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Monday, December 31, 2007

Ludvig's bistro

mocha dessert II

Three summers ago, in Sitka, when I didn’t yet know that I had to avoid gluten, I was mortified to find that the dinner offering in the cafeteria the first night was — get ready for it — deep-fried hamburgers. Oh god. After a week of similarly horrifying food, I hungered for anything that tasted natural and fresh. My friend Kristin and I were wandering down Katlian Street, passing the Pioneer Bar, maybe making our way to Lane Seven for more shakes (most of my calories in Sitka seem to come from shakes), when we stumbled on nirvana. Ludvig’s Bistro. We couldn’t believe it — an actual restaurant, not meant at all for tourists. Tiny and cozy, with only eight or ten tables, this restaurant smelled good. We sat down, spontaneously, and ordered salads. Salads! With dark greens, and more than one kind of lettuce! Fresh fish, not breaded and fried. Beautiful potatoes and lovely green beans and radiant radishes. Food. Actual food. By the time we sat back in our chairs, with a French press of hot coffee between us on the table, we vowed we would come back again.

And I have, every year. Since my first summer there, Ludvig’s has grown in reputation, but not in size. In the past year, reporters from The New York Times and The Guardian in London have eaten in the tiny place and raved about it to their readers. It is well nigh impossible to simply walk into Ludvig’s and stumble into a table, the way I did that first year. Make reservations far in advance if you want to savor the flavors of Ludvig’s. But the wait is worth it. Every year, my meals at Ludvig’s are the highlight of my food time in Sitka.

This year was no exception. For my first dinner at Ludvig’s this summer, I sat staring in awe at the plate of calamari steaming in front of me. My colleague Ellen and I shared a salad (greens! vegetables!), then the Katlian special: white king salmon on a bed of onion risotto, with wild strawberries, basil, and a balsamic vinaigrette. For dessert? An outrageous custardy creation with mocha flavoring and bits of espresso, which they called the Picasso. At the end of the meal, I sat back in satisfaction.

The second night I went to Ludvig’s, I splurged and simply went straight for it: I bought the steak. A few summers ago, I ate the best steak I have ever eaten, at Ludvig’s, a sirloin topped with creme fraiche and Dungeness crab. Ay god. This year, it was only slightly more healthy, with sauteed portobello mushrooms, onions, and green beans. Oh baby. And then there was creme brulee.

There is no hiding it: Ludvig’s is expensive. Everything in Alaska is more expensive than in the lower 48 — almost all the produce and fresh food has to be brought up to Sitka by container ship. Still, $32.95 for a salmon plate is a wallop. If you are eating tuna out of a can, however, it is more than worth it.

And for me — and all of you reading who must be gluten-free — Ludvig’s is even more of a godsend. They know how to cook for me, safely, no question. Last year, when I went back for the first time after my celiac diagnosis, I started to hesitantly explain what gluten meant. My waitress waved her hand in the air in a friendly manner. “Oh, my best friend has that. We just finished travelling through Europe together. I know how to take care of you.” And she did. (There are so many of us out there. It’s always deeply reassuring when someone acknowledges it, though. We are not freaks. We are not alone.) This year — as you can see from the photograph on top — not only do they know how to cook gluten-free at Ludvig’s, but they even have that option programmed into their computer for their receipt. I was so happy to see that printed on the receipt that I had to take a photograph of it.

Somewhere I can eat gluten-free, delightfully, with gusto? That’s always worth recording.

Ludvig's Bistro
256 Katlian Drive
Sitka, Alaska 99835



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