I’m lazy about packing a lunch for work, so tend to eat out for lunch most days of the week. Over the seven years I’ve been working between Downtown and Midtwon (16th Avenue between A and C Streets) a rotating cast of favorite spots for a quick lunch for one has developed. The following list includes the eight nine restaurants that I most commonly lunch at.
I haven’t written anything here for a very long time, and so have to admit to myself that blogging will probably not turn into a habit as hoped for. However, Arran and I are currently on a plane flying home from Colombia, and since the original inspiration for this blog was travel food, this seems like the perfect time for a post.
Some time ago, my lady friend and I were at The Bear Tooth for brunch, where a menu item called The Spenard Starter caught my eye. I love polenta dishes, especially at good restaurants, so I ordered it without hesitation. When it arrived, we were blown away by the decadence: A thick slab of polenta, covered with and surrounded by shrimps, chorizo, and grilled tomatoes. All topped off with a spicy Béchamel and two fried eggs. Savory and delicious, it now ranks as my favorite breakfast in Anchorage (supplanting the German Apple Cake at Cafe Amsterdam).
I was immediately taken with a desire to recreate this meal at home. My first attempt ended up tasty, if not quite as good as they do at the restaurant. What follows is my first pass at the recipe (a work in progress):
Soba Noodles in Shiitake-Shoyu Broth with Asparagus and Egg
I wanted to really love this soup. There were a lot of things that were very attractive about the recipe, including the soba noodles (yum), the inclusion of hard boiled eggs (my favorite soup ingredient), the pan-fried asparagus (a delicous and in-season veggie) . . . On top of all that, I was planning on feeding a pair of meat-adverse women, so the inclusion of tofu instead of meat and the fact that the broth was described as “unami-rich” despite being vegetarian pushed the recipe right to the top of the priority list.
My oldest and dearest friend, and one of my favorite cooking buddies, has just arrived back home in Alaska, so my lady and I invited her over for dinner and to watch the U.S. soccer friendly against Brazil.
A Damn Good Bowl of Soup at Pho Lena
My first experience at Pho Lena was in 2008, shortly after the space was vacated by the Hen (if you’ve been in Anchorage for a while you know what I’m talking about). I ordered some sort of Thai chicken curry because I didn’t know any better and hadn’t realized yet how wonderful Vietnamese and Lao food are. The best and worst things I can say about that curry was that I remember little else about it.
The next meal I had at Pho Lena was a bowl of a classic pho combo with tripe, thinly-sliced beef, and meatballs. This was in the course of a personal quest to identify the best bowl of pho in Anchorage. Unfortunately, the bowl I had at Pho Lena was not even in my top three in town (number one for me is currently Pho Vietnam on Denali Street). As a result, I didn’t visit this restaurant again for another couple years
The Boring Background Bit
There were several factors that came together to result in me cooking fried chicken (not a meal I would commonly cook or order out) on Sunday night. The first being that, based on the advice of Bittman and Ruhlman, I started making my own poultry stock this past winter. The impact that homemade stock has had on my cooking is so profound, that I vowed to never use store-bought chicken stock again. The main hurdle with this has been procuring chicken carcasses with which to make said stock (this is actually a separate topic that I would like to expand on later; suffice it to say, I’m roasting a lot more chickens these days than I used to, often for the primary reason I’m in need of stock). I used up my last bit of stock last week making some risotto, so this weekend I was once again looking for a reason to cook chicken.
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but there are an AWFUL LOT of food blogs out there. There are food blogs with gorgeous, professional quality photography, blogs that document impressive make-everything-from-scratch foodie lifestyles, and blogs that beautifully illustrate and explain how to make the type of food that makes you swell with pride when you pull it off. There are blogs devoted to virtually every genre of food you can imagine, blogs dedicated to dealing with dietary restrictions, and blogs that offer helpful real-person-perspective restaurant reviews
So what can I contribute that’s new or unique? I’m not a great cook, and I’m definitely not a great photographer. I’m not much of a writer at all. I don’t have a particularly refined palette, nor am I particularly knowledgeable about food in general or some foodie niche in particular.