New menu at Alex's Plaza Restaurant

Lamb souvlaki — with lemon roasted potatoes, Greek salad, pita bread and tzatziki dressing — and chicken paillards sautéed with sun-dried tomatoes, basil, lemon, pinot gris and toasted pinenuts are a couple of the new dinner entrees offered at Alex's Plaza Restaurant. Another is duck breast linguine with proscuitto, cremini mushrooms, mascarpone, rosemary and Madeira.

There are also some new small plates — grilled smoked pork skewers with chipotle aioli and warm pita bread; an Oregon bay shrimp salad with panko-crusted crispy avocado; and risotto cakes.

If that's not enough to entice, then diners should know that some old favorites have returned to the menu at Alex's, including the roast portabello mushroom — a vegetarian entree served with grilled polenta, spinach, marinara and basil pesto — and the "Not Your Mama's Clam Chowder."

The chowder caught my eye at a recent visit to Alex's. A hot, hearty soup or stew is a comforting meal during cool and windy weather such as the valley experienced last Saturday. And priced at $14, I had to order the dish just to see what all the fuss was about. When a steaming bowl of it was brought from the kitchen, I could see there was much ado indeed.

"Not Your Mama's Calm Chowder" is made to order, and is started with a generous amount of fresh, tender Manila clams in their shells. The steamed clams were mixed with a pile of chopped potatoes, leeks, and pepper bacon in a delicious, rich, creamy broth. The menu touted the chowder as having "a couple of other things," and these turned out to be fresh kernels of white corn and chopped tarragon. The waiter topped the thick stew off with freshly ground black pepper, and it was everything a chowder ought to be. Alex's owner and chef Charles Tobey has made this dish for years, I discovered later. He learned the recipe while working at Cindy Paulsen's Fog City Diner in San Francisco.

The chowder, along with a basket of crusty sourdough bread, would make a hearty meal for one, or two could share it — either to start a meal or to accompany wine or cocktails.

My dining companion and I were out for a full dinner on this night, and he ordered a grilled 12-ounce New York strip steak. I went on with the seafood theme and ordered the Yankee Fish Fry from the selection of small plates.

The fry was a good one with dainty bites of breaded prawns, cod and bay scallops served with a chunky tartar sauce and fries. The steak was excellent, and it made a hungry man's meal with its big serving of mashed potatoes seasoned with garlic and horseradish and "some good vegetables," which turned out to be sautéed asparagus, green beans, white onions and grape tomatoes.

We decided to truly indulge ourselves by splitting a dish of vanilla bean ice cream topped with hot fudge, whipped cream, crushed pistachios and, oh yes, don't forget the maraschino cherry on top.

Tobey and his wife Quinn ran Quinz — another restaurant on the Ashland Plaza — before they took over Alex's about five years ago. The Tobeys have brought several of Quinz' Mediterranean and Spanish dishes to Alex's menu. The souvlaki, the chowder and a Portuguese open-faced steak sandwich were favorites with the guests at Quinz, as was the concept of small plates, or appetizers as meals.

The couple added live music to the mix at Alex's, but now feel the need to focus on their kitchen and their new menu for the summer, and they've rebuilt the back deck for outdoor dining as well.

The former Quinz had a reputation as a good restaurant, a distinction that the Tobeys would like to continue at Alex's.

— Laurie Heuston

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