Local dining: Despite the name, Killjoy has plenty to love

Victoria Barber

I strolled into Killjoy early in the evening on a Friday, ready to taste what they had to offer and maybe get to the bottom of a strange name choice -- a killjoy is someone who ruins a good time, and also a serial killer clown from the film series of the same name. It seems an odd choice for a swanky downtown bar. What happened when I got there was a magical, unexpected evening.

When my dining companion and I arrived, the staff was all wearing masquerade masks. The bartender informed me they weren't taking food orders. My food reviewing mission appeared to be thwarted until a beautiful waitress in a short, black cocktail dress asked if I'd like some complimentary bruschetta.

As we ate free bruschetta, and then free sliders and free flatbread appetizers, we took in the atmosphere. Killjoy has transformed a somewhat pokey space into one of the most attractive bars in town. It's narrow and long, with a cracked mirror mosaic behind the bar and polished wood on the opposite wall. Several twinkly, intricate chandeliers brighten up the middle of the room, and the seating is all upholstered in red velvet. Large photos from Anchorage fashion photographer Thuy Vo decorate the walls. It's the kind of place that makes you feel metropolitan.

More people filed into the bar wearing masks, mostly young women wearing short, tight dresses and sky-high heels. After another beautiful waitress, this one wearing a cat mask, offered us free Champagne, my (single, male) dining companion gazed out on the unexpected scene. "This seems way too good to be true," he said quietly.

I didn't think it would be fair to evaluate the food based on one accidentally magical evening, and so I went back a couple of times to get a better idea of what everyday Killjoy is like. The bar is wine and beer only, and the menu is almost exclusively appetizers and finger food, which turned out to be kind of hit-and-miss -- some of it good, some not so much.

First, the good. Anything served on a form of bread was fantastic. The tomato bruschetta with goat cheese ($9) was toasted perfectly, topped with tangy goat cheese and a mound of fresh tomato and basil and drizzled with a syrupy balsamic reduction. This was elegant and delicious finger food. The grilled goat cheese flatbread was similar, and if anything even tastier due to its being a grilled vehicle for toppings. I enjoyed the Gouda crab and prosciutto spread ($13), though when it came out it seemed more like a classic artichoke dip you'd find in any pub, and it was difficult to taste the crab. Still, when you're loading melty cheese spread onto toast, it's hard not to be happy.

The baked mac and bleu cheese ($9) was a standout, as good as any mac and cheese I've had in a restaurant. It's a simple, classic formula, and Killjoy gets it right: crisp bread-crumb topping, a creamy and gooey middle studded with bacon and just the right amount of sharpness from the cheese. I often get really excited by the idea of mac and cheese, then underwhelmed by the reality of it (and end up salting it liberally). Not here.

Making a respectable showing were the "little piggies" appetizer ($8) and stuffed olives ($5). The piggies were made of ham and cheese wrapped in pastry. They were okay but reminded me a lot of the kind of party snack you'd make at home with an assist from Pillsbury. They were served with an excellent honey mustard sauce, however, that packed a pleasant, vinegary punch. The menu promised a "mixed selection" in relation to the stuffed olives. I thought that meant a selection of olives, but what arrived was all green olives stuffed with a selection of cheeses: blue, goat and feta. Since I like green olives, I enjoyed all three kinds.

Now, the not-so-good. The garlic Caesar salad ($8) was a tired-looking heap of romaine lettuce dumped unceremoniously on a plate, and the garlic dressing and Parmesan shavings didn't do much to liven it up. There was a lot to like about the Alaskan salmon mini-tacos ($10), which consisted of marinated red salmon topped with red cabbage and a creamy, Sriracha-spiked dressing, all contained in a crispy wonton shell. But while they were creative and pleasantly crunchy, they were undone by the salmon, which didn't taste very fresh. In Anchorage, in June, it just seems like there's too much of the really good stuff in restaurants and people's own kitchens to get away with that. The Alaska seafood chowder ($8) was a big swing and miss. It came out the color of oatmeal and the consistency of paste -- thick enough that when I took a spoonful it left an indent. The gloopy broth was bland and almost completely obscured the taste of any seafood. It was served with dry French bread.

When I asked for salt to doctor the soup up, the waitress brought me a little sauce cup with some kosher salt poured in -- she explained that the restaurant doesn't have any salt or pepper shakers. This was a small detail that strengthened my impression that perhaps Killjoy is still dialing in their food service. It would be nice to see more items on the menu that aren't configurations of cheese and bread/pasta. Without even the menu option of adding fish or chicken to the salads, my carb- and gluten-avoiding friends had to get dinner elsewhere. The decor of the bar is so sophisticated, but the menu seems like it has some catching up to do.

Still, there was a lot to like. The service was friendly and the atmosphere hard to beat. A killjoy this wasn't.

• Reach Victoria Barber at vbarber@adn.com or 257-4556.

By Victoria Barber
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