Archive for the ‘Restaurant Reviews’ Category

Lately it seems to be a rare event for me to eat out while I’m in my home city of Anchorage. These days, most of my dining seems to be done on planes or at mediocre airport hotels due to work and leisure travel that’s consumed me over the past two years. There will be more on the topic of travel to come in future posts, but for now let us focus on food.

Recently a friend and I had a wonderful dinner at Maxine’s Fireweed Bistro. We ended up sharing all of the dishes – with minimal bickering, I should point out – at least minimal bickering in regard to the food.

Our starter was tempura pork belly that was light and crunchy outside while bursting with juicy pork inside – all without a hint of grease.

Tempura Pork Belly Appetizer

Tempura pork belly appetizer

Both entrees were equally good in their own ways. The evening’s Bistro Steak was local elk loin seared medium rare, served with fiddlehead ferns and (more…)

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There’s definitely something to be said for the warmth of a cozy, family-owned neighborhood restaurant. A place where you can find hearty portions of soulful comfort food, prepared with care by the owner and served by an attentive staff. Here in Anchorage, Little Italy Restaurante has been filling that role by crafting traditional – and a few non-traditional – Greek and Italian dishes for 30 years.

Warm tones and lighting at Little Italy

Warm tones and lighting  provide a comfortable setting at Little Italy

In a town like Anchorage, where restaurants breeze in and out like the blustery Chinook winds, family-owned Little Italy’s longevity speaks volumes about camaraderie and customer loyalty. Guests appreciate the care owner Spiros Gialopsos and his staff put into the ample plates of food – and also the attentiveness of the staff under the guidance of P.J. in the front of the house.

This is a place to go to enjoy the types of food that you might be too intimidated to try cooking at home. For me, that means diving into a large appetizer of spanakopita made with fresh sautéed spinach dotted with tangy feta, seasoned with herbs and onions, then (more…)

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I had the opportunity to dine at Le Cirque during a recent trip to Las Vegas. This New York City fine dining outpost is located in the lovely 5-star Bellagio Hotel and Resort, and is one of the cornerstones of the hotel’s dining experiences. My expectations for the restaurant were quite high, but both the floor staff and kitchen fully delivered with an amazing meal and a very memorable evening.

My recommendation is to definitely go with the Le Cirque dégustation menu rather than ordering a la carte, and certainly do opt for the lovely wine pairings. You will not be disappointed. Unlike some tasting menus, you will have an element of control in the selection of your dishes while still experiencing the full range of what the chef and his staff can create. The exemplary service from the wait staff and sommelier at Le Cirque is professional and attentive without feeling at all intrusive.

Amuse bouche - uni 'ice cream' with ginger-lemon grass gelee -- Le Cirque Restaurant

An amuse bouche of uni with caviar – Le Cirque

Although I ordered the snow crab as my starter, I was surprised when the waiter brought a lovely amuse bouche of uni with lemon grass gelée and a fennel puree. It was sublime, as was my actual starter of snow crab with turnip, apple, avocado and pomegranate.

Sautéed foie gras with pear confit – and a salty caramel sauce – did not disappoint. It was delicate and (more…)

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It’s a chilly afternoon and this listless lady’s thoughts are turning to – of all things – cake. But not just any cake — I’m craving a luscious little bacon cheesecake from the Alaska Cake Studio. Yes, a cake of my very own. That is just what I need to cheer me up on this cold, windy winter day.

Bacon Cheesecake from Alaska Cake Studio

Alaska Cake Studio is a delicious spot to make a stop no matter the season or weather. During one of my Cake Studio visits the individual dessert items on display included a Madagascar Vanilla Mousse, my favorite Bacon Cheesecake, and a Mojito Truffle dessert. Cupcakes at the Alaska Cake Studio are offered in two flavors per day, and rotate on both a daily and monthly basis. Red Velvet, S’mores, and Strawberry Champagne cupcakes are popular with both visitors and locals alike.

Owner Will McDonald and his staff at Alaska Cake Studio have been bringing sweetness and light to Downtown Anchorage and 4th Avenue since December 2009. But why locate the shop on 4th Avenue, an area of town that has foot traffic but little in the way of parking? As it turns out, a storefront was just what he was looking for, as McDonald revealed during our conversation.

“You get people with the smell, the scent of baking,” he confided. “I wanted to bring something to Anchorage that we didn’t have … a shop with a warm, comforting feel where people can browse, sample pastries and cakes, or purchase specialty items.”

He’s quick to add, “It’s all about the cake. I believe the cake should stand alone — frosting is just an accessory.”

The warm and very inviting interior of the Alaska Cake Studio

There are many delectables available in addition to cakes made on the premises. You’ll also find a wide selection of gourmet sugars and pearls for decorating your own confections; specialty sugars such as Demerara, (more…)

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If you’re like me, visiting a new restaurant is a bit like going on a blind date. You dress up, hold your breath, and hope the experience lives up to your (high) expectations. Often there is a let down. Perhaps it’s a decent place, but the two of you just aren’t a good fit. On occasion, when the spot turns out to be the restaurant equivalent of the date from hell, you vow never to return. And once in a while, things click. You have a great interaction and almost feel giddy thinking about the next opportunity to spend quality time together. That’s the experience I had during my first visit to The Grape Leaf Restaurant and Wine Bar.

The Grape Leaf Restaurant had a soft opening in October and continues to undergo some gentle tweaks. Designers completely revamped the interior of what had once been the old Greek Corner, and in its place they crafted a warm, comfortable spot dressed in an inviting autumn palate. The bistro vibe encompasses some of the best attributes of Italy, Spain, and Argentina, the countries which provide the main influences for the menu. A mix of small and mid-size booths, along with a smattering of pedestal tables, provides seating in a space that feels both intimate and upscale. Gentle flamenco drifted from the speakers during my visits.

Dining Room, The Grape Leaf Restaurant and Wine Bar

No single cuisine dominates The Grape Leaf’s international menu, but inspiration is definitely drawn from Italy and Spain, the historic homes of the chef, Franco Magrini, and the owner, Hugo Gimenez. Hugo’s formative years were in Argentina and Franco’s family lived there when he was young, so it, too, is represented. A variety of pasta dishes and other Italian fare immediately catch the eye, yet other menu headings include Spanish “Tapas” and “Postres” for starters and desserts. Within the Tapas section alone you’ll find Spanish croquetas de jamon, Greek gyros with tzatziki, Middle Eastern falafel, pinchos with Argentine chimichurri, South American empanadas, and Italian dishes such as fried polenta. The remainder of the menu also touches many bases. Even the dessert wine pairings are multinational, with a Hungarian tokaji appearing alongside dulce de leche and a Portuguese port recommended with the arroz con leche.

With such a diverse menu, I knew it would take several visits to sample a variety of dishes. I began by visiting The Grape Leaf for dinner. A friend and I started our meal with the small Plato de Fiambre from the Tapas section of the menu. Although the name in Spanish literally translates as “lunch plate,” the dish was an Italianesque antipasto of cured meats accompanied by fresh mozzarella and – to keep things truly international – a French inspired pate made from chicken livers. Smooth mortadella was counterbalanced by the rustic, coarser textured sopressata. Delicate shavings of Prosciutto di Parma also graced the plate, as did a few bits of (more…)

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Pi Kitchen + Bar is an attractive spot tucked away in the Embassy Suites Hotel in Midtown. Hotel restaurants often get a bad rap, sometimes without cause, and I heard that Pi had a make-over and a new menu. Given that information, I thought the spot deserved a chance to show whether it can compete with the other players in Midtown Anchorage.

Caesar salad at Pi Kitchen + Bar

A friend joined me for the recent Pi Kitchen experience. We began with beef barley soup and Caesar salad. The soup was flavorful, with tender bits of beef in a rich broth accompanied by a variety of soft vegetables and barley. (more…)

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If you detect the scent of smoke near Indian along the Seward Highway this season, don’t dial 911. Instead, slow down and watch for the red-roofed building near Mile 103. That’s where you’ll find the Turnagain Arm Pit BBQ, one of Alaska’s newest roadside eateries.

Depending on your sense of humor, the “Arm Pit” portion of the name may be either amusing or off-putting. If you fall into the second group, it may help to reframe it. Think of the Arm Pit as a casual spot for some smoky pit-style barbecue, in a scenic location along the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet. I’ll wager the Arm Pit has the best view of any BBQ shop in Alaska or the Lower 48.  During nice weather, you can enjoy your meal on the large, outside deck, taking in the views of the Chugach Mountains behind the shop and the vista of the Kenai range across the inlet.

View from the deck, the Kenai Mountains across the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet

I’d heard the Arm Pit BBQ described as Texas style, so I walked in with preconceived expectations about the menu. One glance dispelled Texas as the point of origin for the restaurant. Nary a beef rib to be found, and a Texas BBQ joint would not have pulled pork featured at the top of the menu. Giving top billing to pork is no longer considered a hanging offense in Texas, but the Arm Pit’s signature item would raise eyebrows in Longhorn country. The “Boar Tide” is a pulled pork sandwich (more…)

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