Dishcrawl makes a splash with its culinary tours

Daily News correspondentMay 2, 2013 

Dishcrawl is such a brilliant idea that I almost kicked myself for not thinking of it first, but then I thought better of it. I would need my legs to participate in what is basically a dinner in four ambulatory acts.

Imagine you are strolling around on First Friday, visiting the different galleries and art haunts, dropping by the old places and venturing into the new ones. Now imagine that you go inside and eat the art. Yes. And drinks are served. And you get to meet new people who also love to eat art. Pretty exciting, isn't it?

I got a phone call to attend the second Dishcrawl event about 24 hours before it was set to happen. My first instinct was to say no; I'd have to reschedule stuff, possibly miss seeing my friend who was in town for only one day. Wait, did you say "like a pubcrawl but with food"?

I showed up half an hour early to SubZero Microlounge and introduced myself to Angel Howard, Dishcrawl hostess extraordinaire. Even though this was only her second event, she was shepherding and name-tagging participants like a seasoned wrangler. A few folks had attended the first Crawl in Spenard and were back for more, but many of us were neophytes. The crowd consisted of couples, friends, work acquaintances, curious foodies and one birthday girl.

At SubZero (full disclosure: I also moonlight there) chef Miykael Taylor presented an array of sliders: crab cakes with aioli, portobello mushroom and arugula, and Kobe beef with caramelized onions. Forty Crawlers quickly demolished this first course, a pretty substantial beginning to what promised to be a satisfying night.

Fortunately, there is walking involved, although diners don't know where they will be going next. The sense of intrigue is one of the best things about Dishcrawl. Howard sends an email a day before the event, detailing the first location. The next location is revealed after each course, a suspenseful culinary mystery! (I'll refrain from referencing red herrings, whodunits and Colonel Mustard.)

I asked Howard how she got her awesome job. "I answered an ad on Craigslist that was titled 'sales and marketing foodie,' " she said. "I applied online, did an interview via Skype and was offered the job that next morning. When asked why I applied for the job, I replied, 'Besides the fact that the job description didn't have my name in it, everything else was a total fit.' "

Dishcrawl is operating in more than 30 cities in the U.S. and Canada, providing a unique way to introduce folks to cuisine and restaurants that may be off their beaten path. Howard told me that many of the people had never been to three of the four places they dined at in Spenard.

Julie Brophy, who attended her first Dishcrawl in Seattle, loves the concept. "It's a perfect way for my husband and I to check out local spots," she said. "We don't want to eat at chain restaurants when we travel, and this is like a little adventure every time."

A fairly inexpensive adventure, I might add. Each ticket is $45, which covers the food and gratuity for four restaurants. Drinks are separate, and participants are encouraged to bring cash (running 40 different credit cards at the same time makes servers cranky). As of now, Dishcrawls are 21 and older to ensure that participants can enter everrestaurant and bar.

We all gathered outside SubZero in anticipation of our next stop: Ginger! Our group trooped two and a half blocks to the swanky Fifth Avenue restaurant. They had been expecting only 30, so a few of us spilled over into the bar area, which allowed us to get to know each other a little better. I asked to sit next to a young woman on her phone, who gestured for me to join her. After about 15 minutes, I realized this woman was not part of our group.

Our server brought out beautiful plates of three amuse-bouches -- spicy tuna tartare, an ethereal green curry risotto ball and a flavor-laden turkey mu shu taco. Some of the Crawlers were a little wary of the raw stuff while others took enthusiastic notes.

Our next stop was the Gumbo House, home of deeply flavorful jambalayas and rib-sticking gumbo. Then dessert at Alaska Cake Studio, where I claimed to be too full to eat anything else until I saw the gorgeous little bourbon pecan tarts being passed around.

Howard has organized three more tasty tours for this month, with some large-scale events in the works for summer. A Crawl Wednesday will hit three Midtown establishments; another ventures to Eagle River on May 15; and a monthly brunch crawl begins May 19. You can register for each at dishcrawl.com/anchorage for $45.

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