Review: Dockside Bistro

21 September 2017

I left Alaska on the tired side, and not feeling too well after that terrible last lunch at Hangar on the Wharf in Juneau. Got into Seattle just as rush hour hit, and you know the crap roads and crap drivers equal chaos each and every day on the roads of the Pacific Northwest…

Took ages but I got far enough south for things to thin out a bit, arriving in Olympia only about half hour behind schedule. I stopped off at my hotel and headed off to dinner. Tonight’s destination is somewhere I had wanted to try for awhile now, but my timing never brought me south for a dinner slot — until now. I purposely decided to escape south for my overnight here before I head home…

I got to a quiet Dockside Bistro and took a place at the bar to make it easier on my server — who was the only person working the front of the house that quiet evening. I looked over the menu as I enjoyed a drink and was told the specials — and had to change my mind again. That’s always a good sign… I ordered, having made the tough choices, and chilled out…

A pretty casual place, not too far from the State Capitol. Such a different feel from Seattle, which of course made me feel far more comfortable… And after a little bit, as I started on a second glass of white, my starter arrived, and I smiled…

01-clam

Mmm… It’s been quite awhile since I’ve had Pacific razor clams. If you didn’t know, Pacific razors have these oval shells, unlike the Atlantic ones that everyone is used to. These were absolutely lovely… An excellent start for sure!

I was quite happy as I ordered another glass of wine, realising that starter was the best thing I’ve eaten all trip. Then my main arrived, and my smile grew even bigger.

02-duck

This was an amazing duck, lovely flavours, slightly enhanced by the five spice sauce. Cooked perfectly, this was a juicy, rich and plump piece of duck. There was a touch of sticky rice on the side (sorry for the bad focu) that was excellent…made me have a flashback to that utterly disgusting “sticky rice” at Simon & Seafort’s in Anchorage a few days earlier… A fabulous main!

At this point I was almost ready to order another clam starter for dessert, but I think I rather have the memory of a good meal as is — and went with a simple gelato and sorbet.

03-gelato sorbet

A creamy vanilla gelato and a tangy peach sorbet really hit the spot. The latter was far, far better than the poorly made one I had at St Jack in Portland a week earlier. Overall, everything here was better than anything I had all trip. Pallet in Salt Lake City was the runner-up, and the Bubbly Mermaid in Anchorage an honourable mention, but this was just way above everything.

In fact, this is probably the best meal I’ve ever had in the Pacific Northwest.

Totally worth a drive down from Seattle for any of you based there. You’ll be so pleasantly surprised… Honestly a great way to end a trip that featured somewhat frustrating eating experiences..

Dockside Bistro
501 Columbia Street NW
Olympia, Washington

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Lunchin’ in Alaska — a LOT of Bad Seafood…

18-22 September 2017

I wanted to consolidate most of my lunches in Alaska into one post; of course the fabulous first day’s brunch at the Bubbly Mermaid demanded its own write-up. But these others, nah… A few bright lights amongst a web of disappointments in both Anchorage and Juneau.

As I wrote earlier, that excellent brunch was followed up by a pretty good dinner at Pangea. The next day, however, did not start very well. After my hike, seeing my original lunch target full, I tried nearby Simon & Seafort’s — supposedly one of the best restaurants in all Anchorage.

Not too busy on the bar side where I chose to sit, I enjoyed a much-needed pint after that hike. My knee was killing me as I ordered my lunch. Aside from that, a pretty pleasant place with a good view. Then soon the starter arrived, the so-called “Alaska ceviche”…

Well, it’s nowhere near what a ceviche is supposed to be. Drenched with avocado, it seemed like they used water instead of lime or some form of citrus. I have never had such bland-tasting seafood. This is worse than something you defrost that came from Walmart…or maybe that’s where this came from… I would have preferred some rice cake to this… After that bad start my mood for the main course was dwindling. And when it arrived, it confirmed my suspicions…

01-s&s

The rockfish was so-so, but nothing special. At least there was some taste to it, unlike the starter. But the crunchy bits on top also had no flavour, and the “sticky rice” underneath was totally awful to the point of it being disgusting. I ate the fish and abandoned the rest…

I think my server got my mood when he just left the bill when he picked up my plate… I headed out really disappointed, but suddenly smelled something nice…so I walked across the street and saw the lawsuit-inviting International House of Hotdogs there…

A tiny thing operating out of a mobile home, it seems to be a permanent parking location. Friendly folks, although it was raining by now they only had some outdoor seating. I chose to take these to go and use them as snacks throughout the day and night. I headed back to my hotel and enjoyed the first — the reindeer polish sausage. Very tasty, lovely meat. Later that afternoon I had the beef polish, which had a wonderful bite. Excellent sausages, some of the best made I’ve had in ages. Far better than in trendy sausage joints like Wurstküche in downtown LA

2

As I wrote early, I had a disastrous dinner at Crow’s Nest that evening of my birthday, and throughout dinner I was dreaming of the last one — which I ate when I got back to my room. A really nice buffalo sausage, which was still excellent despite sitting there for 7 hours… Aside from my brunch at the Bubbly Mermaid, I gotta say these hot dogs were the best things I ate in all of Anchorage (tho the Pangea mushrooms may be close). Sigh…

I got to Juneau the next day and with all the idiots off cruise ships filling up the awful tourist traps, I ended up having pelmeni at a place called Pel’meni. Oddly it was empty. I guess this was too exotic for these pensioners off the boats…

3-p

Not bad, but nothing special. Too many people wanted things like curry on them, I just wanted my normal sour cream. It made for a good enough lunch, so kudos to them. Popular with locals too, which is good. Later that day I had the stupifyingly puzzling dinner at the Rookery Cafe

My last full day in Juneau took me around the waterfront area, and thank goodness most of the cruise ships were gone. The fog was still there, giving it a nice flavour. But it was warming up quickly. I got to Tracy’s King Crab Shack not long after 11am and got myself a leg, and sat outside with a beer…

I wasn’t too happy as part of it was still frozen… But being a master with crustaceans, I removed the meat from this beast with a quickness that got a few tourists watching me thinking I was a local… Quite a good leg, didn’t need no butter or anything else. I love eating crabs and lobsters with NO butter. That’s just an unnecessary distraction.

4-tkcs

I headed out with a second leg in tow, will have that as a snack later on…yeah, a snack. They’re not that big, and since they don’t steam it that hot who cares what temperature it is later on…and plus, I can crack this thing with my hands easily, and in the privacy of my room I can even use my teeth to crack the shell — which I routinely do with lobster. I don’t want to admit this, but I once ate a whole lobster in 5 minutes — cracking most of it with my teeth…

In any case, a good, very Alaskan lunch. Later on after more wandering around I found myself drawn to some Filipino street food — which is everywhere in Juneau, btw. Took some as a snack…

I am eating way, way too much these few days in Alaska…

That night I had the good dinner at Salt. I woke up the final morning knowing I have time for an early lunch before I headed out for Seattle, I headed across the street to a place called Hangar on the Wharf. It’s a tourist trap, but it’s close and I can’t waste too much time before needing to go to the airport.

Empty, thanks to the hour and the lack of cruise ships. Perhaps that will weigh on the quality of the food, but we’ll see. I ordered and chilled with some wine before we started with a bowl of halibut chowder… Huge bowl, extremely thick. Not bad, but it was extremely hearty and I wish I knew before ordering that as a starter. Big chunks of halibut in there, very generous. As I worked on it my main arrived…

5-hwf

I had to have salmon at some point here, so I did. They ran out at Crow’s Nest in Anchorage, and I really wish they ran out here too… Utterly overcooked, a piece with no flavour nor texture. It’s like they took the worst piece they could find, overcook it, and serve it full of other crap to distract you from how bad the fish is. Awful. Sawdust.

This is why I hate tourist traps in cruise ship towns… A sad end to my Alaska adventures, and I headed off straight for Juneau’s tiny airport for the flight down to Seattle — right into rush hour. Oh joy…

Alaska has been nice, but the food has been mostly misses. Some highlights, but many lowlights. Frankly the one thing I remember most are those hot dogs from Anchorage…sigh…

Simon & Seafort’s
420 L Street

International House of Hotdogs
415 L Street
Anchorage, Alaska

Pel’meni
2 Marine Way

Tracy’s King Crab Shack
432 South Franklin Street

Hangar on the Wharf
2 Marine Way, Suite 106
Juneau, Alaska

Review: Salt

20 September 2017

I woke up a bit zonked out. Last night’s puzzling dinner still weighing on me… Prolly not a good idea to have boozed afterwards. But who cares. Today’s my lsat day in Alaska on this relatively short trip, so let’s see how to make most of it. Had a relatively good day, with some nice crab for lunch (which I will detail in a review to be posted later today rounding up all the lunches I had in the 49th state).

For all the research I’ve done about Juneau, the place that interested me most was Salt — and I got there at my reservation time but chose to sit at the bar instead. Again, I see total under-staffing and a service mess looming, but unlike last night all friendly folks.

Salt is clearly popular for locals too as there were quite a few tables of folks who were already quite inebriated and loud…mostly middle-aged ladies. I really hope they aren’t driving home afterwards… I enjoyed a nice Sazerac and placed my order. Chilled out and had a second cocktail as the first dish arrived.

1-halibut

Halibut bites. Not bad, very meaty stuff. Good breading, good balance, something you can snack on as you drink very easily. Sorry for the odd photo lighting, but this was the way the bar was lit, so no editing here will help… But a good start.

The bartender, who was extremely friendly and chatty when he could, was clearly overworked with no help — and having to serve several tables as well. Good staff, poor management — much like the Crow’s Nest mess. Then my main course arrived, the crab risotto.

2-crab risotto

Not bad, but a generous amount of crab was the nice part. This tasted quite good, and again sorry for the lighting that made this look messier than it was. It’s a good dish.

At this point the poor bartender was so overwhelmed I didn’t even want to ask for more, so I just settled up and headed out. Good food, but they need to sort the service out a bit…

Salt
200 Seward Street
Juneau, Alaska

*PS: I headed back after a bit before they closed and it calmed down significantly, and I enjoyed a few drinks chatting with the bartender until they closed up. Real good folks, good bar. Much recommended — especially when they are less busy!

Review: Rookery Cafe

19 September 2017

I made my way to Juneau on an early morning flight the next day and unlike Anchorage, I was allowed to check in already. I saw 5 huge cruise ships in the harbour, and was told that this was probably the last day of the season like this. And of course most of the downtown area was indundated by pensioners from those cruise ships, spending money buying trinkets and giving tourist traps more reason to keep going.

I despise the cruise industry. All they do is turn a location’s tourism economy to service these folks who spend a few hours buying crap and happy to eat crap. Cruise tourism hurt a town’s ability to develop a truly diversified tourism sector, especially good restaurants and hotels. And it encourages tourist traps and really crappy food places. I ended up at the only place that wasn’t packed, eating pelmeni (will write about this later) for lunch…

I hiked around Juneau for the afternoon, emphasise hike as it is rather hilly. After an hour or so my knee was telling me to stop, so I headed back down and to my room to do some unpacking. Had to deal with a flood of emails too, and the AT&T signal was so poor I had to do it from my hotel’s wifi…

For dinner I had nothing planned, but with the cruise ships still waiting to head out, I decided to not stay near the water. I headed to the Rookery Cafe, which had an interesting menu. There is a huge Asian population in Alaska, and the food here is a fusion of various things that would be considered eclectic.

I got there to be greeted by an disinterested server…sigh, another sign of a cruise-centric town. I sat at the counter and ordered some wine and food. The wine was pretty bad, but…then the first dish arrived and I didn’t just breathe a sigh of relief I smiled…

01-scallops

Scallop crudo. This looks fabulous and tasted wonderful, the lovely sweetness of the scallop coming out perfectly. Plus, a beautifully-plated dish. My interests have certainly been piqued here! Then the second dish arrived, the mac-and-cheese…

02-mac-n-cheese

Hmmm…far messier…is this the same kitchen that did the first dish? It’s pretty amateurish to be honest, no different than any cafeteria mac-and-cheese to be honest… Tasty and filling though. But still, I was puzzled, was this from the same kitchen? Then the arrival of the third and last “small plate” solved that question…

03-squid spätzle

Yeah, the first dish was a pleasant anomaly as this “calamari Spätzle” is just a disaster on a plate… I have never seen such misuse of kewpie mayonnaise, and this is an ingredient that is so misused. This dish is SWIMMING in this disgusting mess… You think maybe this is a cream sauce? No, it’s MAYONNAISE. MIXED WITH TAKOYAKI SAUCE.

If you are wondering, yes, I abandoned this dish after 2 bites. Probably the most disgusting dish I’ve had all 2017. I really cannot figure out how a kitchen that produced the first dish could have produced the second and especially this disaster. That was like the puzzle that wrecked my brain, and I called it. Throw in the disinterested server that seemed even more disinterested after seeing my abandoned dish, it’s time to get out of here.

This is exactly why I cannot stand cruise towns… I headed back to my hotel still utterly puzzled…

Rookery Cafe
111 Seward Street
Juneau, Alaska

Review: Crow’s Nest

18 September 2017

A bit of a hangover and my body is starting to rebel a bit on this birthday morning… I shook it off and headed off for a long walk along the coast on the Coastal Trail looking at the water — albeit the tide was out this morning. A misty day on and off, but that’s just good for me. Unfortunately by the time I got near the Westchester Lagoon my aforementioned knee started to act up again…

So with a hilly walk back to downtown, I reluctantly turned east and hiked back through the city. Found this odd signage at Delaney Park tho… I walked back to where I started near my hotel and saw that the Snow City Cafe was still full…was full when I came by this morning. Oh well. I ended up across the street for lunch, which was pretty awful (will write about this later). But then took some hot dogs from a stand across the street and that was one of the best things I ate all trip (will also write about this later).

The afternoon I didn’t do much, just wandered around and actually had to do some packing, as I am heading out for Juneau tomorrow on this short stop. And for my birthday dinner I headed across the street back to the Captain Cook Hotel and went to the top of the tower to Crow’s Nest, their fine-dining restaurant.

Supposedly the best restaurant in Anchorage, I arrived and sadly witnessed a service shitshow in full bloom… When my server finally got to my table, I had already heard her tell other diners that most of the staff called in sick today and she was the only server for nearly the entire restaurant… Sigh, I felt bad for her, but I sense tonight is gonna be a mess…

But it started out well with an okay martini, the spirits selection here seems pretty good — as evidenced by my drinking last night. When my server came back I placed my order…but was told they had no salmon. Yeah, I’m in Alaska and there’s no salmon… I ordered something else and let’s see what happens…

I enjoyed the view as I finished my drink and by then the sommelier had come by with my bottle of Furmint. I asked for it to be in reaching distance due to their service woes, and they were happy to oblige. I rather pour my own wine anyway… So ahh…45 is an odd age…you’re too old for so many things, but too young to be considered for other things… Perhaps it also marks the end of the Midlife Crisis mode into the steady decline mode too

Anyway, before too much introspection my first dish arrived…

01-bisque

Well, this bisque was sadly quite meh… Nothing special, frankly… Oh well, more wine… The wine was excellent. I love the fact I can drink a fine white from Hungary sitting in the middle of Alaska… Then after awhile the main arrived, the course I had to choose after they told me they were out of salmon…

02-black cod

Hmmm… This black cod was really bland and had little of the natural goodness that this fish is known for, to be honest. Not sure if it was overcooked or just a poor piece of fish. Plus the mess on this plate really didn’t do the fish any good. This was so utterly disappointing… I barely finished it, just dreaming about the extra hot dog from this afternoon I left in my room…

I finished it and reluctantly ordered a dessert, the lemon tart.

03-lemon tart

Again, nothing special, very ordinary. And then I was told they ran out of a rather common bourbon that I had ordered…so I gave up and asked for the bill. It wasn’t the server’s fault that the place is so mismanaged…I feel bad for her (and tipped her well) and all she had to deal with tonight. This little thing with my parting chocolate was something I would have traded for a glass of proper brown spirit, but oh well…

bday

I swallowed it and headed out, sad how poor this birthday dinner turned out. I didn’t even have the heart to go drinking anywhere. I just headed back to my room and devoured that sausage I had dreamed about all through dinner…happy birthday to me…

Crow’s Nest
Captain Cook Hotel
939 West 5th Avenue
Anchorage, Alaska

Review: Pangea

17 September 2017

After that excellent oyster and bubbly brunch I needed a nap, but I wandered around downtown for a good part of the afternoon until later, when there would be no question if I could check into my hotel. Unpacked and did a few things and took it easy until dinner time.

I headed out to check out a place called Pangea a few minutes east of my hotel — ironically not far from my lunch location. I dropped into the casual dining room and sat at the bar. A quiet-ish Sunday it seems, though the open kitchen looks busy, partly from delivery orders. I enjoyed a drink and ordered a few things from the small-plates menu.

Simple, no frills here really, though the drinks aren’t bad at all. Then the first plate arrived, the oddly-designed pork belly tempura…

01-belly tempura

You’d think this would be quite fantastic, but not quite. Good, but it needs to be done with so much more finesse for this to be an outstanding dish. Good idea, but the batter was ordinary and the pork seems to be of poor quality. Someone should try to do this with better ingredients…and to not bring this out partly cold… But not a bad start. Then we get some mackerel…

02-mackerel

Now these little morsels were quite nice, the fish excellent. This probably could have used a smaller plate but the stuff on it was very nice. Pretty happy at this stage, and got happier with the next dish — mushrooms.

03-mushrooms

Oh my these things were so good…so juicy and flavourful, with just enough heat. I had forgotten how strong of an influence Asian food has up here in Alaska, with the surprisingly large population (especially of Filipinos). In fact it was so good I ordered another…

04-mushrooms

Mmm, this was as good as the first. I can eat these things all day… But when the second and last item came I got deflated really quickly…

05-oxtail bao

This is the oxtail bao? Nope…it was a good idea but failed on execution — like the tempura pork belly. I was full, and ended up taking this with me…

Pangea is not bad, I can see creativity here, but it needs a little refining. But some of the dishes were really good, and it was for its purpose a nice pre-birthday dinner. I’m happy with Anchorage so far!

Pangea
508 West 6th Avenue
Anchorage, Alaska

* I thought about going back to the Bubbly Mermaid but thought perhaps I’ve had too much oysters today already, and I would be tempted into eating more than the 26 I’ve had at brunch…so ended up at the hotel bar of the Captain Cook Hotel — the hotel that Governor Hickel built (who I paid respect to earlier in the day) and had a few to end this 44th year…

Review: Bubbly Mermaid Oyster Bar

17 September 2017

A long flight from PDX and I arrived in Anchorage on a sunny late morning in Alaska…my 50th state. I was told it was surprisingly sunny today, which isn’t a bad thing at all as the summer has come slowly to an end up here. I got to my hotel and before they even said hello, they said “check in at 3pm”…now that’s endearing.

The attitude of some people really do not cater to the hospitality industry… In any case, that being true, I dumped my bag and headed for a long walk. I explored downtown Anchorage on a very quiet Sunday midday. Odd, despite the sun, I was the only person that seemed to not be wearing a jacket (I didn’t bring one on this trip) and I was sweaty after awhile…

I walked out east to the city’s downtown cemetery and paid my respect to the much-loved Wally Hickel, a local legend for sure. His widow had passed just a few days before my visit, and the stone had not been newly etched with the dates, but I placed a ruby red leaf on the stone before I departed.

As I was walking back west, my knee — the same knee that first buckled in Brazil — started to really go very quickly. Come on, this is now becoming an ongoing problem, joining my ankles and feet, my left elbow and right shoulder and right jaw as deteriorating joints… So I quickly found a place to drop into and boy was I lucky…

I walked into the Bubbly Mermaid Oyster Bar, something I hadn’t seen before when I was doing my research. A few other patrons there seemingly working off hangovers with oysters and bubbly, I decided to do the same — albeit no hangover today, surprisingly.

I was taken care of very nicely by a rather cute Bailey, who was the only person up front in the cozy little wooden bar. Bottles of bubbly cover the walls and nearly all other free space, and I went with a happy little pink bubbly for the entire brunch. And I started with a selection of the day’s oysters…

01b-day's oysters

Mmm, these were excellent. Some of them are local, some are from further south. All tasty, with different scales of minerality and intensity. I like my oysters more intense, even though unlike many I actually chew and taste them. Good stuff, I had another of the same…

02-day's oysters

Excellent, some were a nice size here. I kept at the bubbly even though I usually avoid them…something about this day, my last day as a 44 year old… The other patrons were all having orders from their extensive oyster shooter menu, so I decided to switch it up and do the same. First up were a pair of “Casino” — with bacon, jalapeño and tabasco…

03-casino

Then the “Cortez” — with Mornay, shrimp, chorizo and chipotle…

04-cortez

Both were nice, through I still think the clean, raw stuff is best. I was looking at what the others were eating so I ordered two more sets of shooters, first up the “St Jacques” — scallops, shiitake and Mornay…

05-st jacques

Then the “Blackened” — with herb oil and cajun spice…

06-blackened

Both again were good, but I think I’ve had my fill of adulterated shooters. The other diners had finished and moved on, so it was a quiet early afternoon with more bubbly, so I decided to finish things off I would have half a dozen last oyster. I went with 3 each of the local ones — Frederick Sound in Hoonan…

07-frederick sound

… and Hump Island in Ketchikan…

08-hump island

These were plump and flavourful, an excellent set to end this pre-birthday brunch! That may be too many oysters in one sitting, so I thanked the ever-helpful Bailey and headed on out into the warm afternoon. What a nice way to start my Alaska trip!

Bubbly Mermaid Oyster Bar
417 D Street
Anchorage, Alaska