Pi + cost doesn't add up

Barry Piser
MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News

A winning equation for a restaurant involves a few key parts: flavorful food at a fair price, enjoyable ambiance and quality service, all in a consistent manner. While Pi Kitchen + Bar has some of these down, the overall experience just doesn't add up.

The 3-year-old restaurant, just off the main lobby of the Embassy Suites in Midtown, started with a Pacific-fusion theme but has morphed over time, thanks to at least three chefs in its short life.

The latest is Edward Rollins, who came aboard in April 2010. Rollins, who has 31 years in the business, decided to gear the menu for an "Alaskan palate."

"What we're doing here is Alaskan cuisine with a contemporary flair," Rollins said.

He feels Pi is on par with any fine dining establishment in Anchorage.

"I'll hold up what we produce next to anyone else," Rollins said.

On my first trip, my roommate and I arrived to a near-empty, windowless dining room and a busier bar area. We were greeted promptly by the wait staff, had our pick of the tables and settled in with a trio of complimentary dinner rolls.

We decided to start with the bruschetta ($8) and while we weren't disappointed, we weren't impressed either. While the flavors hit most of the familiar notes, the toasted baguette slices were a bit rubbery with the juices from the tapenade, and the fresh mozzarella atop it all was only slightly melted.

The Pi burger ($13) caught my roomie's eye, and he ordered one medium with cheddar. The choice ground sirloin was a nice touch, but the rest of the burger didn't measure up to its steep price tag. With just lettuce, tomato, onion and mayonnaise, there was little to make it worthwhile when Long Branch or Tommy's offer superior products for less.

When summer hits, I love freshly caught fish, so I opted for the halibut with crabmeat ($29). Two fillets were stuffed with shredded Dungeness crab, served over a bed of spinach and smothered in hollandaise. With choices of roasted garlic mash potatoes and steamed vegetables, it was plenty of food and there was nothing technically wrong. But again, for the price it didn't do much to wow me.

On my return trip, I brought two friends for lunch. We each chose a sandwich and dined family style. The Embassy Club ($10), pork tenderloin sliders ($11) and grilled chicken ($10) all arrived not long after we ordered.

The club sandwich is a stalwart of many menus, and Pi's version wasn't too far off. The only complaints were the heavy-handed use of mayo and the lack of Swiss cheese that was promised on the menu. The grilled chicken sandwich, with roasted peppers, garlic and pepper jack cheese, was served lukewarm with a severe lack of pesto aioli. The pork sliders were rubbery, lacked much discernible flavor and appeared to have provolone subbed for Swiss.

Our sides were more disappointing. The sweet potato fries tasted OK but were completely limp. Two of us opted for the soup of the day, cream of potato, but it tasted watered down and unpleasant. We returned it to our server, and after turning down an offer of free dessert, one of the sandwiches was removed from our bill.

With a bustling hotel as its home, maybe Pi can continue on its current path and remain busy. But if it aspires to be on par with Crow's Nest and Simon and Seafort's, changes must occur.

Currently the only commonality is the steep prices. The dining room has no ocean or mountain views and the product on the table was often memorable for the wrong reasons. If Pi is to be a memorable for the right reasons, a new equation is in order.

Barry Piser