Northern Noodle Quest: Green Garden Restaurant

21 03 2011

Green Garden was one of the only names offered up when I first started asking around about where to find the best Chinese food in Whitehorse. It’s located just off the Alaska Highway in Porter Creek — one of the residential subdivisions closest to downtown — and a few acquaintances allowed that they’d heard it was better than most.

Ringing endorsement? Not quite. Still, it was all I had to go on.

A friend and I headed out to Porter Creek to eat, skipping the downtown delivery fee. We ordered vegetarian spring rolls to start (tasty, crisp and more flavorful than the other local spring rolls I’ve tried so far) and then veggie chow mein, chili tofu with satay sauce and — a temporary Chinese New Year special — shrimp dumpling fish balls. The chow mein was bland and greasy, but with an admirable variety and quantity of vegetables included, far beyond the usual strips of cabbage and carrot. (Unfortunately it also included soy-pork strips, an unexpected addition. I’m not big on the fake meat.) The chili tofu was tasty — again, it came with a nice array of veggies — but lacked the spice punch I expected for a menu item highlighted in red text.

Finally, the shrimp dumpling fish balls were… fishy. Chalk it up to a misunderstanding: We figured we were getting mixed fish/shrimp dumplings, but the dumpling wrappers themselves were the fish balls, which were then stuffed with shrimp. The overall effect was decidedly, um, aquatic.

Fishy fish balls aside, it was a solid showing.

Previously in my search for the best (or least worst) Chinese food in Whitehorse:
New Oriental Restaurant, North Dragon Restaurant, and an introduction to the Quest.


Fairbanks: Three Breakfast Options

8 03 2011

I know breakfast is optional for some travelers, but for me it’s a crucial way to start the day off right. If you’re like me, and you find yourself in Fairbanks, here are three breakfast options for your consideration — two with plenty of seating space for a leisurely meal and one roadside take-away truck.

Lu Lu’s Bread & Bagels: Choose from an array of fresh-baked bagels with butter, jam or cream cheese or go for a toasted bagel sandwich — there are both breakfast and lunch options. Lu Lu’s also sells bulk bagels and loaves of fresh bread (including a daily special), and the coffee comes courtesy of the Alaska-based Kaladi Brothers.

Alaska Coffee Roasting Co.: Another local roaster, Alaska Coffee Roasting Co. also delivers tasty food for breakfast and lunch, including quiches, fresh pastries and flatbreads. I like the “breakfast pockets” filled with eggs, potatoes, cheese and more.

Sunrise Bagel & Espresso: There are at least a couple of locations for this coffee cart mini-chain — I’ve been to the one just outside the Best Western Chena River Lodge on Airport Way and thoroughly enjoyed my bagel sandwich and a latte. Perfect for a quick take-away before you hit the highway or head out for a day of Fairbanks sight-seeing.

Northern Noodle Quest: New Oriental Restaurant

21 02 2011

After my first foray into the local Chinese food offerings, I was braced for another unpleasant lemon chicken-esque surprise. But New Oriental didn’t inflict any further trauma on me — in fact, my meal was downright tasty.

A friend and I ordered the vegetarian spring rolls, spicy squid, tofu with black bean sauce and vegetable chow mein. The spring rolls were large and hot, definitely on the greasy side but the veggies inside still retained distinct flavors — a rarity and a major plus. The squid was fried in a light, crispy batter, with a nice, accessible level of spice, a slow-building burn. The tofu with black bean sauce had plenty of flavor, and its veggies remained crisp-ish, not cooked to mush. Finally, the chow mein was bland, but surprisingly non-greasy.

Chinese food purveyors of Whitehorse, you are on notice: The bar has been set. Thanks for reviving my faith in the quest, New Oriental.

Northern Noodle Quest: North Dragon Restaurant

3 02 2011

I had big plans when I first started to consider the Noodle Quest. I had notions about choosing “control items” that would serve as standard orders at each restaurant, to provide some vague, porous, pseudo-scientific overlay for the whole enterprise.

Those notions lasted until the first brown paper bag of take-out arrived, courtesy of North Dragon Restaurant.

I had chosen vegetarian spring rolls and lemon chicken as my two controls – lemon chicken because it’s nearly as commonplace as that great Ameri-Chinese standby, sweet’n’sour chicken balls, which I really, truly can’t stand. I’d also ordered tofu with black bean sauce and (for my dinner companion) sweet’n’sour shrimp.

The spring rolls were decent, bland and stuffed with indecipherable chopped veggies, but hot and crispy. The tofu dish, too, was enjoyable enough as these things go, with a tasty sauce and large chunks of damp, oily tofu mixed with limp mushrooms, snow peas, cauliflower florets, baby corns and water chestnuts. (I always give big props for veggie dishes that don’t fill up on celery bits and skimp on the good stuff.)

But the lemon chicken? I’m not even certain it warranted the name.

Read the rest of this entry »

Roadside Alaska: Tok Thai Food

2 02 2011

By the time I hit Glennallen, Alaska, on a recent road trip, I’d been driving for a day and a half — and I’d resigned myself to the fact that any rural, roadside meals I stopped for were likely to involve a deep fryer, a burger bun, or both.

Then I spotted Tok Thai Food, a bright purple take-out truck in the parking lot of a gas station at the crossroads of the Richardson and Glenn highways, just outside Glennallen. (Despite the name, the food truck is more than a hundred miles from Tok.) I didn’t know what to expect, quality-wise, but I had no intention of just passing by.

For $10, I got an enormous (Alaska-sized?) portion of pad thai with chicken; the friend who was along for the ride got a similarly monstrous vegetable curry. Both were really tasty, and the owner-operators were helpful and friendly, explaining the items on their menu that went beyond the standard westernized-Thai offerings and trying to get a sense of what would suit our tastes best.

I realize most people don’t drive to Alaska looking for good Thai take-out. But if you happen to be passing through Glennallen, I’d strongly recommend a lunch stop. After all, isn’t that part of the beauty of a long-distance road trip — the unlikely roadside offerings along the way?

Roadside Thai take-out in the middle of Alaska

Introducing Northern Noodle Quest 2011

25 01 2011

It’s a mystery of Whitehorse life: There are at least a half-dozen Chinese restaurants in town, but none is well known to be the best. There is no clear-cut winner, no rivalry between leading contenders, seemingly no passion on the topic from residents at all.

When I first moved here, I asked around: Which Chinese restaurant is the best? I like to have a go-to for those nights when nothing but delivery will do. But my question was met with shrugs. Some friends had never visited any of the half-dozen; some had been to one or two, but had no strong opinions about their meals.

And so I’ve taken it upon myself to find the answer. Readers, I give you … (drumroll) … NORTHERN NOODLE QUEST 2011!

Over the next few months, I aim to visit each Chinese restaurant in Whitehorse and to report back on their offerings. I’ll wrap up with a final report card, and hopefully crown a winner. The prize? The pride of knowing that you are, in one freelance writer’s opinion, The Best Chinese Restaurant in Whitehorse. Cha-ching!

[Photo by fab4chiky via Flickr (Creative Commons)]