Charlou

Charlou Sign

Soft Opening & Beyond

May 11, 2019

Welcome to Charlou‘s soft opening! As a La Bodega club member, I was invited to enjoy the evening of discounted food in return for reviewing my experience afterward. Being me, I jumped at the chance to bring Derek on a different kind of date night.

Same Place, Different Place

The location will be familiar to Alaskans as it has housed many restaurants in the past. Most recently, La Potato. Most memorable, The Fly by Night Club. Parking was a breeze due to the large parking lot on site. After a quick walk, we were greeted by the hostess warmly and pointed to the bar because the kitchen was running behind schedule. We took our seats on the bright red leather stools and took in the comfortable, bright atmosphere. The remodel was welcome as it wasn’t too loud or a bit dark and sketchy as in previous incarnations. Children would definitely be welcome and some were already there. A quick glance at customers behind us revealed familiar La Bodega faces, and two open tables. Due to this observation, I made the assumption the owners wanted some feedback from the bar and therefore recommended our seating as such.

Charlou Decor
Charlou Decor
Charlou Wine
Charlou Wine

A Bit Behind…

Our bartender greeted us with a friendly introduction and we were told a second time the kitchen was running behind, but she was quick to offer wine tastings. I always find this to be a nice, upscale touch. After making a wine decision, I took the time to peruse the menu. Even though it was limited, everything available had delicious descriptions. Derek ordered the AK Bacon Burger, and I ordered the Hot AK Halibut Sandwich.

As time passed without food we were checked on not just by our bartender, but by owners and servers alike, and there was genuine concern in everyone’s voices. At one point, about an hour into our wait, the bartender apologetically said, “I have no idea when your food is coming.” I saw this as a plus because at least it was honest. Although I have to admit an offer of a free appetizer would have gone a long way. It’s important to note we weren’t upset in the least. We knew what to expect from a soft opening and the staff was excellent. A snack just would have been a nice gesture.

Wonderful Staff

During our wait, it was clear the staff was very concerned about getting things right despite the struggles they were facing in the kitchen. Derek and I had reservations at 7:30 and we received food at 9:47. That taken into account, I’d still call the team on deck that night superheroes.

Hot AK Halibut
Hot AK Halibut

Wonderful Food

The star of the show was the Hot AK Halibut. It was the perfect amount of sweet and spicy, and the portion of halibut was almost too large for the sandwich. Most Alaskans get perturbed if their serving of fish is too small- it was not the case here. The bread struggled to keep things together, but it was so delicious I didn’t mind the “fork to face” situation.

Derek left satisfied with his burger, and though he was a bit worried about the beet ketchup, he ended up enjoying it a lot. Sadly, he didn’t have any over-the-top review for this burger. To be forthcoming, he happens to have a favorite burger in town that nothing has surpassed so far… tough standard.

Review Time
Review Time

Final Thoughts

Final service lacked a bit as all hands were not “on deck” for water and plate clean up. We saw employees look at plates which were clearly “finished” and walk away without picking them up. Although I think this could be easily remedied.

We will be back- it’s hard to beat and Alaskan Chef is using locally sourced food.

Second Visit
Second Try

July 18, 2019

We’re back for dinner with friends! Our group of four opted to sit outside this time, and there was no trouble due to the lack of customers. (Pause for “uh oh”.) We were greeted with a smile and quickly visited by our server, Ty. The group was offered samples of drink choices before commitment was required- a welcome carry-over from the soft opening. Also, it should be noted that Ty wasn’t afraid to say he needed to check with “smarter” people about possible drink pairings. I considered this a major positive at a restaurant owned by a very formidable local liquor store.

Wine/Sake
Wine/Sake
Beer
Beer

All of the menus had increased in variety of options as expected. I opted for a Rose’ as Derek was going to order beer. Ty was attentive and both selections were enjoyed and refilled promptly.

Small Plates

Halibut Ceviche
Halibut Ceviche

I want to take time to discuss Charlou’s small plate selection. It’s quite varied and enticed two of us to order only those for dinner. We each ordered two small plates. I will focus on my choices, the Halibut Ceviche and the dressed Oysters in vodka with watermelon.

First, the negative. For small plates, that were actually small, the price was a bit high: $7-$12. Second, the positive. The presentation was beautiful and the flavors were awesome! My ceviche was light and fresh with a little kick of heat, and my oysters (which I usually enjoy plain and raw) were a delight in my mouth as the watermelon snapped crispy and juicy between my teeth. It was a hot day and both of my plates satisfied.

Oysters
Oysters

I don’t want to spend much time on what the boys ordered because they matched what our order was at the soft opening. Derek had the AK Bacon Burger, and our guest had the Hot AK Halibut. Both stood out as meals they would reorder. The only difference I noted this visit was the addition of homemade chips. Very tasty.

Good Luck & Cheers!

It’s easy to say that Charlou has more than potential, but it’s a hard market in Alaska. I highly recommend going for after work drinks and small plates. Hungry for more? Stop in for one of their main courses. You’ll love the staff and the food, and please ask them about their wine, sake, and beer offerings. They are one heck of a knowledgeable crew.

Cheers!
Cheers!

*Apologies for the odd formatting. I had to switch back to the classic editor and, well, it didn’t like that. 
Advertisements

Testing: Lemon Preserves

Making Something Great Even Better

I ordered a new cookbook from Amazon called “Smitten Kitchen Every Day” by Deb Perelman. Here’s Amazon’s description:

“Deb Perelman, award-winning blogger and New York Times best-selling author of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, understands that a happy discovery in the kitchen has the ability to completely change the course of your day. Whether we’re cooking for ourselves, for a date night in, for a Sunday supper with friends, or for family on a busy weeknight, we all want recipes that are unfussy to make with triumphant results.”

I love unfussy meals and triumphant results, so I readily flipped through the pages immediately after receiving the book. There were so many meals that sounded delicious and flavor packed. More than one recipe called for lemon to stand out as the star flavor. I love dishes with lemon highlighted. I began to ponder how I could make a lemon-centered meal even more lemon-y without the pucker.

TraciLemon
When life gives you lemons…

Lemon preserves! Yes, the intense yet smooth taste of a preserve. The problem? I had no idea where to get them. The solution? Make them. How did I make them? Pinterest! I found a recipe on Serious Eats that seemed simple enough. I would just need three ingredients and a canning jar. (I will let you travel to their site for the recipe as I didn’t change it at all.)

The lemons were prepared quickly, needing only minor trimming and cutting. I then added sugar and salt and let them sit in the refrigerator overnight. The next day they looked so pretty! It was almost like they had been coated in a sweet glaze. The step that followed was to simply jam them into a jar with their liquid. Done, and done.

LemonCol

Finally, I had to wait two weeks. This was the hardest part as I am not patient in any way. Seriously, Derek can back me up on this.

Star of the Show

IMG_1214_Facetune_08-06-2018-11-26-18
Two Weeks Later

Those who are loyal readers will know I have problems with commiting to food and drink. I love experimenting. So, when I received a new cookbook days before my lemon preserves would be ready, and there was a delicious sounding recipe which included them, I had to run with it. It was a sign! (“The Smitten Kitchen” did provide other tasty meals over the two-week waiting period though.) The meal I picked was Pasta with Summer Squash, Sardines and Lemon Preserve. My new cookbook was “Back Pocket Pasta” by Colu Henry. Here’s Amazon’s description:

“As much a mindset as it is a cookbook, Back Pocket Pasta shows how a well-stocked kitchen and a few seasonal ingredients can be the driving force behind delicious, simply prepared meals. Pantry staples—a handful of items to help you up your dinner game—give you a head start come 6pm, so you can start cooking in your head on the way home from work.”

LemonIngColl

The recipe included a few simple ingredients that would, I hoped, highlight the extra pleasant flavor of lemon. My only holdup were the sardines. I remembered eating them from the tin when I was little. (My dad and I would try to gross out my mom with those and spray-can cheese…I know…ick.) At the time, the shock was way more important than whether I actually liked them. At 39, I couldn’t remember the actual flavor at all, so I was letting the tiny little fish creep me out a smidge.

Remembering adventure is worth it, even if it results in failure, I jumped into preparation with gusto. I also hid the tin from my family. They aren’t as adventurous as me all the time. I figured surprising them would be more than ok.

The lemon preserves themselves had turned into glossy lemons with a bit of a gelatinous texture. The peel and meat had melded into a yellow slice that could still be diced with a knife. I tasted a piece and it was lemon, salt, and sweet- a perfect balance on my palate with lemon that really lingered. I felt the first feelings of success.

The meal came together easily. The finished product was a light pasta dish perfect for springtime. The sardines added a saltiness, and the squash and lemon preserves were the stars of the show. I would make it again, and my family even encouraged it. (And this was after they were in on the “surprise”.)

LemonFinishColl

Arkose Brewing: Winter Visit

The hubs and I decided to head out to Palmer to see what kind of fat bike trouble we could get into. The answer? A lot. A lot of actual trouble. We tried one area near a lake and I fell four times, had to get off and walk twice, and screamed on 3,000,000 occasions. So, due to my husband’s deep affection for me, he decided we’d visit Arkose and drink a couple beers instead of continuing the excursion.

My “art”, the “Moors”, and the menu

It was werewolf kind of weather. Beautiful fog hung low and it was very cold. Derek and I had a bit of fun chanting “beware the Moors” in various cottage-living-British-people voices on the drive to Arkose.

Upon arrival, we were happy to find a lovely list of options on the brewery menu. First up, Pumpkin Spice Porter. (I’m so suburban!) The dark auburn brew was thick and spicy for only a 5% ABV. I would actually describe it as heavy, and while I enjoyed it, one was enough. This seasonal treat was plenty of pie without any of the whip.

img_4345
Illuminate

Next up, Illuminate Black IPA at 5.6% ABV. So flippin’ good! It came to the table black as night (duh) and had little head. The sweet, almost spicy flavor was hop heavy but not tongue burning. The mouthfeel was fizzy and light. I could have enjoyed more, but Derek had already done me a solid by calling off the bike trip. It seemed wrong to punish him with an hour-long drive home with drunk Traci.

img_4344
Coziness & Poetry

While the lobby is small, it is quite cozy. There is a lot to do while you try out their delicious offerings. This day I partook in drawing (you can see that I am extremely talented) and poetry. I am a bit better at poetry I think. If you’re looking to shop gear, you won’t be disappointed. They offer T-shirts, sweatshirts, etc. and I’m happy to say they are well made and soft. I may own one…

img_4347Our final tasting was Soul Stout. It was a stronger 7% AVB. This was a kicker for me. I’ve mentioned before, but I do not love barleywine. It’s just too thick and syrupy. Soul Stout was pretty- almost black and had a creamy nitro topper- yet it was also heavy and sweet.

When we got to the brewery, we had asked why there wasn’t music playing. We were informed there is one channel that comes in clearly and he had grown tired of it. Trying to be accommodating, he turned it on for us. We were not ready. The channel is very much like the one that comes in around Beluga Point, right before one gets to Girdwood. It’s not quite as eclectic, but it gives good effort. We were quick to sympathize and switch back to silence. I truly hope the brewery opts for a CD player or Pandora channel soon.

Brewer: Arkose

Purchase Options: Bottles & Growlers available on-site and in local retailers

 

Girdwood Brewing Company

 

 

 

img_5017

No Time Like the First Time

We decided to go visit the new family in town: Girdwood Brewing Company. It’s got a great location, and a large parking lot. Views, of course, consist of Alaskan mountains, ski equipment, and dogs. Girdwood can always be counted on for a relaxed, welcoming vibe. The town has been a favorite destination for my family since the 90s. I really hadn’t thought about how it could improve until GBC opened its doors. In truth, the husband and I have been there three times now, but I’ll focus on our first visit within this blog.

Decor

I’m a sucker for extras. I’m someone who can spend hours on the internet reading about Easter eggs in movies. So, when a business takes the time to add unique elements to their space, I appreciate it. GBC has a mileage post in front with locations from Queenstown to Moab. It also took care to showcase the beautiful beer equipment with gigantic windows. Derek and I both took a moment to stare at the shiny metal, heaven-liquid producing, mashers and fermenters.

The entry is small, but the walls are lined with skis. Once through the main door the brewery space itself is quite open and comfortable. On this day, sun streamed through the windows and made us want to stay forever. Seats vary. Options run from high-tops with stools, to chairs at tables. It is also perfectly acceptable to meander about with your beer in hand.

Because of its open plan, it’s a bit loud and echoing. That said, the care taken with pops of color and ski-town detail makes it quite beautiful and the noise doesn’t bother. The other fabulous addition were all the locals- duh. Girdwoodians knows how to support new endeavors.

img_5018
Skis & Color

 

A Family’s Dream

We were greeted warmly and quickly offered a tour by Bret Marinco (an owner). He gave a brief, although pleasantly familiar backstory. He and his brother had worked for Conoco-Phillips and dreamt of opening a brewery together. They finally decided to take a very well planned jump. 29 meetings later (Girdwood had very interesting red tape) they were able to move forward to a dream realized. I love this. I could hear stories like this for the rest of my life and smile every time. Passion leads to wealth and happiness.

They have wisely considered the future, and there is room for expansion and a beer garden. The rest of the family was there, a little boy ran around the back, and a baby had arrived into the world not too long before. GBC will be around for generations, I’m sure.

img_5020

Beer

Derek and I picked up a flight of everything. The beer list was limited, but it was another precise decision made by the brewers. They wanted to launch small and build up to making enough beer for the actual amount of visitors. The choices were very well done.

First we sipped the IP-AK, the house IPA. It was very foggy, had little to no head, and a smooth mouthfeel with a hoppy punch- sweet up front, bitter (not too) toward back of palate. Derek and I argued a bit about hops. In the end he said it was “Essence of Seattle IPA with Girdwood flair.”

“What’s Girdwood flair?” I asked.

Shrug “They just put some Girdwood in it.”

Fair enough. A lot of things in Girdwood can’t be explained.

Second up was the Down the Chute Kolsch. This brew was very clear and golden. It had a good milky head, sweet oat smell, and clean flavor. The smooth mouthfeel lead to very easy drinking.

Derek said “Clean, crisp and heavenly. One of my new favorites.” (Dare I say “high praise”? Can there be too much Nick Cage?)

Finally, the Hippy Speed Ball Stout had a lovely smell of coffee, and was the color of a sexy brunette. (I’d date her or at least have hair envy.) There was no head and there was a surprisingly light mouthfeel. It was a bit bitter on the tail end. For this one, Derek offered up a “random Legend quote”:

“Black as midnight, black as pitch, blacker than the foulest witch.” -Blix

Left to Right: Kolsch; Stout; IPA

img_5021Family Friendly?

We had our girls with us on this visit. They partook in the Kombucha and helped prove the brewery was family friendly. It was so nice of them to take that hit for us. Research is hard sometimes. Getting a teenage smile is a big “win” though, and I was glad we dragged them along.

More Views


Final Thoughts

We love it. We will be regulars. We will be adding more posts! This place shows what a perfect dream looks like. Congratulations to the family!

Sunday Beer Blog: Oskar Blues Death By Coconut 

Yet again it’s Sunday before I’m ready to prepare for a new week. This particular Sunday I decided to rebel against my usual list of chores and squeeze in some “girl-time”. I like to include my husband in all major decisions so he approved my nail polish color. Thank goodness because what if I was to paint my nails a color that made him want to vomit? What kind of marriage would that be? 

In addition to painting my nails, I wanted to try an arguably girly beer as well. My choice for this afternoon was Oskar Blues Brewery’s Death by Coconut.

Oskar Blues
 

This canned beer has a sweet coconut smell, but is a bit more chocolate flavored on the palate. Dark brown color is set off by a nice head that fades fast. (The head picture here was my second pour. Gosh. The things I endure for you dear reader.) 

Nice Head
Death by Coconut reminds me of Maui Brewing’s coconut porter but a bit more bitter. The bitterness makes it more drinkable. It grounds the palate and helps control the sweetness. This is where my husband disagrees. He found the Blues’ brew to be reminiscent of suntan lotion- just what he says about Maui Brewing’s. 
So not only is the house clean and laundry done, but my nails are happy red, and my tastebuds are enjoying sweet before savory. Pork Chops are baking, but desert first is a nice naughty choice on a Sunday of preparation. 

Beer & Nails

I think this beer would be very tasty with desert. For instance, I kept picturing the cappuccino cake I made last week for my daughter’s 17th birthday. It was covered in ewy-gewy, homemade caramel and this beer would pair with it in a mind-blowing way. 

Brewery: Oskar Blues Brewery 

Purchased At: Fred Meyers Dimond 

ABV: 6.5%

Style: Irish Porter

Bonus: Cappuccino Cake 

Sunday Beer Blog: Valar Dohaeris 

This beer was an impulse buy at Wine House. Derek doesn’t watch Game of Thrones, and while I’m a huge fan of the show, I wouldn’t necessarily equate it to great beer. That said, the good gents at WH had a flattering description of the beer and taunted us with tales of limited quantities. 

We didn’t rush to drink it, but after my husband tried to kill me while fat biking with hills and ice, it was time for a treat. (It was SO fun.)

We poured more quickly than we should have and received the gift of chunky bits because of it. I recommend you follow directions and pour slowly. The head was fabulous and the color was complete golden honey. 

Icky Bits

The Ommegang Brewery beer is a Belgian-style tripel ale that weighs in at a whopping 9% ABV. It smelled lovely and went down smooth. It was much lighter than expected and not as malty as promised. I was happy about that. I’m not a huge malt lover. 


All in all the GOT beer was a lot like the show, wonderful every minute, but without the bloodshed and boobs. Hey, a beer can’t deliver everything. 

Brewer: Ommegang Brewery

AVB: 9%

Purchased At: Wine House 

Gnocchi, from Scratch! 

OMG I did it. I made gnocchi.

I don’t make pasta from hand, and I don’t make things that look like pasta but aren’t from hand either. So what led to this unusual event? More like who: supermodel Chrissy Teigan. Ok, so it’s not as though she personally taught me how, but I feel like we’re sorta buds since she’s amazingly funny, smart, and gorgeous and I’m clearly the same just paid way less. (Hey, my husband is very flattering.)

Her book, Cravings, hasn’t let me down yet, but I had a lot of scepticism toward this recipe. Sweet potato gnocchi from scratch was a big ask, even though I really enjoy the delicacy of hand-made pasta and gnocchi. I can truly tell the difference between a dish made by hand and a dish boiled from a bag. I eat the later primarily, but wouldn’t it be cool if the former could be found in my house too?

What made this dish even scarier was its lack of complexity. Fresh, clean ingredients are used. Hands fold them together and roll them out. A small knife cuts them into tiny pillows. By the time I was done, I thought there was no way they would taste good. I was messy, but it was just too easy. I still wasn’t trusting Chrissy.

 

Texture before & after flour has been added.

 

I had thought ahead and doubled the batch. (If the task was extremely hard, but worth it, I’d have another dinner ready.) One went into the freezer, and one went into a pot of boiling water. I nervously waited for the gnocchi to clump together like a popcorn ball, but no, it stayed separate and cooked nicely.

The sauce was a delicious brown butter, sage. It took minutes to prepare while the gnocchi cooked. Once drained, a quick toss was all it took to get the meal ready. At this point, having tasted success, I got a bit catty with Derek. He was gaming and didn’t jump up quite quick enough when I said dinner was ready. Apparently you don’t mess with me and gnocchi.

I loved it. Derek loved it. Most importantly, Chrissy isn’t a liar!

img_3465
Final product & content faces.

In hindsight, I’d cook the double batch. It’s that or have a big salad too. Derek is a meat and potatoes guy, so he was left wanting.

I wasn’t the least bit confident, and there were certainly cringe moments, but I survived and fed my family. (They were ready to order in if necessary.) It’s also worth noting that the moscato I was drinking while I cooked went exceptionally well with the sweet potato gnocchi.

Custard Courage

Custard is one of my favorite things. I order it compulsively off menus regardless of remaining appetite. Despite my great affection, I have been too scared to make it myself. I blame my mother.

I know it’s cliché, but I grew up with a few cooking rules that may as well have been embroidered onto the pillows. One of these was “don’t burn the milk” another was “screw up custard and you’ll get a scramble”.   Thank you mom.

Another reason I’ve satisfied myself with other people’s ability to cook and serve me custard is I’m terribly impatient.  (My husband is saying “shocker!” in his head right now.) Come to think, that could also be a reason the above “rules” were said on repeat…

Arkose Brewery Boxcar Porter…Yum.

Fear, and childhood trauma, aside, I set forth to create my favorite dessert. To get started I grabbed my trusty New York Times Dessert Cookbook. If the NYT has tested this custard, it must be good. Next, I poured myself a beer. This recipe was going to take liquid courage.

The ingredients were very basic. Milk, eggs, vanilla, sugar and nutmeg. I was sure I could still screw it up. Simple ingredients meant there was no flavor to hide behind. Either this would be custard, or NOT custard.

I had the eggs separated and the milk heating on the stove when my mom called. (coincidence?) I let her in on what I was attempting, and she responded with, “Don’t burn the milk, and when you poor in the eggs, don’t scramble them!”

“Don’t burn the milk, and when you poor in the eggs, don’t scramble them!”

Awesome. No pressure.

Usually my mom is game to chat on the phone for a while, but sensing the seriousness of the situation, she made quick goodbyes and returned my attention to he milk. It was supposed to be warm but not hot. Hmmmm. The only way to test that was with a finger. Very scientific. If I dipped my pointer in and screamed it was too hot. If it was more like a spa treatment, it was perfect. My finger came out relaxed and feeling pampered- perfect.

The eggs did not scramble when added (whew!) and my next step was to pour the mixture into the baking dish. This setup was fun for me too. The baking dish had to sit in a bigger baking dish and then boiling water was poured halfway up the side of the first dish. It was like a strange bath. It apparently helped the custard set evenly.

 

Custard Close-up

 

In the end, success. Light, sweet, eggy flavor. I loved the texture- cool and mushy. (Derek did not.) I think I’ll add more nutmeg and some cinnamon next time, but that’s just personal preference. Oh, and there will be a next time.

*I think it’s important to note my mother is amazing and I pick on her a lot. She is the best chef I know, and I credit all of my ability to her nagging.

Sunday Beer Blog: Winterhook 31

I didn’t even get out of bed until 1 today. First, I’m recovering from surgery. Second, my husband’s dead sexy. Due to the late start I cooked a blueberry custard and called it brunch. Classes up lazy, doesn’t it? To put icing on the lazy-day cupcake we watched Deadpool…for the zillionth time. 

The next step was to serve up an amazingly awesome blog post. The problem? No fancy beer. Thank goodness for the hubs. He had purchased a case of Red Hook Winterhook #31. (He’s sexy and smart.) I figured it was a great opportunity to review a beer-beer. 


This is the 31st version of Winterhook and it’s quite good. It’s dry-hopped and caramel in color and flavor. Derek says, “it’s refreshingly drinkable and makes for great hangovers.” I don’t know about the authenticity of that last part. Derek hasn’t had a hangover as long as I’ve known him…

Bottom line: it’s what a beer should be, cold and wet. (Much like my puppy’s nose.)


Beer Name: Winterhook 31

Beer Style: Winter Warmer

Brewer: Red Hook

Alcohol Content: 6%

Price: $15 case

Purchased From: Wine House