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Small plate, great dish -- standout appetizers in Anchorage

Victoria Barber
Lao fresh rolls from Pho Lena
Victoria Barber
Lao fresh rolls from Pho Lena
Victoria Barber
Surf and turf appetizer at Maxine's Fireweed Bistro
Victoria Barber
Prosciutto wrapped, feta-stuffed dates at Crush Wine Bistro
Victoria Barber

No offense to all those who keep themselves to three squares a day, but there's something special about the in-between meals -- the midnight ice cream snack, Sunday brunch, or french fries after a big night out. And then there are appetizers; perhaps because they're often designed for sharing, there's something undeniably convivial about these small plates.

Whether you're looking forward to a decadent main course, another glass of wine or a view of the sunset, an appetizer signals that your evening is just beginning. For people dining out on slim funds, they're a cheaper way to fill up and sample the menus of pricey restaurants.

From nachos to liver pate, some appetizers are so good they can make an entree an unnecessary afterthought. Of course, the best kind of app is a half-price one (ready for happy hour, anyone?), but to round out the field, Play asked some Anchorage foodies to weigh in on their local favorites. 

Lao fresh rolls, Pho Lena

I never met a fresh roll I didn't like, and Pho Lena's Lao fresh rolls ($9.95) are my favorite. This traditional Vietnamese dish is the perfect appetizer: savory grilled chicken, shrimp and/or tofu, chewy vermicelli noodles and crunchy romaine lettuce, with bursts of cilantro and Thai mint rolled together in a stretchy rice-paper wrapper. Best dipped in sweet chili sauce. Each bite leaves you wanting more. 

-- Shannon Kuhn is a weekly columnist covering food and culture for Alaska Dispatch News and co-founded the Anchorage Food Mosaic.

Seafood

Oysters on the half shell with citrus-Tabasco granita at Kincaid Grill: It's simple, but the hit of icy Tabasco with fresh Alaska oysters is a treat.

The small plates at Crush, like the salmon confit niçoise, are a lovely way to start a meal, along with a wine flight.

And, if in season, ask for the salt-and-pepper Alaska prawns at Southside Bistro. They are crispy, salty and spicy all at once. Finger licking required.

-- Kim Sunée​ has been the food editor for Southern Living magazine and Cottage Living magazine. Her most recent book is "A Mouthful of Stars."

Prosciutto-wrapped dates, Crush

Brides often forget to eat on the big day. Which is why, almost 20 years ago, I found myself grabbing a passing waiter in the middle of my wedding reception. “Just stand here for a minute,” I said, then worked my way methodically through half a tray of the bacon-wrapped dates he was supposed to be passing. Standing there, licking my fingers in a white floor-length silk-satin gown, I must have been quite a romantic sight.

So, nostalgia is one reason I love this classic appetizer. The version at Crush ($3 per wrapped date), with its thinly sliced prosciutto and plump, chewy dates, updates this beautifully sweet and salty mouthful. And the sheep’s-milk feta adds a refreshing tang that cuts through both the sweet and the salt. The combination is sheer alchemy. 

-- Mara Severin reviews Anchorage restaurants for Alaska Dispatch News

Surf and turf appetizer, Maxine's

Maxine's surf and turf appetizer ($16) looks like a sushi roll and tastes like a decadent steak and crab dinner, doled out in five exquisite bites. An asparagus spear runs through the center of the perfectly seared beef and a snowy garnish of crab adds richness. The three sauces swirled on the bottom of the rectangular dish -- sweet, salty, a hint of spice -- invariably cause my husband to hunch protectively over the empty plate until all of the sauce is mopped up with bread.  

Lobster ravioli, Kinley's

I love how unabashedly extravagant the lobster ravioli ($11) makes me feel. Carbs? Absolutely. A basil cream sauce? Well, sure! Bits of lobster enveloped in pillowy dough and topped with cheese? Yes, and the only thing that can make this better is a fruitily acidic glass of sauvignon blanc. I won't share, so don't ask.

-- Riza Brown is owner of Riza+Brown Catering and reviews Anchorage restaurants for Alaska Dispatch News