By Chris Klint
11:48 AM AKDT, September 23, 2011
If there’s any Anchorage cuisine my colleagues and I at Channel 2 are familiar with, it’s the Midtown restaurants in the immediate vicinity of the station where we grab a quick bite for lunch between stories.
We’re particularly blessed by the broad selection of Asian food clustered around the intersection of 36th Avenue and the Old Seward Highway: the Asian deli at New Sagaya, Yamato Ya’s Japanese cuisine and Thai food from Chiang Mai Ultimate Thai Restaurant. This crowded field saw another entry this summer, but can it cut the hot mustard?
Ling and Louie’s Asian Bar and Grill at the University Center Mall, across from the Habitat kitchen store, is new enough that its sign is still a temporary banner (“Rice to Meet You”) hung over its torii-inspired front entrance. The restaurant is the sixth in a small Western U.S. chain of Asian fusion eateries, competing with larger chains like P.F. Chang’s China Bistro.
I first visited the restaurant last month with my mother, fresh from picking out a birthday gift for her on a lazy Saturday afternoon at Habitat. We both did a double-take, since it was the first time we’d noticed that the Museum Store had been replaced by a restaurant, and stepped inside for lunch out of sheer curiosity.
The décor is dark and muted, with a dozen or so tables anchored by a well-appointed bar. At any other mall in town it’d feel strange and out of place, but the University Center’s quiet ambiance and steady flow of college students from the UAA annex on the far side of the building make the place feel quite hip and trendy.
We didn’t have a good handle on the eclectic menu, which features colorful choices like Evil Jungle Princess Beef and F’n Loaded Sliders, so we both opted for the lunch specials ($9.95 each), smaller portions of selected items from the dinner menu. Our server, Thomas, took the time to explain each of our choices and quickly returned with our drinks. We passed the time in conversation, and in about 30 minutes we had our meals.
The Ling’s Meatloaf I tried was a subtle reinvention of classic comfort food, the mildly spiced meatloaf and savory, soy-sauce-like gravy complemented by stronger hits of flavor from the sides of wasabi mashed potatoes and Szechuan-style green beans. It’s a good introductory dish to the fusion concept, or simply something to recommend if someone in your party isn’t necessarily into Asian food at the moment.
Mom’s Lucky Chicken Lo Mein was a simple keeper, a wok dish practically heaping with noodles and chunks of fresh chicken amid a medley of vegetables. She likes her food mild and was generally pleased with it, the execution similar, but a bit lighter than the stir-fry she tends to make at home. Both dishes’ portions were generous but not overwhelming, leaving us full but not overstuffed.
We returned to Ling and Louie’s for dinner a few weeks later, our interest fueled by both the menu and an interest in seeing how the place had fared since our last visit. Dinner on a Wednesday night found about two-thirds of the tables full with a lively crowd at the bar, but we were quickly seated and placed our order with Lindsey, our server.
This time we both went for more strongly flavored items on the menu, testing the spiciness icons for accuracy: Mom asked for the Orange Peel Chicken ($13.95), while I ordered the Jeweled Beef ($16.25). The chicken is marked with a thermometer, the weaker of Ling and Louie’s two heat symbols, while the beef is marked with a fireball. Our drinks were quickly refilled, prompting Mom to observe that her iced tea was strong enough to withstand the ice -- a rare quality for the beverage in her experience.
If anything, our food arrived faster on the second visit than it did the first, with more people being served. Mom’s chicken, described as “crispy” in the menu, used a panko breading to absorb flavor from the chilies, citrus-soy sauce and orange zest in which it was cooked and tossed. The combination brought an assertive tang to the palate despite her request for less spice in the dish, leaving her mouth “warm” at the end of the meal.
The beef was a pleasant surprise, benefiting from Ling and Louie’s usage of filet mignon in every beef dish it serves. Succulent pieces of meat were drowned in the dish’s chili-soy sauce, buried beneath a mountain of yakisoba noodles mixed with broccoli and sliced mushrooms then garnished with carrots and sprouts. Eating the beef lived up to the fireball logo beside its name on the placemat, but it was a slow burn, easily controlled by pacing bites or sipping some water.
After a long day at work we'd both brought our appetites, so for dessert we split a Chocolate Volcano ($7.25). While it’s nothing more than a fairly straightforward serving of flourless chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream, enhanced by a drizzle of raspberry sauce and fresh strawberry chunks, the ice cream helped to cool down our taste buds and was a welcome addition to the meal.
Several locals have posted mixed online reviews of Ling and Louie’s in the days after the University Center restaurant opened, mainly focused on spotty service. Those concerns seem to have relaxed with time, though, and if rotating specials join the menu as planned, Ling and Louie’s most lingering legacy will be the quality of its varied fare.
Ling and Louie’s Asian Bar and Grill
University Center Mall (3801 Old Seward Highway Suite 6)
11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily
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