Unlike our West Coast cousins Seattle and Portland, Ore., Anchorage isn't much of a trendsetter. Sure, we boast a number of breweries, an impressive yoga scene and more farmers markets than you can shake a stick at, but we're generally not at the forefront of any sort of cultural movement (hipster or otherwise).
However, thanks to an abundance of fresh seafood and a sizable Asian community, when it comes to fusion cuisine, Alaska's biggest little city is leading the pack.
Fusion cuisine blends the culinary traditions of two or more nations, often European and Asian. Chicken tikka masala, known as Britain's national dish, is one such example. Other popular examples include crab Rangoon, California sushi rolls and seared pepper-crusted ahi tuna.
Located in a Midtown strip mall near the intersection of Arctic Boulevard and 36th Avenue, Larry's Cocoon bills itself as an Asian fusion eatery. Its menu contains the usual suspects (fresh spring rolls, $9; shrimp fried rice, $12; and green tea ice cream, $3), as well as a few surprises: duck noodle soup, $12; chicken green curry pot pie, $12; and mango ice-cream with sticky sweet rice, $5.
My dining companion and I hit up Larry's for an early dinner on a recent Monday. The restaurant was quiet, with about half a dozen occupied tables. The decor is striking, artfully blended traditional Asian and modern elements and featured an abundance of glass, wood and stone. The dining room had an open but upscale format akin to Peter's Sushi Spot, with a bar area occupying the far west end.
We decided to start with an appetizer and had a difficult time choosing between the deep-fried bacon-wrapped scallops, the shrimp cigars and the chicken wings with curry-lime butter (all $9). We eventually decided on the wings and were most pleased with the choice.
The meaty chicken wings and drumettes were spicy, juicy and crispy and more closely resembled fried chicken than hot wings. They boasted a good amount of heat that was tempered by a hint of sweetness. The curry-lime butter didn't add much to the wings, but someone with sensitive taste buds might appreciate its cooling effect.
After consuming our fair share of wings, we decided to split the kalbi beef short ribs entrée ($23), delivered to our table in short order by one of the friendly wait staff.
The serving size was appropriate -- enough for the two of us or for one person with a hearty appetite. The meat itself was a little on the fatty side and I wished that it had been cooked a little slower to render out more of the fat (and let it cook through the meat). The bit of char on the ribs helped balance out the sweet sauce. The meal was accompanied by a mound of fluffy steamed rice, and the steamed vegetables that came with the ribs were fantastic. So often veggies are, at best, a bland afterthought (or, at worst, a throwaway plate-filler), but these were perfectly executed and boasted a light but delicious seasoning. It was a very good meal, although the ostensible star of the plate didn't have its best night.
I returned a couple of days later for a takeout lunch. This time I opted for the papaya salad with soft-shell crab and sticky rice ($14). As on my first visit, I was taken care of the moment I stepped through the door and the gentleman who rang me up was very pleasant.
The salad itself was fresh, tangy and completely hit the spot. An acidic lime dressing added a nice kick to the sweet papaya. I'm usually not a huge fan of soft-shell crab, but the crustaceans that accompanied the salad were mildly seasoned, not at all fishy and melt-in-your-mouth tender. Unfortunately, the rice had hardened into a brick-like texture by the time I made my way back to the office, even after dousing it with the dressing.
With an innovative menu, excellent service and an upscale atmosphere, Larry's Cocoon should attract a diverse cross-section of diners. Whether you stick with what you know or venture out of your comfort zone, Larry's has something to please most palates.
By Carly Horton Stuart
Daily News correspondent