Restaurants rev up for New Year's rush

Posted: Tuesday, December 30, 2003

New Year's Eve is one of the busiest nights of the year for Juneau restaurants. And though many establishments are happy to let their regular menus draw customers, some chefs are using the special evening as a way to show off their culinary skills.

"It's a great night to showcase," said Kirk Stagg, part-owner and chef at Di Sopra. Stagg will serve a five-course meal on New Year's Eve.

"We try to make it more gourmet," he said.

The $49.95 menu includes escalar, a Hawaiian fish the restaurant had flown in for the meal, and artisan cheeses ordered through a company in Boston. Wine is not included in the meal.

The Gold Room at the Baranof will ring in the new year with a menu to celebrate the season, the new year and Alaska's regional harvest, said the restaurant's executive Chef David Moorehead.

The meal will start with a wild mushroom and chanterelle consommé and chicken quenelles - dumplings - and end with a mocha mousse, said Moorehead.

The three courses between will incorporate duck or filet mignon, salmon, trout and foie gras.

"I just wanted to do something different, keeping in mind that it's wintertime and cold outside and people are looking for hearty, full-food meals," said Moorehead, who has been a chef for 20 years and moved to Juneau three months ago.

The Baranof has done special New Year's Eve meals in the past, but it is not an annual event, said Steve Hamilton, food and beverage director and assistant general manager at the Baranof.

"It depends on the chef and what the chef wants to do," Hamilton said.

The dinner will be an opportunity for Moorehead to educate Juneau's gastronomes on innovative culinary trends happening in the rest of the United States, he said.

"There's so much out there in the world of food, it's amazing," he said. He'll try to mingle a bit with guests toward the end of the meal, to answer questions and talk about the dishes.

"I'm trying to put this together as an event," said Moorehead. "You come in and you sit down and have a dinner, and it's not like you're coming in for a pizza. You're coming in for a taste of my technique."

That taste will cost diners $79 with wine and $59 without it. It's the least expensive New Year's meal Moorehead have ever served, he said.

"I'm not trying to force people to try something new," said Moorehead. "I'm just trying to upscale it a little bit."

Moorehead and Hamilton began putting the menu together more than a month ago. Soon after they decided what to serve, they started looking for suppliers of food items not normally on the Baranof menu, Moorehead said.

Di Sopra has been planning its menu for a couple of weeks, Stagg said. As of Monday, the restaurant had taken close to 90 reservations - its full capacity for the evening.

Staff at the Baranof will serve about 150 meals Wednesday night, Hamilton said. He still has openings for the meal.

Stagg suspects all diners will leave Di Sopra for other parties and events by midnight, but any lingering guests are welcome to celebrate the new year with his staff and his family, including the restaurant's co-owner Sylvia Kreel.

The Baranof will seat diners until 10 p.m., meaning many may be finishing up their mousse when the new year rolls in, Hamilton said.

Finding employees for the night's events isn't difficult, Hamilton said. Servers and cooks earn good money and enjoy the festive atmosphere.

Moorehead agreed.

"We'll have a ball putting it together," he said. "It'll be a lot of fun and it's really rewarding to serve good food."

• Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.



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