It may be a few years behind the trend elsewhere but two chefs are bringing fine dining to Anchorage in a pop-up, catch-it-while-you-can kind of way.
Nathan Dolphin-Chavie and Josh Plesh opened Harvest Restaurant on Thursday, a pop-up supper club thought to be the first of its kind in Anchorage. Space is limited -- only 12 seats a night -- as is the time frame for the restaurant, which has no plans to be permanent.
The idea for the restaurant is simple, if not a little highfalutin'. Three nights a week, the two chefs will create a six-course meal, using as much local food as possible, and offer it to diners for a fixed price of $95. The menu will change depending on what's available and what the chefs want to do each day. A $5,500 Kickstarter last year covered start-up costs.
That low-overhead, high-concept idea is part of the draw of pop-ups, which have been around for well over a decade in other larger cities. While brick-and-mortar restaurants stick to well-established menus to draw back customers, pop-ups have more freedom. Generally, they find whatever space they can -- in this case, at the site of the old Café Savannah tapas bar on Fifth Avenue -- and keep overhead costs to a minimum. Some pop-ups are only open for a few days before closing, others just a few months. Some are sporadic but have been operating off and on for years.
"(Having a pop-up restaurant) gives us a lot of opportunities to be playful and different," Dolphin-Chavie said.
Much of the interior of the space is the same as it was when Cafe Savannah was there, with its tiled bar, wire-frame chairs and forks and spoons embedded artistically into the walls. Some of the light fixtures have fallen off, leaving open holes and hanging wires. But the two men have done their best to spruce the place up, with the centerpiece being two tables, decorated with bits of beachcombing bottles, driftwood and rocks from the Homer Spit. They're even working with a local florist to create locally sourced flower arrangements.
Dolphin-Chavie grew up in Alaska and spent time working at the Glacier Brewhouse before leaving the state a decade ago to work at restaurants in Portland, Oregon, and Los Angeles. It was in California that he met up with Plesh. After putting in years of 14-hour days at restaurants, the two wanted to take a little bit of a break and came up with the idea of spending a summer in Alaska running a pop-up restaurant, where they could focus more on creativity and less on the risky business of opening a restaurant.
Harvest will focus on serving as much locally sourced food as the chefs can find, capitalizing on people's desire to eat food that comes from nearby.
But the men say it won't just be salmon and other seafood. They're working with local businesses to get locally grown meat, and one-on-one with fishermen to find the freshest catch. They're also taking local sourcing to the next level, picking spruce tips and fiddlehead ferns to incorporate into the meals. Think pine nut macaroons with spruce ganache and powdered honey. Beet tartar with pepper sprouts. Bourbon molasses pork belly served on black beans.
"It's rich, delicious food but you're super content," said Devon Matricardi, a longtime friend of Dolphin-Chavie who attended a Kickstarter reward dinner last week that previewed what is being offered at the restaurant. "Your taste buds are satisfied but your stomach is also full."
Plesh said that's the goal. He's gone to expensive, modern-style restaurants, once dropping $250 on a fixed menu, only to go out after and immediately buy half a dozen tacos to fill up properly at a nearby Mexican restaurant. The food was great and creative, he said, but high on technique and low on being a satisfying meal. That's an experience he doesn't want Alaskans to have.
"We just want to make people happy," Plesh said.
"It takes a lot of foam to fill you up," Dolphin-Chavie joked.
The cost for interested foodies: a $95 prix fixe, all-inclusive menu that includes drinks and gratuity. Dolphin-Chavie said it's more of an event than a regular fine dining experience. Diners must purchase their meals ahead of time while making an online reservation at www.akharvest.com, and there will be no walk-ins. The two use a commercial kitchen but operate under a catering license.
Dolphin-Chavie isn't sure how long Harvest will be around. They're looking to just get through June at this point but he said they're already half booked for the month and are feeling good about July.
He's still excited to offer something new, food-wise, to the Anchorage community.
"We're totally stoked that were able to do this, to create the food we want to create," he said. "We're supporting small businesses like ourselves and supporting the community that I came from."
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By SUZANNA CALDWELL