What comes to mind when we say “Anchorage, Alaska?” Driven snow as far as the eye can see? Dog teams mushing through Main Street? Caribou? Well, maybe on a low-traffic day. Actually, Anchorage is a cosmopolitan city with a thriving nightlife scene. It offers performing arts to match almost any city in the Lower 48, as well as jazz, ballet, and something called Mr. Whitekeys. (We’ll let you figure that one out for yourself.) Ensconced in Anchorage is a surprising number of fine dining restaurants. Our favorite is The Marx Brothers Cafe. Sit back and allow Gildshire Magazines to take you on a tour.
We made reservations through Open Table. Did we do it because the food is magnificent? Did we do it because our little hearts would break if we were shut out? Well, yes and yes, but we mostly made reservations because there are only 14 tables in The Marx Brothers Cafe. They serve about 60 patrons per night, making it an evening of elegant exclusivity.
It seemed like such a simple process when four partners decided to open a restaurant at 627 W. 3rd Ave. in Anchorage. Find a place, get some permits, open the doors, cook the food, and deposit the money. What could be easier? Instead, moving-in-day turned out to be spiced with chaos and a heated discussion of disputed ownership. It occurred to them that there was a definite Marx Brothers vibe to the whole thing. Hence the name, 2,334 air miles from the Hollywood studios where the Marx Brothers made movies.
So, what’s good here? Oh, what joy is about to fill your soul.
The appetizer menu looks sumptuous from top to bottom, but we’re going all Alaska tonight. Maine lobsters are great, but not on this day. We’ll start with Alaska king crab cakes. Simple, melt in your mouth mild crab, served with roasted red pepper aioli and red cabbage slaw. Lest you be concerned for the one person at the table who doesn’t like seafood, be not alarmed. They can have sauteed foie gras, which is house-made Meyer lemon marmalade, and prickly pear
reduction with puff pastry spirals.
Onward to the entree course, and we can’t wait! The appetizer told us to anticipate everything that comes after.
Pan seared Yukon River sockeye salmon is our selection. Oh, you’ve had a bad experience with river salmon? You find them to be bitter? Well, the rivers in Alaska are the coldest rivers on Earth. The effort exerted by salmon to get up these waterways brings out the most delightful oils. Trust us, your salmon will be anything but bitter. Moreover, The Marx Brothers Cafe is a member of Seafood Watch and serves only wild caught sustainable seafood.
The non-seafood lover at the table considered the rack of lamb but set out on a more adventuresome course. She had tea smoked duck. That’s Peking style duck smoked over black tea with buckwheat soba baby bok choy stir fry. It had a unique flavor.
For dessert, some old favorites are available. You can think about tiramisu and creme brulee, but we have our eye on something else. The warm berry crisp caught our attention when we saw it served to another table. (Yes, we peek. It’s what we do.) The crisp is made up of strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries baked with a crumb topping, with birch syrup-butter pecan ice cream. Having never heard of birch syrup, with or without pecan ice cream, it sounds like the winning way to finish off this great meal.
The Marx Brothers Cafe is open from 5:30 p.m. -10 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Expect to spend at least $50 per person, but also expect attentive friendly service, and likely a greeting at the door from one of the partners. Van Hale likes to say “Hello” to those who choose his restaurant. Sit back with a glass of Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon (or a Twister Creek IPA, brewed up the road at Denali Brewing Co.) and prepare for one of the great dining experiences of your life. It is that good.