Set your culinary expectations adrift at The Anchor
By Richard Foss (Richard@RichardFoss.com)
The restaurant’s sign has no words, but people driving down Main Street in Venice looking for a place called The Anchor can figure out pretty quickly that they’ve found it. The neon anchor outside, oars over the door and hawser rope knotted over the bar give a distinct clue about what to expect — a classic seafood house.
That would be a solid bet under most circumstances, but it’s wrong. The nautical décor and name aside, The Anchor’s menu is split about evenly between land and sea, and the style is modern rather than classic. Forget fish and chips and cioppino — this is a place for shared plates of chef Dustin Taylor’s inventively prepared contemporary and seasonal food. Diners have a choice of counter seating or two or three tables inside, or picnic tables on the dimly lit but attractive patio. We chose the latter.
The menu is short and on the night we stopped in the kitchen was already out of two popular items, the mussels braised Basque style and the braised octopus. The fact that braised octopus is one of the most popular dishes tells you something about the adventurous nature of the clientele. That these are two of just five seafood items on the regular menu suggests that The Anchor might want to expand its seafood offerings. We ordered the seared snapper, lobster roll with truffles and roasted pork tenderloin medallions, and for starters a kale and quinoa salad.
Kale is one of those how-did-we-ever-do-without-this ingredients; a decade ago it was a decorative item at buffets, and now it is celebrated as a tasty superfood. The salad served here is a good argument for kale’s continuing relevance, whether or not you care how healthy it is; the full flavor and crunchy texture went quite well with the blistered tomatoes, manchego cheese, almonds, avocado and raisins.
The raisins weren’t in the menu description but played a major role in the flavor. In this case the result was better than expected, but anyone with food allergies should be forewarned of the menu’s incompleteness and ask about omissions or substitutions before ordering.
The two fish items arrived almost simultaneously and were a study in contrasts. The lobster roll looked very much like the traditional item, except for the large slices of black truffle topping the meat. The snapper was a fantasia on a plate — a portrait of a fish made from a fish, with the body made from a triangular filet, the tail from two plumes of sauce, and it swam on a vegetable sea.
The snapper had been briefly seared in mild spices. No pseudo-Cajun crusting here, just slight enhancements to the natural flavor. The puree was slanted toward the sunchoke’s vegetable sweetness rather than the persimmon — there was just a ghost of fruity tartness rather than equality. This wasn’t what I was expecting, but it went particularly well with the succotash-like mix of edamame, corn, red bell pepper and mushrooms.
The lobster roll was the only item we were served that matched the menu description. It was also the one prepared most traditionally, probably because these are so good when made simply that few chefs even consider tinkering with them. The shaved truffle was a nice idea and gave a brief, musky overtone, an interesting substitution for the celery salt that is generally prominent. Lobster rolls are listed on the menu in a section headed “A Must,” and if you like lobster rolls that’s accurate.
The pork tenderloin medallions are usually served over house-made kimchi, but we requested the vegetable on the side, and I’d recommend that you do the same. Stacking the ingredients makes a prettier presentation, but the spice-rubbed meat is so delicious when unadorned that it’s good to be able to alternate bites with the pungent marinated cabbage. The pork was drizzled with balsamic vinegar and was topped with arugula rather than the snow peas that were listed on the menu. When we asked about the substitution our server explained that snow peas are out of season. So they are, and will be for some time, but it wouldn’t be that hard to mention the substitution to customers when they order.
The wine list at The Anchor actually has good and accurate descriptions of the selections, and a flight of three half-glasses is reasonably priced at $18. We enjoyed a pleasant, lightly citrusy Albarino, a delightful Chilean Carmenere blend, and a Syrah that went better with the spicy kimchi than expected.
Our dinner for two ran $113, of which $22 was wine, which is in line with the neighborhood. I might return to try that octopus with chorizo or the skirt steak with celery root and raisin puree. If you have an allergy, be sure to ask about substitutions or tell your server upfront. But do visit — it’s worth it.
The Anchor is open Tuesdays through Sundays. Street parking only. Corkage: $15.
The Anchor 235 Main St., Venice (310) 664-9696 theanchorvenice.com