Fancy Dining in Anchorage

I was perusing The Alaska Blog and came across a post about the Anchorage restaurant Orso. I realized that I had been remiss in posting about Orso here on Daily Eats so I thought I’d elaborate on my own personal dining experience there.

First, let me say that when I first moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming in 2001, I was dismayed at the lack of fine dining in town. After 13 years in New York City and over 45,000 restaurants to choose from, Cheyenne had slim pickings when it came to gourmet cuisine. I remember asking for recommendations from people in town for places to take my mother who was used to fine dining with a capital “f.” The recommendations ranged from the Carriage Court (where the waitress didn’t even know what pesto was) and another restaurant where the “reknowned chef” wasn’t really a chef but a cook who called himself a chef and his specialty was heavy sauces to cover up poorly cooked entrees.

So arriving in Anchorage, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Then my aunt was visiting from Florida. A former New Yorker and world traveler, she offered to take my husband and I out to a “nice restaurant.” Translation: Not pizza. So I scoured the newspapers and other sources, finally finding an ad on a tourist map for fine dining at Orso (Italian for “bear.”) I took a chance and recommended it to my aunt.

Because I’m still not used to being a foodie, I must say that I cannot recall what in the world my dinner companions (aunt, husband, stepdaughter) ate. But here are my impressions of the place.

We arrived right on time for our reservations at 7:15pm on a Sunday night. The place was brimming with people. A quick glance registered both tourists and young professionals. There was a wait of about 20 minutes even with reservations, and we were ushered to the bar area where pastel color-filled martini glasses clinked and voices carried. I identified Cosmos at one table of smartly dressed women. Hey, I watched enough Sex in the City to be able to identify those. As we waited for our table, I debated whether I’d get a colorful cocktail, an extra dirty martini or a Bloody Mary.

Once finally seated, the Bloody Mary won out. The menu mentioned that the vodka was “herb-infused” and the moment I took the first sip, my tastebuds were treated to layers and layers of fresh herb flavors. I must educate myself further so I can distinguish herbs because I can’t for the life of me tell you which ones they were. All I can say is this was the most interesting and enjoyable Bloody Mary I’d ever had – and I enjoy my Bloody Marys.

We started off the meal with SEMOLINA CRUSTED CALAMARI (Crispy lemon wheels, sun-dried tomato aioli). How good was the calamri, you ask? Well, my 12-year-old stepdaugher who has never eaten squid in her life – or anything else that strayed too far from meat, starch and vegetables – tasted it like a champ. Her eyes lit up. She loved every bite of the calamari as did the rest of us.

Being the cheap date that I am, I ordered based on price and came up with the WILD MUSHROOM RAVIOLI (House made wild mushroom stuffing, herb broth, smoked Alaskan Sockeye Salmon). The dish was flavorful, rich and very heavy on the garlic, but other than the post-meal stomach ache, I can’t complain at all about the meal. (I seem to be somewhat allergic to garlic. And I’m trying to be a foodie?) Needless to say, dessert wasn’t in the cards for me this time.

Overall, I found Orso to be reasonably priced for being a higher-end Anchorage restaurant. I also found the atmosphere to be unpretentious, the service to be relatively attentive and friendly, and the presentations to be quite stylish including lovely designer boxes for our leftovers. Comparing it to another Anchorage “top restaurant,” Simon and Seaforts, Orso wins hands down.

Orso, 5th Avenue & G Street, Anchorage, AK (907) 222-3232

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