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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Annisa, NYC

For our Manhattan Ladies Dining Club in October we picked Anita Lo's West Village restaurant, Annisa. If you watch food shows on TV you might recognize the name - she's been on Iron Chef America and on Bravo's Top Chef Masters. Between those and knowing that she's got a Michelin star, we figured this was going to be a meal to remember.

The restaurant is small, located on Barrow street. We got there when it opened to be able to have a drink before dinner at the tiny bar. I started with a glass of the Marie-Noelle Ledru Ambonnay Brut Grand Cru as we waited for everyone in our party to arrive.

The bar is on the street level with great views out of full length windows but with only four stools. It's pretty inside with blond woods and soft orange accents. The tables are up a half flight of stairs and there are only about twelve of them so reservations are a must.

We were seated the middle of the dining room at a square table though I liked the looks of the big booths on walls and bet they are more spacious and comfortable. We had a a bottle of sparkling wine off the tiny list ("J" Winery in the Russian River Valley, Brut Rose) that was acceptable but not noteworthy. The wine list has only bottles from female producers which is quite limiting.

We all ordered two appetizers and an entree. It's a small, seasonal menu and with four people we pretty much covered the entire thing. We inquired about the tasting menu but the entire table commits and it's still dishes from the menu so we figured we'd get more coverage by doing it ala cart.

To start off...the amuse bouche was a tartlet with parmesan custard, chives, mushroom and cauliflower puree. A nice first bite; warm and salty and it paired well with sparkling wine so we were off to a good start!
First round of appetizers: two of us ordered the seared foie gras with soup dumplings and jicama served with a reduction. When our polite, attentive server described this dish to us I was intrigued. She said the dumpling held a warm liquid center that would burst with flavor in the mouth and therefore was best experienced as a single bite. Ok...I've got practice eating complex concoctions in a fell swoop so you'll probably be surprised to hear that in this case it was so not worth it! First off, the dumplings were entirely too big to be shoved into the mouth at all once. Secondly, there was no exciting, satisfying burst of liquid or flavor. Mine were on the dry side and very bland. I was disappointed to say the least. But the far worse part...the foie gras was tasteless. Seared foie gras - no taste! How is that possible?!?
Mary & Patty both ordered the crispy tofu dish shown below. Their review was similar, bland. Pretty, but bland.
For our next course I had a simple field green salad with fresh herbs that was fine. Nothing unexpected. I love salad so simple was perfectly ok.
Mary tried the fluke crudo with black lime and radishes. I thought this was the most interesting course of the evening. The fish was fresh and thinly sliced; paired well with the citrus of the lime and the bitterness of the radish. A very nice dish.
Gianne had the barbecue squid with basil and peanuts. A visually appealing dish, the squid was presented in both a battered and un-battered form. When I tried a bite though was when it became impossible to ignore that everything coming out of the kitchen this evening lacked any Oomph. The texture change was the only differentiator in the dish and the peanuts weren't infused in any way. Another miss in my opinion.
Patty ordered a tomato, burrata and onion salad with citrus dressing that was nice. It's impossible to mess up tomatoes if you just leave them alone when they are ripe. This dish was good...simple and good.
 Onto the final course. Someone other than me tried the pork tenderloin with Guanciale, figs and Oca Yams. I don't remember trying this dish or the comments surrounding it.
In a leap of faith moment I tried the frog legs and lobster with white speckled grits and seared okra. I don't know what possessed me to order this dish - something about the grits and okra caught my attention and I haven't had frog legs in a really, really long time. Turned out to be a pretty good call. One of the best dishes of the night. The meat from the frog legs was sparse but tasty in a fried chicken sort of way. The lobster was basically nonexistent but the grits were fantastic. So overall, good...not great.
The final dish is a bit hard to see in this picture (sorry - we did this without a flash so we wouldn't bother fellow patrons). If memory serves me correctly this was the sauteed filet of Copia with caviar, cauliflower and capers.
We skipped dessert, called it an early evening and went uptown to have drinks at a bar near Port Authority. While discussing the meal in the taxi the overall consensus was that we were disappointed. Bland was too common a phrase used to describe the dishes and not at all what we were hoping for. We were turned off enough that we advised the group of guys that were supposed to go there the following week to pick another place - and that's what I'd tell all of you. I'm not sure how our experience was so out of whack with both Michelin & Zagat but there's no way this meal deserved a star or a 28 food rating. You'll do better elsewhere.

Michelin Rating: One star
Zagat Rating: 28-24-27
Jenn's Rating: 76

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