcome. He was a big part of the place's appeal.
Anyway, you can have a meal, such as roasted pork, chicken skewers, and assorted other things. Their willingness to educate extended to the signs advertising these items, as they all had a picture, the Philippino name, and a translation in English. This is helpful for those of us who are willing to try new stuff, but are not that trusting in places we have not been in before. (I had a bad experience about a year ago involving an unexpected sheep head, and it has made me a little skittish. But that is another story.) Anyway, we went for the combo plates, which come with rice (either steamed or garlic fried) and one, two, or three items. Mr EA and I collaborated as usual by picking different things so we could each try more stuff. I had steamed rice, a crispy beef fritter, and a pork Sinigiang (I think). Mr. EA had the garlic fried rice, pork adobo and a stew of beef, chickpeas and peas with a ginger flavor to the liquid that we did not catch the name of. Everything was delicious! The garlic rice had a subtle perfume that built up over time. The fritter was composed of ground beef, potatoes, and onion, fried up together in a thin crispy patty. The stews, which we were a little afraid would all blend together, were in fact very distinct. They all were composed of similar things - big chunks of pork or beef, and vegetables in a sauce of the red-brown continuum. However, they all had their own character, and were all well worth sampling.
I was a bit ambitious and went for a cup of Halo-Halo with Ube ice cream. I am still researching what all was in this, but it seemed to me to be a parfait with gelatin cubes, coconut and banana slivers, ice chips, milk (or possibly coconut milk - there was a lot going on there), rice crispies, and Ube ice cream, which the proprietor said was made from a kind of yam - it was very tasty! This dish was characterized by mild, lightly sweet flavors.
I do have a few words of caution. I believe a vegetarian would have difficulty finding a full meal here. Also, if you are at all fussy about meat, you will want to look over the meat chunks you will find in your dishes. There will almost certainly be big wads of fat attached to them, so be aware. It still tastes great, but you will need to do a little trimming before you put a big wad of it in your mouth. Those issues aside, Angelina's Philippino Cuisine is a great place to eat. Go there - you'll be glad you did!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Empty Bowl

Last Saturday I went downtown to the Egan Center to experience the 15th anniversary Empty Bowl benefit for Beans Cafe. Beans Cafe provides meals and resources for the needy, and the Empty Bowl is one of their big fund raisers. Tickets were $18, and for that you receive a homemade pottery bowl and an all-you-can-eat lunch of soup and cornbread. There was also a silent auction for some nicer and more ambitious pottery pieces, as well as T-shirts and dried bean soup mix packs, although sadly I did not know that this would be the case so I didn't bring any extra money. It was also an educational experience, as the staff of Beans Cafe was on hand to explain what their organization was all about, and the good they do with the funds they raise. They are not a shelter, but they do feed many Alaskans in need.
One thing I have found is an interesting is that people here give generously to homeless shelters and other resource organizations for the needy, but they will not give any money whatsoever to panhandlers. (Obviously, this is not true of every single Alaskan - but no one I know does.) Now, I work with some extremely tenderhearted, generous people, and they are unanimous on this conviction: If you give a panhandler money, it will go to the nearest liquor store or else it will go in their arm. If you give money or food or clothing to a shelter, it will give the needy what they actually need. And it's hard to argue with this logic. They are all extremely generous, but in a very practical way that should probably be the gold standard. It follows that charity events like Empty Bowl are very popular. I only found out about this event the day before it happened, and I was kicking myself for not getting a chance to blog about it before it happened. That was until I got to the Egan Center. I got there half an hour before the door opened, and the line snaked up the front of the building and back down again. They were doing fine on the attendance front.
The soup and cornbread were good, basic food. They served a bean and corn chowder and a chili. As a culinary experience, the food was kind of besides the point. However, the availability of the food was very much the point, and I have to say I didn't see a lot of people gorging themselves on the all-you-can eat feed.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

General Scene - IV

Grocery Stores
OK, not really part of eating out, but it is definitely part of the food scene. If you can't find the ingredients, you are a bit stuck for cooking. I'm happy to report that in Anchorage, you are not going to be stuck for too many recipes! This place has some of the best markets, super and otherwise, that I have ever seen. The two major supermarket chains are Fred Meyer's and Carr's. Of these two, Carr's is definitely trying to market itself as the more upscale of the two, and indeed it is "nicer" in its presentation and the prices are considerably higher. However, for variety and quality, as well as price, we like Fred. We are constantly astounded by the variety of choices they carry, especially as we are pretty darn far away from the rest of the country. Also, the produce. Oh, good heavens the produce! The produce available here is so much better and fresher than what was available in PA that it is absolutely astounding. It would not surprise me to find that a good deal of it is shipped up from California, and I am told that some comes from Washington state, which makes sense. Also the variety of Latin and Asian groceries available just in Fred Meyer's alone is amazing.
In addition to the major stores, there are also a number of Asian markets all over Anchorage, most notably New Sagaya . They don't carry just Asian, but that does seem to be the specialty. They are sort of your gourmet/specialty/hard-to-find store. Also, it is a wildly diverting place to spend a Saturday morning. You will find things you never even heard of - some you will want to forget as quickly as possible, others you will take home with you.
Finally, there are specialty stores. I have seen several butcher/game shops around town, but have not had occasion to try them out yet. For chocolate, Modern Dwellers of earlier post fame is the place to go. And for spices, tea, condiments, and chocolate, Summit Spice and Tea is the go-to shop. Between these options, there are very few food items or beverages you couldn't find. Allez cuisine!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Cafe Savannah

During our downtown adventures last week, we stopped in Cafe Savannah, a tapas bar on 6th avenue. The first thing you will notice from the street is the elaborate fused glass hanging in the front window. Inside, the walls are adorned with various works of art. The tables themselves are funky creations with altered silverware and glass embedded in them. Although the menu includes sandwiches and soup as well as some entrees, we chose to graze from the tapas menu. We had chorizo fondue - which was a rich cheese sauce thick with savory sausage bits. Though this was certainly not diet food, but it was not heavy or oily at all. This came with bread slices for dipping. We both enjoyed this, especially Mr. EA. Our second dish was garlic bread with cheese. The garlic flavor was just right - definitely there but not overwhelming. Next was Beef Kabobs, which were served with a spicy sauce that I think might have been harissa sauce. These were perfectly done and had a rich flavor we very much enjoyed. The standout from my perspective was the patatas bravas, which were baked potato wedges with a spicy tomato pepper sauce. After my first bite I ceded the majority of the chorizo fondue to Mr EA in exchange for the majority of the potatoes. Carnivore that he is, he agreed immediately. These four appetizer plates filled us up to the point that dessert, or even coffee were completely out of the question. And our entire bill was around 25$ - a definite bargain. We are already planning our next trip back!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

General Scene-Part III


Anchorage has a plethora of places to feast on steak, so many that there may be more of this kind of restaurant than any other single category. Mr EA's coworkers call C street "meat street" after the scores of steak joints along this major north-south street.

A good percentage of these are chains. Outback, The Cattle Company, Lone Star, and Sullivan's. They are pretty much exactly what they are everyplace else, so if you are curious about them, go to your nearest example. One of the best local examples is Club Paris, which boasts a 50 year history. The local steakhouses also feature Alaskan seafood, especially those enormous terrifying crabs and the ubiquitous and beloved salmon.


There is a smaller-than-normal selection of this style of restaurant. Chains in the area include Applebee's and TGIF. There is some talk that an Olive Garden is scheduled to show up sometime in the next year, but I have not been able to verify this. Local independents in this category include Kinley's, Glacier Brewhouse, Orso's, and quite a few others. Restaurants up here tend to fit more into a specialized niche than the carefully generalized chains. In general, chains like to have a good variety of options to fit the largest number of people. The independents want to get as many people in as possible as well, of course, but they seem like to have more of a ... well, I don't want to call it a gimmick, but I guess that's one way to put it. They tend to be more focused.


While Anchorage doesn't have any "diners" in the classic coastal sense of diners in the diner type buildings. However, there are a lot of places that fit the diner classification in tone and the type of food they serve. The chains that have ventured up here to the last frontier are IHOP, Denny's and Village Inn, which I have only ever seen in Florida, but which is a chain nonetheless. Local examples include Lily's, the White Spot, and the City Diner. This last is an upscale retro creation, in which Anchorage's top chefs are involved. The locals serve the basics - BLTs, burgers, Reubens, toasted cheese sandwiches, etc. They all have something they specialize in - for example, the White Spot has the best fries ever.

Next installment: Ethnic restaurants!