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Nov 6, 2007 08:39 AM

Annisa-pointed! (longish)

Tried the 7 course tasting menu. In a moment where every restaurant in New York seems to have become enchanted with the "local, seasonal" ethos, I was shocked to see minimal acknowledgment on the plate of the blustery November night outside the windows on Barrow street.

The amuse was a clever deconstruction of classic escargots -- a plump snail sitting in a pastry shell about the size of a miniature reese's peanut butter cup nestled atop a garlic and parsley puree. Unfortunately, the sauce was fatally oversalted, requiring several hunks of our cold rolls to clear our palates in time for the first course.

First course was a seasonally disorienting trio of tuna preparations, each paired with a different mint (aren't raw tuna starters and mint, of all herbs, better situated on a summer menu?) The first of the trio was a by-the-numbers tartare, laced with sriracha or perhaps togirashi and tasting eerily reminiscent of the tuna tartare at perry st. It was, as my dining companion wittily observed, the inside of any spicy tuna roll in the city. It was paired with an apostrophe of pineapple gelee, which did not have nearly the depth of flavor necessary to elevate the tartare from the realm of the ordinary. The tartare was next to an unremarkable square inch pf nicely seared tuna with a sort of slaw on top. The trio was rounded out with a piece of confit tuna, topped with bittersweet chocolate. It tasted of five spice and was not thoroughly liberated from the oil in which it was slow-cooked, amounting to an experience not dissimilar from eating Italian tuna canned in oil. Moreover, the accompanying chocolate shards were so powerful that they would have been overwhelming in any portion larger than the bite of tuna provided.

Per our request, one course was the foie gras with soup dumplings and jicama. This was probably the most disappointing course of the night, especially since we had read so much about what is hailed as Annisa's signature dish. Perhaps we had our most recent visits to New Green Bo and Joe's Shanghai too fresh in our minds, but the al dente texture of the wonton skin and the laughable trivial pursuit piece-sized wedge of foie gras perched on top of the dumpling did not amount to a soup dumpling. If anything, this was an undercooked ravioli with a dry interior. The black vinegar on the bottom of the plate further fueled our longing for the genuine article in Flushing or on Bayard st.

The next course was the best dish - a very original twist on agedashi tofu. Miso marinated sable was rescued from being yet another derivative, Matsuhisa knock-off by being paired with a cube of fried tofu floating in a dashi broth. There were shards of buckwheat noodles floating in the broth, which also had strategically dispersed bites of spicy flying fish roe. This was a dish with clear focus, and evinced an easily discernible voice and theme coming from the kitchen. However, this harmonious note lingered only briefly and was extinguished by every dish that followed.

For instance, a tower (napoleon/millefeuille style) of wedges of pan roasted trout paired with a crisp potato rosti and smoked trout roe that was presented next. This was once again well cooked fish but we felt that this dish was approaching generic territory once again. Whereas the sable had a warmth and richness that paired so nicely with the cooling weather outside, the trout had a summery lightness that, while not filled with objectionable flavors, still seemed out of place.

Instead of each getting the same cheese plate, we opted for one sorbet course and one cheese plate. The cheese plate consisted of some thoughtful bites of cheese in good condition, but offered with no pairings or accompaniments thatreflected a discernible culinary philosophy or let patrons know they weren't at one of any 1000 restaurants in the city offering the same bites of Montenebro and Beaufort. The sorbets were not advertised as homemade, and they may very well have been. But the mango, raspberry and passion fruit quenelles that graced our bowl were very reminiscent of haagen dazs and ciao bella sorbet. Just saying. Also - if you're doing sorbet, isn't that a prime opportunity to reflect the seasons? How about a concord grape or apple sorbet?

The biggest insult was dessert, which consisted of - wait for it - a pro forma flourless chocolate cake and an apple tart that was overwhelmed by a pool of caramel that devastated any crisp texture in the tart. How can a restaurant in Manhattan, let alone one that has made efforts to cultivate a reputation amongst foodies, serve such an uninspired dessert course? Is there anything more overdone than flourless chocolate cake and a tarte tatin? Had there been any sort of unique twist, or some particular way that the Annisa kitchen had placed its imprimatur on either dish, it would not have been so catastrophically boring.

I made a point of telling the front of the house that while the service was friendly, attentive, and professional, the food fell short in our eyes. The restaurant was full and buzzing, no small feat for a sleepy Monday evening. I wish them well, but I won't be returning.

I'm starting to think that every time I have the impulse to try a new place, I should just go to Ssam instead. Invention, inspiration, and seasonality are guaranteed - try the new "pb and j" dessert with saltine ice cream -- it's extraordinary.

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  1. Thank you for your well-written detailed reviewed. I've always been interested in trying Annisa; I guess you've (unfortunately) saved me. Thanks.

    2 Replies
    1. re: ellenost

      ive been to annisa once for an anniversary and had a fantastic time but the food was by far the least rewarding.

      excellent (amazing actually) service, beautiful room...but the food was merely okay.

      1. re: sam1

        Hi sam1,

        I am with you on the food. I know there are many chowhounders whom I respect a lot and enjoy reading like Annisa, but when I visited in the past (it was quite awhile ago) I was completely underwhelmed. There wasn't a dish that I could say I really liked. The room is gorgeous, but that's not enough to make up for the food.

    2. Great review -- very detailed and evocative! I especially liked the part about the "laughable trivial pursuit piece-sized wedge of foie gras perched on top of the dumpling" -- LOL!

      1 Reply
      1. re: a_and_w

        hello I am a bit worried now. I am coming over to NY next week for my birthday and am very excited by the whole things but had booked Annisa for dinner for our last night. As we are only in NY for 5 days should I cancel and book elsewhere? Other places we are going to for dinner are Arturo's, Ssam bar, EMP. Going to Le Bernardin, Balthazar and Yasuda for lunch, Mesa Grill and Stanton Social for brunch..

        All yuu sugegstions greatly appreciated! By the way does anyone know if Blue Ribbon Bakery serve their steak tartare at lunchtime?

      2. Thank you for your very thorough review. This is an example of a restaurant spoiled by its own success. I have not been to Annisa in some time (though I used to eat there several times a year) mainly because the menu never changes. I occasionally check it on their website to see if there is anything new but there rarely is. There are several dishes that are always delicious, for instance the sable in miso and the chicken stuffed with pig's feet. Otherwise, many dishes are just not exceptional, and it is not an extensive menu. There is definitely a lack of seasonal variation. The sameness may indicate that they are running on autopilot and the chef is not devoting full attention or bothering to develop new dishes. She does have a second restaurant and perhaps that has something to do with it. The other thing that bothers me is the prices have gotten so high that what once seemed a relative bargain for high-end cuisine now seems overpriced when compared with EMP or Cru, for instance. Though they are a bit more expensive, IMO you get much more for your money. I have still been recommending Annisa to people who have never been because I feel if you order the right dishes you can still have a very enjoyable meal, and the atmosphere and service are still excellent, but for me it does not have the excitement that it once did.

        3 Replies
        1. re: rrems

          What is her second restaurant?

          To the OP - so sorry you had a disappointing meal - I know I'm one of the posters who has been recommending it lately based on a meal I had there in the past couple of month (never posted a full review). Thanks for posting such a detailed review. I've not had the tasting menu, and I think your point about seasonality is a good one.

          1. re: MMRuth

            There are now quite a few Rickshaw Dumpling Bars, I believe. And she has a new space somewhere near Bleecker and Grove scheduled to open very soon (if it hasn't already) that will be an Asian BBQ restaurant.

            1. re: JoanN

              Ah - interesting - hadn't heard of them.

        2. I left Annisa with a similar disappointment last year. My disagreement with you is that the sablefish dish was one of the offenders of the tasting menu, and I liked the cheese plate, especially for the variety. Having been a cheese seller, I suppose I like having my choice of several cheeses to sample in a formal setting.

          1 Reply
          1. re: E Eto

            I'm with Ellenost.
            Too many fine dining places to try -- too little time!

          2. Thanks for the report, and I don't doubt you at all, but I ate at Annisa last January and absolutely loved the meal in every respect. One of the best meals I've had in the city. I don't recall every dish, but I do remember the soup dumplings and sable fish-- both were excellent. I think Annisa is a very unique restaurant, and I can see how it can disappoint those who are looking for a standard fine 3-star and above meal. Maybe Annisa has changed for the worse in the last 10 months, but I am not about to write it off. I would heartily return.


            2 Replies
            1. re: Eddie H.

              I share your sentiments - having been in the last month or so - I wonder if the tasting menu is an issue there?

              1. re: Eddie H.

                I had the tasting meal, approximately one year ago, in August and recall having the fois gras dumpling, among other items. I thought as a whole, the dishes were well executed, with attention to texture, tastes, and presentation. The crispy oyster course matched its potato/corn broth accompaniment perfectly (a perfectly appropriate seasonal dish for August) The fish dish - a striped bass(?) was cooked perfectly. The flavors were refined and delicate, which I thought was testament to the presence of a female in the kitchen. I recall the service being flawless as well. The only let down was dessert, which didn't seem to be on the same level of deliciousness as the savories. (A rhubarb soup concoction which didn't hold my attention for that long). I'd definitely return.