Midtown modern

Rebecca Palsha
The bar at the Embassy Suites Hotel provides a spacious and comfortable place to relax.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Fresh Alaska salmon with sesame lime edmame tossed fruit salad seared asparagus and wild rice, and Shiitic fennel demi glaze shaved beet pot roast are served up at the Embassy Suites Hotel's PI Kitchen + Bar.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News

I'd heard little about Pi Kitchen + Bar (600 E. Benson) before my first visit. No gossip from fellow foodies. No, "Oh you must stop by for a slice of such-and-such." The only trickles I heard were from bar hoppers in search of a new watering hole. It was odd, since I'm a gal who loves food and loves other people to make it for me.

Pi is across from the Sears Mall inside the Embassy Suites. I'd watched the hotel slowly being built last year, with the restaurant finally opening in June. The hotel is a little gem, in what can be a lackluster area of town where you'll often find people panhandling for cash on the corners.

After parking in the spacious lot I walked through the automatic door. Pi is elegant and modern with dark, exposed beams on the ceiling. Maroon and cream striped chairs dot the large open dining room and I could hear the water fountain bubbling in the distance. Luckily the soothing sound drowns out the squawking from the plasma TVs on each side of the dining area. A brown bear is splayed against the wall like a flattened fly and a roaring fire crackles nearby. The colors are soothing and peaceful.

Food and beverage director Jeremy Fike said the restaurant is currently going through a few tweaks. He recently hired former Ginger co-owner, Marcus Biastock, to work on the overall quality of the restaurant. Fike said Pi gets plenty of business from hotel guests, but aims to get more locals in for the food he describes as, "eclectic new world cuisine."

"One goal is to have great service ... now we also want to capture more outside guests," Fike said.

Sitting down I order a soda. My hyper-attentive waitress returned with an uber-chic, super-tall, skinny glass. I'd love to own a few of these.

There are lots of curious choices on the menu. Starters include fish & chips ($16) made with halibut cheeks, fried sweet potatoes and spicy tartar sauce. Hawaiian sliders ($12) are a combination of Kalua pork, mango relish and Asian slaw on sweet rolls. Duck cigars ($12) are a mix of crispy duck, blue berries and cream cheese, with sweet soy, lemon grass creme fraiche.

The menu also has a handful of pasta dishes along with soups, salads and sandwiches.

The North Slope chicken sandwich ($12) has grilled chicken breast, caramelized onions, apple wood bacon, pepper jack cheese and avocado on ciabatta bread. I was also interested in the Kalua pork sandwich ($12). It's pork piled high on a ciabatta bun, with sliced tomatoes.

I eventually settled on the beef dip ($12), a large, thinly sliced beef sandwich served on toasted ciabatta roll with horseradish cream, cheddar cheese, and caramelized onions. I also ordered a cup of potato, lentil and ham soup ($3). My meal came with a choice of fried sweet potatoes or a house salad. I settled on the fries.

My order came up in a couple minutes with a huge, and I'm talking huge, mound of fries. Skinny, crisp and hot there was no way I can make a dent in it. My sandwich was OK. Nice cuts of meat, but nothing really special. The au jus was also a bit watery.

The prize of the meal is the soup. The potatoes are tender and the ham is a nice quality -- not the usual castoffs you often find in soup. I should have ordered a bowl ($8). It's a real gem.

When I eventually made it in again to Pi, I was starving and knew one of the dinner plates was the only way to go. One option was the house stir fry ($13). It's wok-fired, with an Asian vegetable blend, sweet ponzu sauce, candied ginger, edamame, jalapenos, peanuts and egg noodles. You can also add chicken ($5), shrimp ($7), scallops ($7) and grilled Portobello for ($4).

The scampi angel hair pasta ($12) also sounded good. It had lemon juice, caper berries, butter, parsley, roasted tomatoes and white wine.

Ultimately I couldn't resist the crab macaroni & cheese ($23). It's a large portion of penne pasta with crab, mascarpone, asparagus tips, asiago cheese, roasted tomatoes and a herb crust.

It was delicious, but I'm not sure it's worth the price. I was left longing for more, larger pieces of crab meat. The asparagus pieces were plentiful and crisp, and the cheeses were a great combination.

Pi Kitchen + Bar is a nice addition to dining in Anchorage, and I'm curious if it can compete with similar spots with downtown addresses.

Fike said he hopes the same folks who enjoy Simon and Seafort's or Glacier Brew House will trek over to Midtown. The ambiance makes it worth giving Pi a try.

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Pi Kitchen + Bar

** $$$$

Location: 600 E. Benson Boulevard

Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. for lunch and 5p.m.-10 p.m. for dinner Sunday through Saturday.

Phone: 332-7000

Web: www.pikitchenak.com

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By Rebecca Palsha
Daily News correspondent