Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Adventures in the Great White North

by Xani





Wow people, where do I even start? I've spent the last week in various states and time zones, logging lots of frequent flier miles. Work sent me to Alaska (!!), then I took a quick trip to LA to visit friends. Now that I've finally arrived at home, unpacked (ok, half unpacked), and uploaded my pictures, I've got all kinds of culinary adventures to tell you about.


First let me say that, if you ever have to fly to Alaska, I highly recommend First Class. Finally all those frequent flier miles were good for something! The food was "free" and not only edible, but not half-bad. I spent all day flying and when I arrived in Anchorage, I didn't even feel like killing myself or any of the other passengers or flight crew-- amazing! Anyhow, after landing in Anchorage I grabbed a quick shower and then headed off to the Moose's Tooth, a local pizza and beer joint that had been recommended by a number of people. It was only about 4:30pm in Anchorage, but since they are four hours behind the East coast, co-worker Mike and I were ready for dinner. Surprisingly, the place was PACKED. I guess people in Anchorage like to start happy hour early... or maybe they just wanted to come in from the cold.


Moose's Tooth makes their own local microbrew beer, and they had several types on draft. But I was so tired and dehydrated from the flight, which had absolutely nothing to do with the free bloody marys they served for 6 hours straight, that I was in the mood for something non-alcoholic. Lucky they also make homemade root beer and cream soda. So, we ordered a pitcher of the root beer which was sweet, spicy and creamy. (Don't worry-- the next day we stopped off at the Bear's Tooth, a sister restaurant, for a REAL beer, which was excellent.) We were not only thirsty but STARVING, so we ordered the sun-dried tomato hummus before moving on to their specialty: pizza!





Wild Mushroom Pizza

Margherita Pizza

I got the Margherita and Mike got the Wild Mushroom. Not the best pizza I've ever had, but definitely the best pizza I ate in Alaska! Then we headed to a local Starbucks (I know, I know-- but it had a fireplace and was soooo cozy) for a sweet treat (I got the new salted caramel hot chocolate-- it almost put me in a sugar coma but it was worth it). By then it was LATE, at least for those of us still on East coast time, and time for bed!

Scenery in Anchorage

Silliness in Achorage




The next day we did some adventuring all around Anchorage and took some awesome pictures of the scenery. I also researched a place for our last dinner in Anchorage, and decided on the Marx Brothers Cafe, which got high praise on the Chowhound boards. The cafe is in a cute little townhouse in downtown Anchorage, and serves high-quality, imaginative food in an upscale setting. Also, it's totally cozy! The service was very professional (except for the constant calls of "comin' in!" every time a server went through the swinging door to the kitchen) and the food was delicious. We both started with the oysters on the half shell-- local from Stedman Cove, and served with pickled ginger-pepper vodka sorbet. The oysters were very fresh, clean, and had a sweeter, less briny taste than the Chesapeake oysters I'm used to eating with BCD Dad. The ginger/pepper vodka sorbet was inspired and danced on the tongue.



For our entrees, Mike got one of the specialties of the house, Halibut Macadamia, which is baked halibut in a macadamia nut crust, served with mango chutney, mild coconut curry, and jasmine rice. The man cannot resist anything with curry! He reported that the fish was very fresh and the dish was very tasty. I selected the Broiled King Crab legs (Jumbo red king crab with paprika brown-butter and a Yukon gold potato gratin), because I was dying to try this local treat, and apparently wanted to challenge myself to dismantle these beasts without embarrassing myself at a fancy restaurant. It was a challenge, indeed! The crab meat was very sweet and the brown butter sauce was soooo rich. I picked at it with a tiny fork and tried not to send it flying across the room. It was delicious, but in the end, I still prefer my Maryland crabs, eaten with the hands on newspaper-covered tables.


Monster Claws!


Finally, dessert. All the Marx Brothers desserts are made in-house, and they all sounded wonderful but both Mike and I ended up ordering frozen treats. I got the espresso ice cream and Mike got a selection of sorbets. A perfect end to a very lovely meal.





The next morning we hopped in the car for a quick, 400 mile trek to Fairbanks. This drive, which I was certain would end in a "I Shouldn't Be Alive"-type disaster, was actually pretty uneventful. We drove through the now-famous Wasilla, saw gorgeous scenery, and paid $5.21/gallon for gas! (you don't even want to know what we paid for Sun Chips.) Here are some of the pictures I snapped along the way:


On the road to nowhere...







snowy mountain roads-- we still make record time






We arrived in Fairbanks, tired and achey, and had dinner at a casual burger joint. The next night, disappointing Italian food. But the final night we went for a real Alaskan meal at The Pump House Restaurant and Saloon, a historic site overlooking the Chena river. This was a really cool, old-timey place with a giant stuffed Alaskan Brown bear next to the hostess station, and moose heads on the wall. They also have some local game on the menu, which Mike and I just had to try. So we both ordered the Reindeer Tenderloin, which is grilled and served with a raspberry-orange sauce, braised red cabbage and au gratin potatoes. I was really not expecting this to taste that good-- I don't usually like tenderloin because it is so lean, and I was worried it might taste too gamey. But I figured I may never get the chance to try reindeer again, so I'll go for it. And it was SO good. It was lean, but not dry or tough at all. The flavor was definitely more intense than regular beef, but not in a bad way. I think the sauce really was a perfect compliment to the meat, just sweet and tart enough. And the potatoes were KILLER. All the while, it was snowing outside (snowing! in October. I know this is nothing to Alaskans, and it gets much much snowier and colder and darker throughout the winter, but it blew my mind. Faribanks is the furthest North I have ever been), which meant we had to stay for a little longer and watch the snowfall over chocolate brownies and ice cream.





The closest we got to seeing a moose


Snowy scene outside the Pump House



And then it was over! The next morning I headed to the Faribanks airport to fly COACH (ew) all the way to LA. Alaska was quite an adventure in culture, weather, and flavor. I'm wondering where work will take me next!

Coming up: adventures in LaLa Land!



X

P.S. One of my favorite things about Alaska were these little coffee huts/shacks that we saw everywhere. I guess Alaskans love their coffee-- they need something to keep them warm and awake during the long, dark winters...




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