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Jan 28, 2007 09:51 AM

anise... empty

went to a flick at the kendall, and upon recommendations from these boards, my friend and i stopped at anise. i'd never been to the space's previous incarnation so was surprised at how big it is. it was about 6:45 on saturday night.

there were about 5 parties in the dining room. we sat at the bar, with 2 other couples and a few people at the adjacent hightops. a young female bartender who was so slow and so inept at multi-tasking i felt sorry for her rather than annoyed. there is something painful about watching a bartender who can only do one thing at a time. the house cocktails all seemed of the sticky sweet variety so we had a manhattan and vodka martini. she nearly broke her wine key trying to open a bottle for people next to us, and nobody had silverware before their food arrived.

the menu was surprising in that you don't see stuff like chicken hearts all that often. we ordered the dumplings and "hot and numbing chicken." the dumplings were tasty but the sauce was very oily. the chicken was chunks that were mildly spicy and tasty, but i kept getting bits of cartilage -- ick.

neither of those dishes made us want to order anything else.

you need a sextant and the north star to find the restrooms. a sign might be nice. then you have to go to an exterior hall and downstairs (as cold as outside). the men's room was a mess, filthy, with a broken toilet seat on the floor and the urinals covered over with plastic.

when we left at 8:00 there was one party in the dining room. i won't go back, but then again i don't see much of a future for the place. i'll stick with the blue room next time i'm at the kendall, tyvm.

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  1. How bizarre - it was just written up in today's Boston Globe Magazine as a "Best of The New 2007" - and it sounds like the reviewer and you were at two different places. (Second one down in the list)

    1. Was this last night? We were there too, celebrating a birthday -- about 8 of us took over a corner of the bar. I was really *crushed* that Frank wasn't there when I arrived but the young bartendress assured us she could make a mean negroni, and she was right. Unfortunately she was really in the weeds all night, with a pretty full bar until around 9:30 and getting her attention as well as getting utensils to eat was a challenge.

      To accompany our drinks (we must have had everything on the cocktail menu between all of us) we ordered dumplings, twice, as well as the chicken wings, ferns, calamari and dan dan noodles. All of the food went over very well and it was fun to graze and chat. The cocktails were a mixed bag, with some of them being very good and others not so much. I've tried most everything on the drink menu and enjoyed most of them more when crafted by Frank than I did last night. Those are awfully big shoes to fill, though, so I have to cut her some slack. In addition to the negroni, the pisco sour was great, and the real hit of the night was an old vines Cabernet that was reasonably priced and just a little cool just like I like.

      I agree it's a Best of the new 2007, but I have to say, only when Frank is there to take care of you.

      5 Replies
      1. re: yumyum

        Unfortunately, I have to disagree with you yumyum. When it's busy, Frank also has difficulty in taking care of the bar customers. I was there a few weeks ago, either on a Friday or Saturday night. While the dining room was fairly empty, the bar was hopping. Frank was in his bartending glory, however, he couldn't really take care of us. It was difficult to order drinks as well as dinner. And, we had a time constraint because we were going to a movie. We allocated about 1.5 hours for dinner and drinks and that wasn't enough time. The food was good but it was a little stressful, even after letting Frank and the server know about the movie time.

        I think the best time to hit the bar is on a non Friday or Saturday night. Frank does make the best drinks but he also has a hard time with a packed bar.

        1. re: beetlebug

          Ooooh, that's too bad. Since the bar seems to be the steady crowd-drawer, they need to work that out. I've never had a problem getting great service from Frank, but usually I go on a week-night.

          1. re: yumyum

            I know, I was really disappointed. The worst was, I had been extolling Frank's cocktails and the food to my friends. They thought the cocktails were good, but it wasn't as great as I had previously experienced.

        2. re: yumyum

          yes, it was last night and yes, we were sitting right near your group. you definitely seemed like you were having fun! my friend and i are both in the business and watching that poor bartender was painful. how does somebody who can't use a corkscrew get a bartending job? the dining room was practically empty, her bar was not that full, so, sorry, she wasn't in the weeds. just dreadfully slow. very nice, but slow.

          1. re: yumyum

            I was there as well and while the bartender was fine when it was just a few of us, she definitely wasn't ready to handle a full bar. I did think the negroni was seriously excellent. It was my first time there and I could see going back for the extremely reasonably priced drinks and the dumplings and the ferns -- I'd like to try some of the entrees as well.

            I do completely agree with hotoynoodle that the bathroom situation is ridiculous, really for *any* restaurant, but particularly for a place that is aiming for an upscale feel as Anise is. And this is an admittedly weird quibble, but the televisions over the bar were showing some cable news special on Saddam-era Iraq, complete with torture victims and public execution footage. We were absorbed in conversation so we ignored it, but it was a bizarre thing to notice periodically -- seemed like something a more attentive manager or bartender would change. I enjoyed the food and drinks a lot, but the slowish service, the mostly empty room, and that bathroom situation make it feel like a place that's not firing on all cylinders.

          2. It's typical for Sichuan food to be very oily -- a carrier for the numbing spiciness of the chilli and the peppercorns.

            If my experience at Anise was typical, the cooking lacked the refinement or complexity that's typical of the cuisine; ditto for the tea. I might give it another chance if I'm in the neighbourhood, but it's not high on my list.

            1. That's too bad. I love the food at Anise but agree the ambiance and especially the restroom situation needs improving. I guess I'm disappointed that it has not become more popular. IMHO it's worth it for the food. I don't think your experiences with the dishes nor the bartender were typical.

              You might want to try Chili Garden in Medford which is owned by the same folks, but more of a 'traditional' Chinese restaurant format, with absolutely incredible food.

              1. Looks like lots of disagreement on this restaurant. This board just has a hard time agreeing on Chinese. My experience at Anise was really good, similar to but clearly better than my experience at Chilli Garden. It's not like the fern dish is nirvana or anything, but I've eaten at a lot of places and never seen ferns, and these ferns were beautiful and fresh. And I've eaten at most of the Szechuan favorites on this board, but none so clearly displayed the sensational numbing effect from szechuan peppercorns found in their hot and numbing tilapia.

                It's just a weird restaurant because on one hand it feels upscale and inauthentic and on the other the food is probably inaccessible for most.

                3 Replies
                  1. re: fenian

                    I agree with all your observations too, well put (though haven't been to Chili Garden). I'm a fan of Anise. I admit I'd be disappointed if Frank wasn't there either as his cocktails are some of the best in the city. Haven't had the numbing chicken, but I love the dumplings in spicy chili oil. I do agree with the OP on the bathrooms. It's a problem they're trying to address since, unfortunately, they have to share them with the patrons of that club Shine downstairs which is why sometimes it's a mess.

                    1. re: Rubee

                      I've been there a few times now, twice with very few patrons and once with a full bar during the Saints playoff run. Frank was always on top of his stuff and all of his drinks were top notch. The barback/waitress who is filling in for him, it seems, is not so much a bartender. That's really too bad and certainly does not bode well for Frank's vacation days. I still think the food is quite good, although I certainly haven't explored the menu as much as I'd like to.

                      The bathroom is absurd - and also incredibly annoying at 11pm on a Saturday when the walls are literally vibrating from Shine.