Annisa - a review
Hello again NY hounds - here is a (relatively) recent review of my experience at Annisa.
After a day of sometimes tedious conferencing in Midtown I made my way to Anita Lo’s little jewelbox of a restaurant in the West Village as night started to creep across the city. I had heard some very good things about the Asian-influenced French cuisine here and was greeted warmly as I entered a low-lit space with minimalist stylings and lively bar at the front. Led to my table at the back, I was asked the usual questions by a server about whether this was my first time at the restaurant and whether I had any questions about the menu. I had already decided I was going to indulge in the seven course chef’s tasting, where the courses are essentially left to the whims of Chef Lo (they also offer a five course tasting). As water and bread were brought to the table, I sat trying to cultivate the “man of mystery” aura I generally try to project when dining alone in a mostly candle-lit restaurant (whether I succeeded in this I can’t say, but neighboring tables did ask me about what I was eating and what I thought of it, a common occurrence, I’ve found).
An amuse, a tartelette of chicken liver mousse, was the first thing to arrive. This was a great bite to start things off, flaky pastry and iron-y, minerally flavor balanced with a slightly sweet component which I couldn’t identify.
The first course proper was a crudo of fluke with black lime and radishes, including a large clean tasting piece of daikon radish. While nice enough and well prepared, I’m not a huge fan of crudo and I would have liked a bit more citrus on the plate. It wasn’t that the dish was bad at all, it just wasn’t really to my taste. It was paired with a Chateau de la Gravelle Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine Sur Lie 2010, which was a nice accompaniment with its melon and citrus on the palate and tangy acidity.
Up next was a Shanghai style soup dumpling with jicama topped with a gorgeous piece of seared foie gras. This is a signature dish here and was just fantastic. I was instructed to pick the dumpling up with the chopsticks provided and bite a corner of the dumpling, and then sort of drink the contents. I did so and was rewarded with a flood of gingery, garlicky, vinegary goodness, with the jicama adding a nice crunch and the foie a delicious richness. The wine paired with the dumpling was a Gunderloch Jean Baptiste Riesling Kabinett 2010, which was very floral on the nose, and off-dry with citrus and honey notes balanced with good acid. Rieslings go well with just about everything (that’s why I love them so much) and this was no exception.
Then, a lovely, perfectly cooked filet of sable, marinated in miso, with a piece of silken tofu in a bonito broth. This was gorgeous and savory, with the buttery flavor of the fish perfectly complementing the intense taste of the broth and the silken tofu with its crispy outside adding a wonderful textural element. This dish was paired with a sake, Wakatake Junmai Daiginjo Onikoroshi which had a clean, silky smooth, and slightly sweet taste.
A slow-cooked, hickory smoked wild king salmon was next, served with black truffle and white asparagus. Notwithstanding the fact that I tend to be in love with any food which is smoked, the fish was unbelievably flaky and delicious, and the earthy truffle and tender asparagus worked really well with it. It’s normally difficult to pair a wine with asparagus, but given the other elements of the dish the proffered wine worked well. I was delighted that the chosen wine was a Zweigelt, Heinrich Blauer 2008 to be exact. I find Austrian reds don’t really get their due, and this was lively and fresh with great spice and fruit flavors, along with some floral notes.
The final main of the evening was a beautiful, fatty piece of Wagyu beef with escargots and Alba mushrooms. The vaguely oceanic taste of the escargots with the beef evoked a surf and turf, and garlic chives and the earthy mushrooms gave the dish a nice heft. The pairing with this one was a Lirac, Domaine La Lorentine 2009. I love Rhone reds as a general rule, and the minerally, earthy, rustic taste of the wine was perfect with the dish.
As I mentioned in previous posts, I am a cheese fanatic, so when the cheese course came I dug in with gusto. The cheese was arranged around the plate in a clockwise fashion, from mildest to boldest. Several sheep’s milk cheeses from various regions started the plate, but the cheeses which really took my fancy were the strongest ones, which included a very soft Spanish “wedding cheese” which had a fantastic, almost uric tang, a deep, salty, and flavorful hard cheddar from Scotland, and a blue cheese from Oregon which ranked among the best cheeses I have ever had. There was a white port paired with the course and the cheeses were served with crispy bread and raisins on the vine.
Finally, dessert. Let me preface this by saying that this was the single best thing I ate on my entire trip to New York (a trip which included dining at EMP, Casa Mono, The Modern, Atera, Minetta Tavern, and Babbo, among other places, so this is pretty high praise). A basket of butterscotch and pecan beignets was set before me. I bit into one, and I swear, the angels started singing. Nutty, sweet, crispy, perfectly salty, with sweet, warm, caramelly butterscotch inside, I got to the last one and almost wept because I didn’t want them to be gone (I’ll admit to sitting and staring at it for awhile before finally devouring it). It was paired with a Muscat, but honestly, I was so blown away by the beignets that I don’t remember anything about the wine. One of my servers told me, “Chef Lo describes them as a life changing experience.”
Hell, yes. I would (nay, will) come back to this restaurant just to taste them again.
Finally, a plate of mignardises, including pineapple ice on a toothpick, candied ginger, and chocolate mint truffles, was an excellent way to end the night. I was taken back to the surprisingly tiny kitchen to express my appreciation to the staff before heading off into the night. This was a great meal and I was well taken care of. I really enjoyed the French/Asian flavors of Chef Lo’s cuisine, which reminded me of benu in San Francisco (another great meal I was privileged to have) although I found the French influences a little more prevalent at Annisa. And oh, those beignets!