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Another Anise fan is born

A bunch of us finally made it over to Anise this weekend, with a big group we got to try a bunch of dishes. "Diagnosis? Deelicious." Bottom line is you should DEFINITELY check them out, and give them your business to promote one of the few really unique and creative new restaurants on the scene. The food is excellent and unlike most other Chinese or even Sichuan places in the area. It's the best Sichuan I have had outside of China.

Some things still need to be tuned, of course. As others have noted the space is too big and even on a Friday night the place felt half empty. If they closed off the back room it might be more cozy. The lighting is terrible -- far too bright. That might be the right thing for a casual lunch crowd but it doesn't set the atmosphere for a restaurant of this caliber. (They should take a hint from a place like Elephant Walk or Blue Room...)

Nearly everything we had on the menu was outstanding. We started with the pig ears (extremely spicy, a bit chewy - not everyone's favorite), wild fern, flower tofu (big hit), spicy pork wontons (incredible), and clams. For mains we shared the ma po tofu (not bad), spicy rabbit (tasty, but too bony and difficult to get to the meat), eggplant (sweet and smoky, a nice balance to the other dishes), and shrimp.

The overall favorite was the hot-and-numbing whole tilapia. This is a fantastic representation of "ma la" flavor from Sichuan. The fish (while quite bony and needs to be treated with care when serving) was covered in an incredible rich and spicy sauce that was inundated with Sichuan peppercorns -- the net effect being nearly overwhelming. Actual quote from one of our party: "This fish is really tripping me out!" This is a great introduction to Sichuanese cooking and a kitchen that is not afraid to lay on the spice.

Sadly, I worry that Anise will fail to attract enough customers to stay in business for very long. The location is unfortunate, although some other restaurants in Kendall Sq seem to be doing OK. The menu is really interesting and has a lot for foodies, but I wonder how folks expecting more conventional (Americanized) Chinese food will find what they're looking for. If they can improve the space and get the word out I think they can do very well. They definitely have the right approach to the food.

Would love to hear any other recent opinions about Anise...

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  1. Agree heartily with this rave, and its concerns. Also noteworthy is their tea service, including the "blossoming" white tea (Fujian, I think). I don't know if this is considered gimmicky or not, but I thought it was lovely to watch -- the tighly-packed, bud-like tea package "blooms" into a flower-like structure over the course of several minutes of steeping in a glass teapot -- and the resulting tea is quite subtle in flavor (I think it has some flower parts in it, too).

    7 Replies
    1. re: MC Slim JB

      Did you notice if they serve 8 treasure tea, which is local to Sichuan?

      The "blossoming" tea is not gimmicky -- it's quite a handicraft. Flavourwise, white teas are the most delicate of the lot; was this white tea a white peony/bai mu dan by any chance?

      1. re: limster

        Mmm, I'm a bit of a tea ignoramus, I'm afraid. The owner seems quite willing to spend a bit of time with customers on the subject, however.

        1. re: MC Slim JB

          Ok - will have to check them out when I get the chance. Sounds interesting.

        2. re: limster

          "8 treasure," that's ba bao tea, right? Really interesting stuff. I was first served it in Shenzhen and before the pourer showed up I thought I'd been presented with a terrarium in a cup, it was a mix of flowers, twigs, and (sugar) rocks! As impressive as the tea was the pourer himself - he brought a pot of boiling water with a three-foot-long spout, held the tip at least two feet from the cup, and launched a stream of water that hit it dead center.

          1. re: limster

            Yes, they do serve 8 treasure tea.

          2. re: MC Slim JB

            MC, the blooming tea is definitely not gimmicky - when we were there, they explained that these teas are hand-tied and it's an art. Limster, I think the one we had was jasmine and globe amaranth, but I'm no tea expert either. I really need to get back to Anise soon.

            1. re: Rubee

              Great -- thanks for the info. I remember getting a similar jasmine flower a while ago at Cha Fahn in JP.

          3. I read that the owner also owns Chili Garden in medford. Has anyone been there?

            2 Replies
            1. re: hargau

              yes. when it first opened and alison reviewed it, it was really good.
              after 2 re-tries in the last year, we will not go again. but anise
              we will try.

              1. re: hargau

                Several recent threads if you search

              2. Also concur with your post...

                Would also add that the bartending is excellent -

                It's truly one of the most unique dining experiences I've had in Boston in ages. Really challenged my preconceptions of taste (esp. those pig ears!).

                1. All of these posts make it a place worth checking out - where in the Kendall Square is it?

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: mintchip

                    Anise is located in One Kendall Square, Building 300 (it faces the same courtyard as Flat Top Johnny's).

                    BTW, there's a nice interview with Frank in the latest Stuff at Night.

                    1. re: penny

                      Thanks for that tip! Just looked it up - it'a great article. John Gersten from No 9 is interviewed also. Oddly, I haven't eaten lunch yet and now I'm 'craving' a Negroni. I think I have a problem. (PS - Eastern Standard also makes an excellent Negroni).

                      Here's the link.

                      http://stuffatnight.com/rd0405/booze/

                      Looking forward to going to Anise this week.

                      1. re: Rubee

                        If the problem is to crave campari in all forms, then I also have a problem, Rubee!

                        1. re: Rubee

                          I've had Frank's Negroni, and I do think it was probably the best one I've ever had.

                    2. I totally want to try it. My chef friends all rave about it. They are in Boston Magazine this month and it looks delicious.