As a relative newcomer to Anchorage I often ask folks about thebest places to eat in town. It seems that Simon & Seafort’s isalways on the list. “On the far west end of downtown,” they tellme. “And the view is great.”
So, one day at lunch I meander to the far west of downtown alongFifth Avenue and enter a non-descript office building. Through thefoyer, past an art gallery, a large caribou head greets me througha doublewide entrance. I see the open kitchen off to my left withchefs in their whites. To my right is the entrance to the saloonarea. I arrive during the lunch hour but wait only a short whilefor my table. I’m seated on the second tier. It’s a clear day and Ican see across Cook Inlet to the mountains on the other side. Atugboat pulls a barge down the inlet and I strain my eyes to searchfor a pod of belugas. It surely is a grand view.
The waitstaff are all smartly dressed in black pants, whiteshirts and serving aprons. A side of fresh sourdough bread arriveshot as I continue to peruse the menu. I order a cup of the clamchowder off the regular menu and the butternut squash raviolis fromthe daily special list. My iced tea is refilled frequently and Ifind myself pleasantly experiencing a relatively uncrowded lunchhour.
The chowder arrives. It looks to be a nice consistency with lotsof potatoes and clams. My mouth, however, is somewhat overpoweredby a strong vegetable taste, which competes with and beats out theclam flavor. It’s also a bit on the salty side. Nevertheless, withthe sourdough bread, I manage to finish it, as the faults do notoutweigh the hunger I’m experiencing.
Two large, handmade raviolis arrive, looking grand as they siton the plate, dressed with walnuts, garlic and olive oil. I cutinto them with my knife and bite into the sweetness of the squash.This is good. The caramelized onions and sautéed kale make eachbite a cornucopia of flavor in my mouth. I vow to come back fordinner.
As I have not yet made very many dining companions, I findmyself eating alone on a Saturday night. I have always believedthat the proper place for a single man dining alone in a nicerestaurant is the bar, so I find an empty seat in the saloon. Theplace is humming. Almost every table has patrons either eatingdinner or enjoying cocktails while waiting for a table in thedining room. I had been told that the bar at Simon & Seafort’swas the kind of place where people gathered for the beginning oftheir night out. There are a few suspect tables that fit thatprofile, but I also witness families toting baby carriers and agroup of smartly dressed women celebrating a birthday, a secondbridal shower or a divorce party. It is hard to tell what they arecelebrating, but fun to guess at.
The décor is elegant, but I am reminded of what elegant décorfrom the 1970s may have looked like. It seems on the cusp of beingeither outdated or funky retro. I go with funky retro to complementmy mood. The bar is a long one, stretching the length of the northwall. On either side are bartenders frantically making drinks forwaitstaff serving both the bar and the restaurant. At times theyseem overwhelmed, but dressed in matching vests, they areprofessionals and create a rhythm suitable for dancing with theircocktail shakers. I order up a classic sidecar, even though,according to their cocktail menu, they specialize in making aKentucky Sidecar (with bourbon replacing the brandy). I am onlyslightly disappointed in the lime garnish (classically, it shouldbe a lemon) but the cocktail is made correctly with the sugar rim.I look up and see a large sculpture of an eagle with enormoustalons. Underneath is a brass plaque with what I later find out tobe a memorial to two former waitstaff, apparently a bartender and awaitress, I am told, who died tragically in a plane crash manyyears before.
I order the Maytag Blue Cheese Salad, a recommendation by one ofthe bartenders. Again I am served hot sourdough bread wrapped in awhite cloths resting in a wrought iron stand. The romaine lettucewith chopped egg, slivered almonds and blue cheese doesn’t havemuch pizzazz in the way of color or taste. It seems uninspired, andI’m surprised it’s being recommended to me as one of the favoritesalads. The other bartender recommended the Asiago-Almond CrustedSea Scallops. I hope that his recommendation fares better.
A long rectangular plate arrives and sits awkwardly on the barin front of me. Bars aren’t really designed for dining, so I makedo with arranging it in front of me. The scallops look good withcaramelized onions, roasted peppers resting on a bed of rice pilafand a Champagne beurre blanc sauce. The scallops are cooked to myliking, soft and tender with lots of give in the flesh. I followthat divine bite with a forkful of rice and sauce and am shocked atthe temperature difference. I try the onions and peppers on top:cold as well. While the scallops were great, the disappointmentwith the rest of the dish ruined what could have been a nicemeal.
Being a favorite among locals – a favorite to takeout-of-towners to, a favorite view – I can’t help but think therestaurant may be resting on its laurels just a wee bit. It’s anice enough place. I feel I need to check out the happy hour withhalf price appetizers on some future evening. Their various mojitoson the cocktail menu look enticing. But as the days get shorter,I’d have to recommend lunch with a less crowded atmosphere and the sun exposing one of the best views in town.
This review originally appeared in Anchorage Press, October 24, 2007