New York’s dining scene is daunting to say the least, especially for an outsider just trying to keep up with the culinary mecca that is New York City. Anyone without a budget can easily settle on places like Eleven Madison Park or Le Bernardin for some of the best food in the world. But if you’re looking for a unique experience at a restaurant that is upscale and creative enough to have a chef’s tasting menu without breaking the bank, Annisa fits the bill.
Annisa is the restaurant of Chef Anita Lo, a name recognizable from TV appearances including as a competitor on Top Chef Masters. Lo’s style of Asian cuisine with Indian and Mediterranean influences is intriguing and difficult to conceptualize, but it works and actually does the word “fusion” justice.
The restaurant itself is located off a quiet street in Greenwich Village. The restaurant is quite small with an elevated and open dining room. The dimly lit dining room is brightened by the red and gold fabric accents on the left wall and the fresh floral arrangements in certain corners of the restaurant.
The menu can be enjoyed either a la carte or as a five or seven course tasting menu, with optional wine pairings. The wine list appeared very diverse, but cocktails seemed more appropriate for the mood, so I settled on The Nash, which was earl grey infused gin with elderflower and lemon – very refreshing and a beautiful orange color. My wife got the Annisa cocktail featuring sake, ginger infused syrup and pastis – another elegant and refreshing cocktail.
We each got the five course tasting menu and requested that the famous foie gras soup dumpling be one of the courses – the restaurant graciously obliged. Before the courses came, we received a canapé filled with brandade. The brandade of whipped potatoes and cured fish was velvety soft and a nice way to awaken the palate. Before long we received our first course, pakora fried oysters with cucumber, fennel and yogurt. Two crispy oysters with a slight curry spice aroma sat atop cured cucumber and yogurt. A bite containing each component was sheer perfection and easily one of the favorite dishes of the night.
Following the oysters was the infamous seared foie gras soup dumpling, a single dumpling filled with foie gras and broth, garnished with seared foie gras on top. Our server advised us that eating this morsel is best done by placing the dumpling in the soup spoon and, with the use of chopsticks, taking a bite. Well, upon biting into the dumpling my mouth got to taste the unctuous broth, as did my dress shirt… Nothing 10 minutes in bathroom and five linen hand towels couldn’t fix. While the dish was delicious, the form of the dumpling is both impractical and not very aesthetically pleasing. The dumpling is a semi-circle and relatively flat in shape – similar to a gyoza almost. The dumpling would be much more impressive is it was ‘purse shaped’, which would have made eating easier too since you would be able to bite the top while still having the base of the dumpling and soup intact on the spoon.
Next was the first of two main courses, the pan seared sable fish with crispy silken tofu in a bonito broth. The fish was cooked beautifully, and the texture was delicate. The dish as a whole will remind anyone of miso soup given the bonito broth and the use of tofu. The tofu, although crispy, didn’t lend itself well texturally to the fish. When eating the two together they got lost, especially with the broth that was too intense for the other delicate components. I know what the broth was aiming for, a rich umami flavor, but it suffered from too much soy and tobiko.
Our final savory course arrived a bit later, which was koji marinated pork tenderloin with radishes and smoked avocado. The pork seemed to be grilled, although perhaps sous-vide would have kept it a bit juicier. Complementing the pork was baby radishes, with small dollops of smoked avocado puree and an egg yolk. The dish never really came together unfortunately. Between the pork being underwhelming and the radishes being minimally touched, it was all just mediocre.
Our final course was dessert, with my wife and I each getting a different treat. My wife received a warm bran style cake with dates and other fruit. I received the famous poppy seed bread and butter pudding with meyer lemon curd. At this point we had both reached our gluttony limits, so after a few bites we asked to have the desserts packed. From the few bites, both desserts were very good, and made for a nice breakfast the following morning.
A few other quick notes – service was very good throughout the meal. Also, I made the reservation very last minute, after changing my mind about a different restaurant, so I was very thankful they accommodated us.
To summarize, I expected a bit more from Annisa. I researched restaurants non-stop leading up this trip and this one was very highly recommended. After seeing other people’s pictures of the same dishes on Yelp, I think we just came on a bad night. In many of the photos I came across, dishes looked more put together and more appetizing. The meal started off great with the oysters and the foie gras dumpling, but it ultimately ended on a low note with two less than stellar main dishes. With tasting menus your fate is left to the chef, which is usually a pleasant surprise, but I wasn’t too pleased when receiving the pork dish. Too many other dishes sounded better, and I think the pork was the restaurant trying to make the food costs of the five course tasting menu work.
Maybe my expectations were too high, but I was really hoping to be blown away by Annisa. My meal here was either the same price or more expensive than any other meal I’ve had in 2015, but didn’t live up to two Baltimore restaurants (Aggio and Fleet Street Kitchen) that wowed me earlier this year or my dining experience at REDD in Napa Valley.