I was beginning to think I was cursed. Over the last year, I had managed to secure three separate reservations at Whisky & Ramen, downtown Anchorage’s hottest new spot, and still had not managed to eat there. A last-minute trip, an unexpected work conflict, and a bout with COVID had caused me to cancel all three. Apparently, the universe did not want me to eat the charred pork bao and Japanese-themed Scotch eggs that the rest of the city was raving about.
Happily, the curse was recently lifted when I managed to secure a reservation that conveniently fell on my wedding anniversary. Granted, our reservation was for a time of night that typically sees me tucked into bed watching old episodes of “Frasier,” but I pregamed with a late-afternoon mocha, considering it a small price to pay for handmade noodles and fancy cocktails.
Whisky & Ramen opened in Anchorage last year to a lot of fanfare and an impenetrable reservation list. A year in, I wondered if the shine was still on the apple.
The restaurant makes a stunning first impression. You enter onto the mezzanine, with the dining room below and the bird’s-eye view of the bustling space is a fun reveal. The space is sleek and hip, and as you walk down the stairs, it’s a bit like walking into a party. We were seated in the bar area at the back of the dining room — a cozy nook, with lower ceilings, and lower lights with a lively but more intimate feel. The couple seated next to us were also celebrating an anniversary.
Whisky & Ramen is known for innovative cocktails and I knew well in advance which one I wanted: the B.B. Queen ($14). This part beverage, part high school chemistry experiment is a combination of Toki Whisky, pomegranate, passion fruit, L’Aperitivo Nonino, with a “citrus aromatic globe.” I like pomegranate as much as the next person, but let’s be real; I was in it for the globe. Apologies if smoke bubble cocktails are old hat to you, but for the rest of us, let me explain. A lovely pink drink in a cocktail coupe is brought to your table, and then your server magically inflates a smoke-filled bubble over its surface. You then pop the bubble and enjoy a Morticia Addams moment of drama as the smoke drifts out and over your table. Does the smoke add anything to the flavor of your drink? Not that I could tell. Is it fun and delightful? It absolutely is.
My husband, who apparently doesn’t like fun, ordered the Rich Strike ($15), a combination of Buffalo Trace, ume-cinnamon shrub, Montenegro Amaro and dry curacao with a Topo Chico float. It comes in a glass with ice and at no point does smoke pour forth from it. It just sits there. That said, it was delicious. The cinnamon is strong with this drink and I can imagine it being a perfect tipple in colder months.
On a side note, I’m appreciative of the appetizing and interesting zero proof and low-ABV options on their cocktail list. This is a trend that I hope keeps growing. Being a designated driver shouldn’t mean you’re stuck with ginger ale.
For appetizers, we ordered izakaya cucumbers ($5), tebasaki chicken wings ($13), whisky pork buns ($9) and Scotch tamago ($8). The cucumbers are a simple dish but pack a ton of flavor. The miso tare dip is salty and spicy, with the lovely undertone of funk that comes from fermented ingredients. When we ran out of cucumbers, I couldn’t resist dipping my finger into the punchy, powerful dip.
The tebasaki chicken wings were a study in crunch, a result of being twice-fried. I would not call these a unique appetizer but they’re perfect of their kind — something that I’d like a bucket of to eat in front of a football game, or, more realistically, in front of more episodes of “Frasier.” They are paired with a yuzu soy chili dipping sauce that added interest but was a bit on the sweet side. Both the chicken and the sauce could have used more zing.
But we adored the inventive take on the Scotch egg — perfectly cooked ramen eggs coated in a flavorful crust of pork and panko, accented with garlic, lemon, and a Japanese mustard aioli. These are perfect two or three bite snacks that have both substance and style.
Lastly, I had mixed feelings about the whisky pork buns. The filling was top-notch, whisky-marinated pork cooked to a perfectly smoky and crispy char. This was nicely balanced by a handful of sprouts, aromatic herbs and cucumber. However, there was something slightly off-putting about the bao dough. While the pillowy buns had a perfect almost marshmallowy texture, there was something subtly soapy about its flavor — not cilantro, I promise — that lingered unpleasantly. I ended by simply scooping out the filling and abandoning the wrap.
For our entrees, I chose the Dark Horse ramen ($22) while my husband opted for the Sugamo Star ($22). The Sugamo Star has a chicken-forward broth and is served with roasted pork tenderloin chashu, a 6 1/2-minute egg, yuzu frisee, scallions, black truffle and menma, a condiment made from dried and fermented bamboo shoots. To be honest, I couldn’t discern some of these promising flavors — especially the black truffle — but this was still a satisfying, bowlful of comfort.
The Dark Horse was sensational. The highly seasoned “burnt” miso pork broth is teeming with noodles, and topped with whisky-miso crisped pulled pork, a 6 1/2-minute egg, shitake mushroom ragu and charred corn. The broth is powerful and smoky though possibly a bit on the salty side for some. The toppings are plentiful and balanced and — side note — I love the giant ladle-like soup spoons, which make eating this soup feel extra decadent.
There were many surprising things about the menu — the smoke globe, the addictive cucumbers, the “burnt” broth — but among the surprises was the restaurant’s overall value. It may be hard to get a reservation but you won’t break the bank once you’re there. The ramen prices range between $20 and $22, the appetizers between $5 and $13, and even the bar menu, with its extravagant specialty cocktails, seemed reasonable — my showy cocktail was only $14 and I was pleased to find a good by-the-glass cabernet for only $9. While ramen is, generally, a pretty low-budget indulgence, it’s hard to find an upscale “occasion” restaurant with entrees that float around the $20 mark.
As we left, a bit past our bedtime, people were still flooding into the restaurant and I was delighted to see it. The restaurant scene in downtown Anchorage has taken a real hit in recent years, so it’s lovely to see signs of excitement and life. I’m looking forward to my next Morticia Addams moment now that, happily, the curse has been lifted.
If you go
Whisky & Ramen
(Note: According to their website, the restaurant seats an equal number of walk-ins as guests with reservations every night, although walk-in guests may experience a wait to be seated.)
436 W. Fourth Ave.
Sunday-Wednesday: 5-11 p.m.
Thursday-Saturday: 5 p.m.-1 a.m.