Chef’s prix fix evening event worth every penny
There is something incredibly decadent and indulgent about the experience of enjoying a plated, multicourse meal.
From the thoughtful compositions, the explanatory service, and the chef’s occasional monologues where ingredients and flavors are carefully explained, it’s really one of the pinnacle dining outings for any self-respecting foodie.
Prix fix menus are commonplace in fancy Lower 48 establishments, like Per Se in New York, Graham Eliot in Chicago, or Beast in Portland. The French term essentially means “set price,” and the idea is every diner receives the same delectable dishes in the same order, typically with many, many courses. Portions are small, prices are steep, yet dinners are exceptionally fulfilling both for their flavors and for the ambiance.
It’s not exactly the kind of thing Anchorage’s food scene is known for – it’s a town where farm-to-table mentalities have taken hold only in recent years, where there are really no nationally known chefs, and where discerning residents are loath to risk overpaying for a clumsily overcooked filet of salmon when their own freezers are packed with fish.
So I took note recently when South Restaurant and Café advertised a private dinner with Chef Guy Conley, currently of wood-fired pizza haven Fat Ptarmigan and previously the head chef at Ginger, a man with a pile of culinary accolades.
Tickets cost $100. This might deter anyone who’s never enjoyed this kind of night. But trust me, the $100 was well worth it, because when the night was over, we had enjoyed seven memorable courses paired with delicious wines in a setting that was private and exclusive – exclusive not in an elitist way, but in the manner that we all felt grateful to experience something very special when all was said and done.
As the event kicked off, we were led into the back room at South, a cheerful space where copper pans dangle and gleam above an island where the chefs do much of their work. A few lucky diners sit right there on stools, with real front row seats. The rest of us were shown to chairs surrounding two long, family-style tables. Elegant place cards bearing our names dictated positions.
The South chef introduced Conley, who talked about what we were about to eat, and explained at his restaurant, Fat Ptarmigan, he’s fairly limited by his wood-fired oven and tilt kettle and convection oven. The simple menu we would be enjoying was inspired by that, he said. Warmly, we applauded.
And then the food started coming.
First up: a bright, palette-cleansing ceviche of fresh seafood with tiny bits of red onion and cilantro served in cute, squat mason jars on wooden boards, with a side of blue corn tortilla chips and crisp Sauvignon Blanc.
Next, my unexpected favorite: a smooth, creamy celeriac soup, with a swirl of woody truffle oil and a succulent chunk of pork belly. The next course featured shaved beef Carpaccio around dressed arugula; then came a kale and cucumber salad with a lemon Parmesan dressing. Wines perfectly complimented the dishes.
The fifth course delighted: a single plump five-cheese ravioli, swimming in a pool of delectable brown butter and pantaleo cheese sauce. It was salty, chewy and creamy all at once. The final dish consisted of rich braised beef ragout piled atop a serving of creamy, smooth polenta.
The evening concluded with a halved pear poached in cinnamon clove and thyme and Bear Creek Blueberry Wine from Homer, served with a caramel gelato.
One hundred dollars is more than most would willingly pay for a single night’s meal, but this was worth every mouthful. It went beyond the satisfying wines and smart dishes. There is a communal mood at these kinds of events. Diners turn to each other to share perceptions, glee and satisfaction. Laughter weaves strangers together across the table. Waiters and waitresses move deftly about, clearing cutlery and used glasses in an intuitive way. The chef emerges periodically to highlight ingredients and inspirations. Smiles abound.
If you consider yourself a lover of food, or a lover of indulgence, or a lover of unique community experiences, you would enjoy investment in a similar evening. South has more events on the horizon, like a bartender-hosted gin and tonic class, and a cooking class for kids. Keep an eye on their website for future opportunities. http://southak.com/.