That Food Guy
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
  Imperial Palace- Anchorage, Alaska
Imperial Palace
400 Sitka St Anchorage, AK 99501
(907) 274-9167

A little bit of Los Angeles’s 1950’s China Town is alive and well right here in Anchorage, Alaska. It isn’t an exact copy but it is the closest thing I have come across in many, many years. Adjacent to the Merrill Field Motel, it is a bit off the main street through town, and somewhat hard to see. I first saw the restaurant on my first trip to Alaska more than twenty years ago. It had always been an item on the to-do list but somehow always overlooked at least until today. We made it a planned stop on our way home from a tour of Whittier via the shared railroad tunnel and Girdwood.

For southbound traffic it is a simple turn but for the northbound vehicle the divided highway means a turn early to go around the block. There is adequate parking in the shared lot with the Merrill Field Motel. The interior is decorated mildly in an Oriental motif, inviting without being garish with seating for about forty people. The lighting was subdued but thankfully not dark. The restaurant was not crowded so the noise level was very subdued, always a positive feature.

I saw two people, a woman who took care of the dining room and a man who worked the kitchen. I could not see the back kitchen area and there were perhaps others to help at busy times but we were certainly never aware of them. That is not to say service was poor. The woman was quick, personable and accurate in orders and was frequently nearby to refill glasses and to see if anything additional was needed or desired. Food service from the kitchen was completed in a reasonable time as well.

As I mentioned above, like a bit of old Los Angeles Chinatown; that is where I learned what Americanized Chinese food was all about more than fifty years ago. The storefront takeout emporiums and now popular all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurants dropped the quality of the food enough that I hardly bear any resemblance to what I remember. A particular example is the so-called New York-style sweet and sour dishes. Now nothing more that some breaded meat morsels with a red sauce drizzled over it, it pales in comparison to the delicious and colorful sweet and sour presentations of the Chinatown restaurants with green and red Bell pepper, white bits of onion and the happy yellow of pineapple. With that in mind, we went to the Imperial Palace to see what they had to offer.

The menu has a bit of nostalgia. In addition to entrée items, the menu offers family dinners, a combination of entrees and side dishes at a per person price. All that was missing were phrases like, “…with three you get egg roll.” We ordered tea while we perused the menu. We were quickly served a pot of piping hot green tea. At long last, three people of different minds, we ordered from the Dinner For One and the Combination Dinner For One columns; something for every taste. Sister Pattie Sue ordered the Szechwan Pork ($13.95 Served with eggroll and pork fried rice). My nephew, Ron, ordered the Mongolian Beef and Teriyaki Chicken combo ($14.95 Served with eggroll and pork fried rice). I, on the other hand, ordered the Chicken Chow Mein and Sweet and Sour Pork ($13.95 Served with eggroll and pork fried rice).

Our order taken, we sat back to wait. Almost immediately we were served bowls of egg flower soup. The soup was not mentioned in the menu but it seemed to be included. It was a nice hot soup with lots of vegetables and egg flowers in a savory broth. It was a tasty appetizer for the food to come. Pattie Sue’s Szechwan Beef was served, as were the other dinners, on a platter. The greater half was the Szechwan Beef, the remainder, the pork fried rice. An egg roll, sliced diagonally, framed the presentation. The hot peppers made for a spicy dish but not too hot to be enjoyable. The vegetables were cooked but still crisp. The beef was tasty, tender and not chewy. The fried rice had a nice flavor. Portions were more than adequate and a goodly portion of Pattie Sue’s dinner went home in a Styrofoam box.

Nephew Ron’s Mongolian Beef and Teriyaki Chicken shared a platter with a serving of pork fried rice in the middle. The sliced egg roll also framed the dish. Ron found the Mongolian beef to be tender and tasty with enough spice to give it the kick he loves but not too spicy to be enjoyed. The Teriyaki Chicken was tender and had a good flavor but he says it had a bit too much teriyaki sauce and that detracted from the flavor of the chicken. He added that if her were to go there again he would order the Mongolian Beef alone and forego the Teriyaki Chicken.

My Chicken Chow Mein and Sweet and Sour Pork shared a patter with a serving of Pork Fried Rice; again, all framed with a sliced eggroll. Serving size was more than adequate, perhaps more than I should have eaten in the one sitting. The chow mein was a medley of vegetables and chicken served over crisp fried noodles just the way it should be. The sauce was flavorful just like he chow mein dishes of old Chinatown. Slightly thickened juice of the fried chicken and the vegetables provided the flavorful basis for the sauce. The vegetables were tender crisp, the chicken tasty and the noodles added a crispy counterpoint. The eggrolls were composed mostly of cabbage but had a good
flavor. They had been fried crispy but were not greasy or oily. They did benefit for a dip in the accompanying sweet and sour sauce (I do miss the old-fashioned cocktail sauce with a dollop of Chinese hot mustard in the center). The fried rice was flavorful with bits of vegetable and fried egg. The rice is American style, fluffy and really requires a fork to eat it. If you want o use chop sticks they would work well with the chow mein and the sweet and sour but the rice would be another matter entirely. The Sweet and Sour Pork were excellent. It was colorful with the vegetables, pineapple and sweet and sour sauce. It was well cooked, well seasoned and a pleasure to eat. The food on my plate had similar appearance and taste of the food of old time Chinatown.

The restaurant and its facilities were neat and clean. Dining was in a comfortable atmosphere. The service was excellent. The food was good and evoked memories of past meals with family and friends. We all enjoyed our meals and we will most likely be back again for another go at the local incarnation of old Chinatown.

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  The Smoke Shack - Seward, Alaska
Smoke Shack
Located in the “Train Wreck” (Corner of 4th and Port) in the Historic WWII Railcar
(907) 224-7427

We had been up long before the rooster crowed for the long journey south to Seward to catch the MV Glacier Explorer, a tour boat out into Resurrection Bay, Kenai Fjords and a stop in front of majestic Aialik Glacier. We encountered no accidents, avalanches or road construction along the way and arrived with about an hour to spare. Nephew Ron was driving and he pulled smartly into the parking lot in front of the Smoke Shack. A collection of retired Alaska Railroad cars, they have history dating back to carrying troops during the Second World War. One of the cars is the diner, the Smoke Shack, and the others have been converted to motel rooms for a unique over-nighter.

When one thinks of rail dining the thoughts turn to linen napkins, silver plate, crystal glassware and fine chine dishes. That is not exactly the case with the Smoke Shack. The tables and booths are of angular plywood construction devoid of cushions. Surprisingly, they are quite comfortable but considering the width of the rail car, four persons fill the booth. For climate weather, there are several umbrelled tables outside for alfresco dining. One end of the car accommodates the kitchen, open to public view; no secrets there. The opposite end of the car has rest rooms in the Pullman-style; antiquated but clean and serviceable.

There is one aspect of dining anywhere in Seward that takes a bit of getting used to; sticker shock. Seward is located at the end of the road, the tourist season is short and he idle winters very long and dark. But, you take a big breath of air, ignore the price and place your order. That is also true of the menu at the Smoke Shack. The menu features breakfast and lunch items. Perhaps there is a dinner menu; I don’t know.
We started off with coffee ($2.00) while we perused the menu. At long last we were ready to order. Sister Pattie Sue chose the Two Egg Breakfast ($7.00 Eggs any style, homefries and toast, eggs over medium). Nephew Ron selected a half order of Buttermilk Pancakes ($4.00). I thought about it for awhile but finally chose something I don’t often have, biscuits and gravy. For a moment I remembered flying from Van Nuys Airport on Sundays to Santa Paula where the little, on the airfield restaurant served the most wonderful biscuits and gravy. But that is a story for another time. This day I selected the half order of Biscuits and Gravy ($6.00 We make them from scratch).

Pattie Sue’s eggs were cooked to order, over medium. The homefries were crudely cut into pieces of varying sizes. When cooked, there were some that were very much overdone and some of the larger pieces had a bit of a raw taste. They were acceptable but they would have been so much better if more care had been taken in cutting the potatoes making them more uniform in size. The toast was lightly toasted which made for a bit of sogginess in the middle when buttered; a bit more time in the toaster would have made it ju
st about perfect.

Ron’s order was a stack of two large pancakes. He said they tasted good but perhaps were a bit dense. However, he had no trouble finishing his meal that was served with adequate butter and syrup.

My order was a large biscuit, split and covered with a generous portion of gravy. There were lots of little sausage bits in the gravy that was liberally seasoned with black ground pepper. Did I mention that they gravy was highly seasoned with pepper? Luckily pepper doesn’t linger like capsatian and by the time I had finished half I was almost used to it. Perhaps the local taste runs to heavily peppered gravy but it was more than I would have used were I making the dish at home. Other than the heavily peppered spiciness, it tasted good

and I finished the meal to gird me for the sea voyage ahead.

The Smoke Shack has been in Seward for quite awhile and the deficits we noted are more like teething problems in a start-up café. One would have thought they would have smoothed off all the rough edges by this time. Perhaps it was just the hectic nature of the busy morning breakfast trade… The server was always about bringing requested items in a timely manner exhibiting courtesy and good humor. In spite of the deficits we enjoyed our meal, lingering over coffee, as we talked about the day’s adventure to come.

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  Shine's Asian Fusion Bistro
Shine’s Sushi
12400 Old Glen Hwy #3
Eagle River, Alaska 99577
(907) 622-8889

Shine’s has long been a favorite place. I was therefore surprised when there was another café in its old storefront place. I had just returned after a two year absence and was looking forward to sharing my favorite haunt with my sister and nephew when they arrived in a few days for their Alaskan adventure. I was fortunate enough to locate Shine’s in its new location a few blocks away on the opposite side of the main street through town. The new banner, Shine’s Asian Fusion Bistro, beckons you onto a larger facility but with the same delicious offerings.

I picked up Pattie Sue and Ron at the Anchorage airport after their late morning arrival. We stopped in Eagle River for lunch at Shines before heading home to Chugiak. After all, the airlines haven’t done an adequate job of feeding and caring for the passengers for a long, long time…

We ordered from the Lunch Special Menu. Pattie Sue chose the Sesame Chicken (Chose 1 Item from A List Below, $9.00, Most dishes served wth Miso Soup, Salad). Nephew Ron ordered the Lunch Box (Choose Three Items Below, 1 Each from A to D, $11.00). He chose the Tempura, California Roll, and the Teriyaki Chicken. I also chose a Lunch Box. My choices were the Tempura and California Roll but I chose the Sesame Chicken for my final choice.

We all started off with a bowl of salad and a bowl of miso soup. The salad was a mix of greens with some shreds of carrot and purple cabbage for color contrast and eye appeal. The dressing was light, had a slight tartness but underneath was a sweet component; very tasty. The miso soup was hot, savory and whetted the appetite for the meal to come. We had to reassure Ron that drinking the soup from the bowl was acceptable table manners.

Pattie Sue’s Sesame Chicken was am ample serving of nicely cooked breaded chicken morsels, sprinkled with sesame seeds and drizzled with sauce. There was a serving of steamed rice and a small salad of finely cut greens and radishes. She said the chicken was cooked through, was tender and had good flavor; delicious. The rice and salad made a nice accompaniment. The serving was large enough that some of her meal went home in a “doggie bag.” It made a delicious snack the next day.

The Shine’s Lunch Boxes are actually Bento Box plates. That presentation has long been a favorite of mine. The five-compartment tray has a place for the sushi roll, the tempura, the rice and the entrée. A final and a smaller compartment for the beni shoga, pickled ginger, and the wasabi. The pretty presentation does belie the amount of food in the serving.

The Shine’s shrimp tempura is always a treat. The skewer holds several shrimp together making a large serving something resembling a super jumbo shrimp. The batter was nice and brown, crispy fried; perfect as usual. The California roll, an inside out makisushi roll, was well made. The rice was sticky and held together
even with ham-fists manipulating the hashi. The delicious crab and avocado filling was tasty and the coating of sesame seeds seemed to get lost in all the other succulent flavors. The chicken serving was ample. Ron felt there was a bit too much of the teriyaki sauce on his but otherwise the taste and texture was excellent.
The sesame chicken was very good. The chicken morsels were nicely breaded, fried a nice brown and
coated with a tasty sauce and, of course, the sesame seeds.
Even for travelers with ravenous appetites, the luncheon special meals were more than ample servings to quell the hunger; a successful introduction into the food chain of wilderness Alaska. The new incarnation of Shine’s Sushi is an improvement in spaciousness and diner comfort. The old featured tables and chairs all in close proximity to one another. When busy the ambient noise level was high; something usually overlooked.

The new facility features booths along the walls and appropriate space between the tables for a lower noise level and a bit of privacy. As usual, the serving staff was quick, polite and thorough. He food was fresh, tasty and well presented. It is easy to see why Shine’s will continue to be one of m favorite places to go for a bite to eat when I am in Eagle River, Alaska.

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  Sushi Family
Sushi Family
415 Yellowstone Ave Pocatello, Idaho 
(208) 233-4400

On a whim, sister Pattie Sue and niece Jennifer decided it was time to tryout a fairly new sushi restaurant in downtown Pocatello. I was invited to come along. The Sushi Family restaurant offers a menu to order from and it also offers all-you-can-eat sushi but with a twist from the ordinary.

The restaurant is in an unassuming store front on Yellowstone Avenue. Signage is minimal and you have to look closely to find it. There is adequate parking adjacent and the main entry faces the parking area. Inside the facility is minimally decorated in Oriental style. Booths and tables are available but all are well separated so that even when fully occupied the diner density is low. There were a few other diners when we entered but the noise level was very low, always a plus. We were quickly seated in our choice of a booth that was comfortable.

What we learned was that all of the sushi orders, including the all-you-can-eat, are made at the time of the order. There are no trays of pre-made sushi. The house menu is used for both regular dining and all-you-can-eat patrons, the all-you-can-eat comes at a bit of a premium price. Be wary, though, because if you order more than you can actually eat there is a surcharge for the wasted food. It is certainly a different way as both styles of eating are the same product ordered from the same menu.

Tea and sodas were the beverages of choice. Sushi Family features Coca Cola products. We started off sharing a platter of the Tempura Combo appetizer ($8.95). The dish has four pieces of large tempura shrimp and five pieces of tempura vegetable. It is served with a tentsuyu-style dipping sauce. Nicely browned, the batter was cooked through. The shrimp was not over cooked and sill had the slightest little snap to the bite. The vegetables were tender but not mushy. We were also served bowls of miso soup and a house salad with dressing. The soup was a nice hot bowl of a tasty miso soup. The salad was a mixture of finely cut slaw with a mild dressing and what I believe were toasted sesame seeds. It was a tasty interlude while we waited for the entrees.

Pattie Sue ordered the House Special 1 ($8.50 Spicy crab, topped with tuna, salmon and yellowtail). A large serving served alone on a decorative plate, it was ample for a meal. She said it was very good and the three different surimi toppings made for an interesting variety of flavors. She was satisfied with her choice. Regular and low sodium soy sauce are at the table. A side dish provided the de rigor beni shoga and wasabi.

Jennifer ordered the Teriyaki Salmon ($12.95 Comes with miso soup, house salad, steamed rice and four pieces of tempura vegetables). The plate was full with an about 3-ounce teriyaki salon filet, a mound of steamed rice and a selection of tempura vegetables. A tentsuyu-style dipping sauce was also provided. Jenifer enjoyed her meal saying that the salmon was very good, very tasty. A light eater at times, her meal was just a bit too large for a single sitting but the take home would be scant for a later meal. She ordered an additional nigiri sushi, Octopus Tako ($3.00 Two pieces per order) to supplement her left over meal to take home.

I ordered something a bit different. I chose the Chicken Bento ($11.95 Comes with miso soup, house salad, tempura shrimp and vegetables, four pieces California roll, four pieces crystal shrimp roll and steamed rice).
A classic Japanese presentation, the ancient working man’s lunch has become an art form of food service. Mine was served in a compartmented tray or serving dish. There were individual compartments for the listed
ingredients as well as a small bowl of tentsuyu-style dipping sauce and a small serving of beni shoga and wasabi. The California roll was good. The crystal shrimp roll was served with a drizzle of sauce, soy or teriyaki I believe, but it was still a bit lackluster, not up to the promise of the name. The tempura shrimp and vegetables were excellent. The batter coating was well browned and cooked through without overcooking the inte
rior ingredient. The chicken was all white meat, spiced and grilled and the sliced for serving. It was tasty though a bit tough. All in all, I was very
satisfied with my selection of the bento box meal
and would seriously consider ordering it on a future visit.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012
  Azuma Sushi and Teppan
Azuma – Sushi and Teppan
4701 San Mateo Blvd
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 880-9800

This was to be a father and son day, a boys’ day out, a day at the museum, a rekindling of bonds. The morning chores completed, we started off and, and as it was nearing midday, we decided to stop somewhere for an early lunch. Larry took us to one of his favorite places. It was to be Azuma’a for a sushi lunch. Open daily at 11:00 am. When we entered we found that A
zuma opens at 11:30 on the weekends. We were a bit early, about 15 minutes. Larry
told the receptionist that we would wait in the car. She bade us to have a seat in the lobby, “It is nice and cool inside.” Already a nice touch… We were soon seated in a comfortable booth adjacent to the sushi bar. Besides being a comfortable booth, the little glass dividers make a cozy open personal area with very low noise. Although several couples had followed us into the restaurant the noise level was pleasantly very low. The sushi chef from his station was able to ask my son about his order from across the room. With soft lighting, well appointed fixtures and a quiet atmosphere, the stage was set for a good meal without distractions. Your visit to Azuma is started off with a nice bowl of miso soup. Well. Miso soup is miso soup and our Azuma serving was as good as any other miso soup I have ever had. Hot with a tasty dashi broth it set the stage for things to come. For openers my son ordered the spicy tuna roll and I ordered the California roll and a cucumber roll. Strange as it may sound, Larry and I both don’t care at all for surimi but we do like a lot of other sushi offerings. Larry ate his spicy tuna roll with gusto and said that it was very good, very tasty. Freshly made sushi can sometimes be crumbly, the sushi rice not congealed. That was not the case here. The rice cake was firm enough to hold together when picked up with the hashi and dipped into the soy sauce and still be soft and tender to the bite. The Azuma sushi chef has the sushi master’s touch. The California roll and the cucumber roll were excellent. The rest of our order was soon served. Larry had ordered the Boston roll without the cream cheese. I ordered the nabeyaki udon soup. The Boston roll is a large serving of to inside-out filled rolls with an olio topping of vegetables and lightly drizzled with a succulent sauce. It took some time to assemble. My souvenir take-out menu copy didn’t list that sushi selection so I am at a bit of a loss to remember all the ingredients. That was not a problem for my son as he enjoyed all of it in short order. He considered it an excellent selection. Years ago I first encountered udon soup in the international passenger quarantine area at the Anchorage International Airport. Most of the passengers were on Asian carriers making a refueling stop before flights over the old Soviet Union were possible. The small snack bar’s menu reflected the clientele. It was not an elegant serving. A package of fresh udon noodle was placed in a tall Styrofoam cup, then the cup was filled to the rim from a kettle of hot dashi stock and something dead placed on top. It was served with the disposable hashi for a typical in-airport rip-off price. Not knowing what it was, the first thing I did was dispose of the dead thing floating on top into the nearest trash can. Then I sipped the dashi and developed a liking for the taste of the hot mild broth. The fresh udon noodles are not Italian pasta but a whole new world of noodles. They were delicious. Since then I have tasted udon soups in many places and was about to see if Azuma’s offering was up to par. It was a large soup bowl serving; a meal in itself. Considering that I had already eaten my California and cucumber rolls, it was a bit too much. It was served with two very large tempura shrimp on the side. The broth was hot and savory. The fresh noodles were excellent and the bits

of vegetable, including asparagus, were delicious. It was as good as, if not better than any udon soup I have ever sampled. Even though it was more than I should have eaten, it was too good to leave any behind. Father and son enjoyed a quiet interlude in comfortable surroundings. We were catered to by a most courteous staff. We were served delicious food that charmed the eye as well as the pallet. Even the clientele, ma
ny of whom filled the dining room while we were there, were respectful of the surroundings and we were hardly aware of their presence. Surely the Azuma deserves high marks for quality of food, service and atmosphere; a place to go. It will surely be on my agenda for another visit on my next trip through Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012
  Dion's Pizza - Albuquerque, New Mexico
Dion’s Pizza
Coors and Montano
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 898-1161

Food cooked at home seems to always be the best. Sometimes, during a busy day, there just isn’t time to cook in so it becomes a night to carry home from your favorite local restaurant. It was just such a night when son Larry called Dion’s to order a pizza and salads. He would pick them up after he picked up his wife, Vickie, at work. I smiled when I noted he had Dion’s on his speed-dial menu. Sometimes the pace is too hectic for young married couples. Dion’s is a chain of restaurants with about seventeen stores in New Mexico and Texas. You can eat in or carry home from each of their stores. Their mantra is that their dough and pizza sauce are made from scratch daily and that they use only the freshest ingredients. Their menu features pizzas, salads and sub sandwiches. The order was for a large pizza (16-inch cheese $10.65, additional toppings $1.65 each) split with half pepperoni and the other half pepperoni, sausage, green peppers and onions. Two salads were ordered; one tossed ($4.35 full size iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, croutons and Dion’s mix), and one gourmet chicken salad ($5.35 full size Spring mix lettuce, grilled chicken strips, pecans, bleu cheese crumbles and tomatoes). The salads ar
e well prepared and neatly package. The large size is certainly sufficient for two or three diners. He lettuce was crisp, the dressing tasty. The croutons were crisp and not soggy, not an easy trick in a salad packaged to go. The pizza was the thin crust style, cooked in a hot oven not unlike a New York pizz
a but th
e variety of toppings put in a different class. The crust was crispy chewy, there was adequate mozzarella cheese and sauce and the additional toppings in a sufficient amount. It had good flavor and the large size pizza with salads was enough to provide left overs for a light lunch the next day. It was good tasty food that can ordered by telephone or through the internet, was close by and convenient when doing other errands. I can see why Larry keeps the telephone number on his speed dial.

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