Category Archives: Alaska

Sockeye Salmon Specials in 2 Area Restaurants

Kelly Whitaker’s Basta and Cart-Driver celebrate Sockeye Week.

BristolBayFishermanChefs Collaborative, a group of influential chefs dedicated to promoting sustainable, natural food sources. The group has declared this to be  Sockeye Restaurant Week through November 15. Restaurants and other businesses across the country are featuring wild sockeye salmon from Bristol Bay, Alaska, on their menus. No, sockeye isn’t fresh in November, but it was flash-frozen and is just about as good.

Bristol Bay is the world’s largest sockeye fishery. Today, it is celebrated by no less that President Barack Obama, a supporter of Bristol Bay’s pristine nature, who took action to protect the ecosystem and the fishing community. His actions assure that it will remain a sustainable and productive fishery. Until then, there was a long and ugly threat from the proposed development of the Pebble Mine, a porphyry, copper, gold, and molybdenum operation that would have put Bristol Bay and its population of all five types of salmon at risk if the mine were developed and its waste containment were to fail. Think of the Gold King mine mess near Silverton last August and the far worse situation in Brazil right now, where two burst mining dams have already cost 28 lives, safe drinking water and numerous small villages. Imagine that crap spilling into Bristol Bay. Fortunately, the mine project didn’t come to pass, and now, let’s think about delicious salmon again.

Chefs Collaborative member Kelly Whitaker is hosting two sockeye specials at Cart-Driver (Denver) and Basta (Boulder). Cart-Driver is replacing its popular tuna mousse with sockeye mousse, and Basta is they are extending Sockeye Restaurant Week into First Bite Boulder with a sockeye special.

New Restaurants in Anchorage

Two interesting eateries in Alaska’s main city.

Anchorage-logoAlaska continues to fascinate me, as do interesting restaurants. So even though I’m in Europe right now, I want to share news of two new restaurants in Alaska’s largest city.

The owners of local Anchorage favorites (Snow City Café, Spenard Roadhouse and Sacks Café) expanded their restaurants to include recently opened South. The restaurant and coffeehouse serves brunch, lunch and dinner throughout the week with an eclectic menu that features a host of small plates and shareable items. The full in-house bar showcases local beers and specializes in gin-based cocktails. During the summer. there’s the back patio seating — and everyone who has ever visited Alaska knows how precious summer is.  When I was last in Anchorage four long years ago, I really enjoyed breakfast at the Snow City Café, and more recently, President Obama visited there too.

Willawaw.jpg.A new downtown at Anchorage restaurant, bar and concert venue is Williwaw, housed in a building that once served as Anchorage’s first YMCA and later as the Covenant House for homeless and troubled youth. If walls could talk. Actually, there might not be too many old walls left, since the completely remodeled venue houses a coffee shop, restaurant, concert space, rooftop bar/deck and a resurrected classic Anchorage hangout. It has been opening in parts, with the rooftop deck the first space to open and quickly drew sun seekers searching for a cocktail or beer. The coffee shop, a new location of local roaster SteamDot Coffee Company, serves coffee and pastries morning to afternoon. The upstairs space, modeled after Blues Central, a former Anchorage bar and concert venue, is back as a speakeasy-style lounge area. The main dining room doubles as a concert venue.  It is part of the Humpy’s Great Alaskan Ale House group.

 

Food + Wine + Art at Snowmass Culinary Fest

Mountain resort hosts chefs, artists and an Iditarod winner  

SnowmassCulArtsFest-logoThe fourth annual Snowmass Culinary Festival coming up on Friday, August 9 and Saturday, August 10 features chef demos by Christy Roost, chef and host of the PBS Texas Cooking & Lifestyle series and Snowmass Village chefs Daniel Forster of Venga Venga and James Mazzio of The Edge Restaurant in the Timberline..Food and libations come together in the Palate of Pairings, where 20 small plates prepared by local and regional chefs are paired with beer, wine and spirits.

“The Perfect Day in Snowmass” includes Anderson Ranch Arts Center’s 33rd Annual Art Auction and Community Picnic along with the Snowmass Village Heritage Celebration—all set in the scenic mountain splendor of Snowmass Village.

The Snowmass Culinary Festival features Chef and host of the PBS Texas Cooking & Lifestyle series, Christy Rost and local chefs including Chef Daniel Forster of Venga Venga and Chef James Mazzio of The Edge Restaurant. The cooking demonstrations by Rost and Mazzio on Saturday, are  Tickets for the two-hour Palate of Pairings are only $45 ($10 discount with an Anderson Ranch auction paddle. Click here FoMoInfo onThe Perfect Day in Snowmass or to purchase tickets for the Palate of Pairings. The Community Reception begins at 6:30 p.m. followed by a live art auction and dinner in the main ballroom of the Viceroy Hotel from 7 to 9 p.m. FoMoInfo, call 970-929-9090. 

On Friday, before the art and most of the food, Krabloonik‘s free Adventure Series presents guest speaker Lance Mackey, four-time winner of the Alaskan Iditarod Dog Sled race,Yukon Quest champion and cancer survivor. Krabloonik is both a sled dog kennel and a notable restaurant with ties to racing in the far north.  FoMoInfo: 970-923-3953.

Captain Cook Hotel’s Crow’s Nest a Celebratory Spot

Elegant atmosphere, fine food and jaw-dropping views

CaptCookHotel-logoTwo years ago, I was in Anchorage on a research trip that happened to coincide with the ceremonial start of the 39th Iditarod, an epic dogsled race more more than 1,000 mile to Nome. I stayed a few extra days on a non-ski-related writing project, and a young woman who gave me a tour of some of the city’s meeting and convention facilities invited me to dinner at the splendid Crow’s Nest atop The Hotel Captain Cook, Anchorage’s finest.

Late afernoon view from the Crow's Nest over downtown Anchorage toward the Chugach Range,
Late afternoon view from the Crow’s Nest over downtown Anchorage toward the Chugach Range,

This elegant aerie atop one of the hotel’s three towers is suitable for business travelers on an expensive account, extremely well-heeled tourists and as a special occasion restaurant. Think landmark birthday, anniversary or proposal. My hostess and did not over-indulge. At this point, I can’t recall exactly what each dish was, and I certainly can’t find the menu now. But I do know that we ate lightly but well, watching the sunset play against Chugach Range that forms such a magnificent backdrop to the city. Below, Fourth Avenue, where the Iditarod ceremonial start and the annual Running of the Reindeer had taken place, had been plowed and normal traffic was moving again.oas

Mushroom soup or bisque, poured into the soup plate at tableside.
Mushroom soup being poured into the soup plate at tableside.
I see a seared scallop and some tish and some greens, but I can't recall what this elegant dish was called.
I see a seared scallop and some fish and some greens, but I can’t recall what this elegant dish was called or specifically what other ingredients were in it.
Salad greens enhanced with seared fish. beets (I think) and goat cheese.
Salad greens enhanced with seared fish, beets (I think) and goat cheese.
Mousse in a cup.
Mousse in a cup — a simple presentation for a simple yet lovely dessert. Was it coffee? Was it mocha. Was it another flavor? I can’t recall, but I do remember its silky richness.
By sunset, this is what a table at the Crow's Nest looks like.
By sunset, this is what a table at the Crow’s Nest looks like.

Even though the passage of two years and many meals has blurred my memory of what we ate, I remember sitting in the refined elegance of the Crow’s Nest, thinking of the mushers and their dogs making their way across Alaska toward Nome. And I think of this year’s teams too. Someday again, I’d like to be in Anchorage again for the start and also in Nome to watch the teams finish under the famous burled arch.

Price check: Starters, $15-$16; salads and soups, $12-$14; entrés, $38-$52.

Crow's Nest on Urbanspoon

First Anniversary of Gulf Oil Spill

The media looks at BP/Transcocean rig catastrophe on the marine environment and seafood

The Food Channel is releasing a WebTV video that takes a look at the future of seafood following the ‘Deepwater Horizon’ oil spill, which occurred one year ago, April 20, 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico. Who can forget the images then — the burning platform, the oil workers’ grieving family members, the fishermen and shrimpers laying booms and sopping up surface oil spill, the oil soaked seabirds, the tarballs on empty white-sand beaches, the marshes thick with mucky oil, the then-CEO Tony Hayward making hollow promises to pay for all the cleanup?

Of all Gulf marine life, oysters are just about the most impacted. The Food Channel crew shot in Louisiana over a 10-day period to catch up with what is happening. “’One of the goals of The Food Channel is to document what is happening in food,” said Kay Logsdon, editor of the cable network, according to a press release. “Obviously the story that has been unfolding over the past year in the Gulf has impact on the future of our seafood. We found out that the oyster is one of the most impacted products of the Gulf, and we wanted to bring that story to life.”

Media Recaps of the Disaster

The New Orleans Times Picayune has been reporting on what’s happened for an entire year. Today’s paper featured an editorial called “BP Shucks Responsibility,” which begins, “BP has repeatedly said that it will make right what was damaged by the Macondo oil spill, but the company doesn’t consider devastated oyster beds to be
part of that responsibility. The state’s decision to open freshwater diversions damaged the beds, and BP is refusing to pay to restore them with cultch, the shell material on which oyster eggs attach and grow.” Macondo?, you ask. Not BP? It’s the kind of code name oil companies use to disguise where they are exploring for oil, and sometimes the name lingers, as it has in site of BP/Transocean’s ill-fated rig.

Celeb chef Emeril Lagasse and Andy Ford, host of the upcoming series about Gulf seafood a year after the BP oil spill.

The TV series, titled “Beneath the Surface: Gulf Seafood’s Fight for Survival,” is hosted by The Food Channel ’s Andy Ford, who spent time on the oyster boats, at the shucking house and cooking with some of New Orleans’ finest chefs while researching the short-form series. “We uncovered a story of resiliency, combined with some of the creativity that is bringing the seafood back to the table,” said Ford. “We think it will give a different picture than a lot of the media coverage that focuses purely on the negative impact of the spill, and open people’s eyes to what the real impact is.”

Click here to see the first part, with several segments set to air during the month of May. Additionally, features on some of the New Orleans’ restaurants, including recipes, will be available on the site.

The Food Channel is not alone in recapping related events this year.  CNN aired report today called “Stories from the Gulf, One Year On.” When I visited Louisiana a few months before the spill, I visited Sal Sunseri, who runs the 135-year-old P&G Oyster Company, his family’s oyster business. CNN reported on an interview with Sunseri:

“On a recent French Quarter spring morning, with the sun shining and the birds singing, Al Sunseri struggled to be cheerful. A year ago, just after the spill, he was still hanging on as best he could to business as usual. After all, P&J Oyster Company had survived a lot of calamities in its 135-year history. He was certain it could weather this one. Now, he’s not so sure.

“‘This was always full,’ he says, pointing to cold storage rooms that now gape empty. ‘Lots of activity going on. Shuckers lined up along this stall. We had around 20 employees, give or take a few.’

“Today the company is down to Sunseri, his brother, and a few part-timers. Rather than reeling in the magnificent hauls of fresh Louisiana oysters prized by top chefs, they now spend almost all their time buying and re-selling oysters from other Gulf states where the impact was less devastating. And they fume about BP’s promises to make everything right in the wake of the spill.

“‘I expected them to follow through on that,’ he says, standing near a now-unused processing table. ‘As time went on, I found out that isn’t what was occurring. And I’ve become angry.’

“Although his attorney won’t let him talk numbers, Sunseri says his business has been reduced to a small fraction of what it once was. A claim filed in November with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, the agency set up to handle claims for BP, has finally produced a check, but Sunseri says it was for far less than what he has lost. The top Gulf Coast Claims Facility official, while declining to comment directly on that case, says the organization is continuing to address such complaints and concerns.”

Yeah, right. And oysters can fly — or at least grow in the Arctic Ocean, where, BTW, BP has built an island to accommodated a drilling rig since off-shore drilling is prohibited off Alaska’s coast. As for CEO Tony Hayward and other BP officials, including current CEO Robert Dudley, they reportedly did not receive an annual bonus for 2010, but don’t cry for these executives. In its annual report, BP reported that Hayward and Andy Inglis, once BP’s head of exploration and production who left the company in 2010, received “contractual entitlements of one year’s salary on termination, together with other limited entitlements.”

Hayward’s 2010 salary, converted from pounds, was $1.56 million in 2010, a pittance compared to 2009, when his salary was $1.7 million plus a $3.4 million bonus. And Hayward, who probably should be in jail, remains with the company as director of its oil division in Russia. Meanwhile, Al Sunseri had to lay off most of his crew and might have to close the company altogether. Meanwhile, at BP and other companies involved in offshore exploration and extraction, the motto still seems to be “Drill, Baby, Drill.”

 

Breakfast at Snow City Cafe

Good start to the day at downtown Anchorage breakfast spot

Snow City Cafe, which sits on the edge of downtown Anchorage, is known city-wide for its Benedicts, its omelets and its stuffed French toast. And for opening at 7:00 on weekday mornings. And for servingthose fabulous breakast items until it stops serving food eight hours later. And for good coffee and espresso drinks, available for an hour after the kitchen closes. And for art on the walls. But mostly, it is known for being welcoming to all.  I saw lawyerly-looking men in suits, not surprising since the courts are within a few blocks, but I also saw guys and gals with tattoos and piercings — and neither style seemed put upon by the presence of the other.

Come on in!

The cafe occupies a prominent corner, with large windows and a lot of elbow room at the tables and broad counter.  I’ve been in New York City kitchens that are smaller than Snow City Cafe’s booths.The food is fresh and is sourced from local vendors when possible, and that’s quite a trick in Alaska. They bake in-house (the sticky buns are legendary) and also offer an assortment of vegan, gluten-free and heart-healthy options. And half-orders are available on many items for lighter appetites. Thanks to quality, consistency and variety, Snow City Cafe has raked in annual awards for best breakfast and best brunch, which is no surprise to anyone who has started the morning at one of those spacious tables or broad counter and forked into generous portions of food.

Eggs over easy, a rectangle of has browns with a twist of orange. The toast is on a separate plate.

 

Half-order of crab Benedict -- poached egg, outstanding Alaskan jug crab cake, lovely Hollandaise and green onion atop an English muffin, well toasted, as requested. Hash browns and orange on the side,

Price check: Eggs, omelets and Benedicts, $6.95-$14.95; French toast and pancakes, $7.95-9.95; oatmal, fruit, granola, etc., $5.95-$8.95; baked goodsm $2-$4.95. They also serve lunch; sandwiches including salad, soup or Alaska Thunder Chips, $7.95-$12.95.

Snow City Cafe on Urbanspoon

Crush Wine Bar Chef a James Beard Semi-Finalist

Executive chef  Chris Vane’s tapas-style menu is already a winner

When Robert de Lucia and Scott Anaya decided Anchorage needed a first-rate wine bar, they launched Crush Wine Bar & Bistro in the heart of downtown Anchorage in mid-2008. It was the 49th state’s first wine bar and gained traction immediately. “Wine lovers came out of the woodwork,” says Anaya.  The following year, chef Chris Vane joined the Crush crew. His eclectic, tapas-inspired menu made the small north-country enoteca into a local foodie destination, and thanks to the James Beard Foundation, it is a national foodie radar screen too. 

Vane’s constantly changing, reasonably priced menu accommodates customers whose budgets focus on the lower end of the wine list, but the quality is suitable for the three-figure bottles. That’s what earned him a spot on the James Beard Award list of semifinalists for Best Chef, Pacific Northwest — recognition that is an honor in and of itself. Making it to the finalist list or winning would elevate the honor. Even with such talent and creativity in the kitchen, Crush is not a formal culinary temple but rather an attractive, casual street-level bistro serving good food and good wine. Upstairs, on the second floor, is the “cellar,” which is what Crush calls its wine shop.

Crush serves wines by the bottle in a great range of prices, but commendable wines by the glass are mostly in the $8-$10 range.

When my companions expressed interest in the Sobon Cabernet Sauvignon, Scott said that he had both the 2007 and 2008, so he poured tastings of each for both of them. They both preferred the ’07. By the end of the meal, the ’08, which had been left on the table, opened up and smoothed out. Enlightening.

With art on painted walls and the option to sit at the bar or at a bare wood table, unpretentious and pleasant Crush looks more like a cafe than a ful-blown restaurant. The wine service is knowledgeable, and the wine prices fit every budget. Three-wine flights are $12, and wines by the glass are $8-$16.  Bottles range from a $37 Neil Ellis Groenekloof 2007 Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa to a $1,2oo Chateau Pétrus 1974 Pomerol from one of the smallest terroirs in the Bordeaux region of France.  Most of the reds seem to in the $80-$150 range and the whites somewhat lower, quite in keeping with prices of anything in Alaska that comes from “outside.”

Three of us went to Crush for early-evening eats and wines too. Here’s what we ordered.

Lasagne Bolognese with lamb, beef and pork.
Sherried portobella and spinach polenta. Pulled pork and hominy empanada.
Cranberry and white chocolate bread pudding capped with whipped cream.
Apple spice bread with pecan butter. This time, the whipped cream is alongside.

 
Price check: At dinner, appetizer-style items, $5; small plates, $8; small plates with costlier ingredients or somewhat larger portions, $15; desserts, $7. There is also a $19 charcuterie and cheese plate, and nightly dinner specials are also available.

Crush Wine Bistro & Cellar on Urbanspoon