My husband and I recently celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary with a lavish dinner at Altura Bistro. The meal had a double significance because it marked not only a happy personal milestone, but also a broader one. It’s a little harder to explain, but it involves optimism, altruism, and soup. Really, really good soup.
Altura Bistro was the last restaurant I went to before the first COVID closure of 2020. I wrote a glowing review of that meal — a review that never got off the ground because less than a week later, we were all suddenly baking sourdough, vowing to finally clean out our basements and learn how to use Zoom. I learned to bake some decent bread in a dutch oven, but my basement is still a dumpster fire. And don’t talk to me about Zoom.
Of course we’ve had many restaurant meals since then, but our celebratory dinner felt like a paradigm shift. It was our first time eating out in Anchorage, for her sake. We weren’t getting takeout, en route to a show, or driving to the Lower 48. We were there for the sole purpose of enjoying each other’s company and delicious food coming out of an incredible kitchen. The restaurant was the destination. He felt carefree and nostalgic. Ah, the good old days. When would you dine out alone?
Of course, the last few years have been difficult for all of us, but restaurants have always been on the front line. Sudden closures, space and occupancy constraints, supply chain issues and staff shortages, to say nothing of stressed and sometimes rude diners. All this was part of their daily bread.
And we needed them more than ever. Because as we all know, when the going gets tough, the tough get hungry—explaining, at least in part, all that sourdough bread. Our family saw Uncle Joe’s deliveryman more often than we saw our next-door neighbors. We hosted our Taco Tuesdays. We bought Lucky Wishbone Chicken for socially distanced picnic dates. And when boredom was our greatest enemy, we gathered around a favorite restaurant’s online menu as if it were a fireplace. A nice team building exercise warmed by the glow of the laptop.
Some restaurants – even some landmarks – decided the universe was telling them something and closed their doors for good. Some, still in their infancy, were not quite on their feet when the crisis overturned them. But the others overturned and faced off, managing to counter it.
[At an East Anchorage restaurant, chicken, waffles and a business built on grit and community]
Altura Bistro is a great example of a restaurant that survived by being light on its feet. While a newly opened fine dining restaurant seems like an inevitable victim of the pandemic’s perfect storm, they managed to develop a new and sustainable business model. They did it with a combination of grit, imagination and even a bit of philanthropy. They developed a top-notch takeout menu of burgers and sandwiches, packaged and wholesaled their popular soups, and donated bread and soup to Bean’s Cafe for every five bags sold. A combination of good deed, good business and good soup.
Many restaurants were showing this kind of heart and community spirit as they switched formats, changed menus, shortened hours and worked with skeleton crews. As a food writer, it seemed like the wrong time to shine a light on their efforts. So, for the most part, while I didn’t hang up the knife and fork, I put the food writing pen away for a while.
That unpublished Altura Bistro review loomed large in my memory as a harbinger of dark days to come. But here I was three years later, drinking champagne and eating New York steak and fresh house-made chips topped with caviar and crème fraiche. And let’s not forget the shrimp bisque, which was on the menu in February 2020 and is still on it today. Altura Bistro’s Shrimp Bisque: the official soup of stubborn optimism.
The restaurant business will always be tough, and Alaskan owners and workers need to be even tougher – I’m writing this amidst Snowpocalypse No. 2 and 3. But if we’ve learned anything from the past few years, it’s that you can’t hold Alaskans down.
I’m excited to start covering restaurants again and highlight the incredible chefs, kitchens and dining rooms of Anchorage and its environs. From chefs to servers to delivery staff and everyone in between, the dining scene has had our backs, and now it’s time to have theirs. So go out to eat – or order takeout – tip generously and be polite.
As always, I want to hear from you. What is your favorite pho? Where is the best food truck parked? Which food is – and is – an unsung hero? Food Lovers Anchorage is always my go-to resource. Email me at email@example.com.
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