Anita Lo's Annisa in the West Village
The makeshift sign has come down, and now there's nothing to identify the week-old, revamped Annisa.
Last July a fire in the kitchen at Annisa closed down the Sheraton Square favorite. Re-opening was predicted for November, then reset for February. Finally, late last week a makeshift sign went up and the restaurant reopened for business. I couldn't wait to check it out, and see if the food was as good as I remember.
The layout remains the same: a raised dining room on a platform, girdled with banquettes, a few steps up from a bar in the front window, where there's a new bar menu. A trench runs along one side of the dining room leading to the kitchen and bathrooms; as you sit at your plush banquette, newly upholstered with rust-colored fabric, you're vaguely aware of the tippy-tops of staff heads rushing by between bar and kitchen. It's like dining on a cloud.
While the menu seemed innovative when the place first opened in 2000, now the cooking style seems almost antique, based on mainstream French cooking using Asian ingredients, with the occasional foray into fusion experiments. While the menu has changed considerably with the reopening, many of Lo's signatures remain: her obsession with truffles and daikon, for example, along with her best dish: chicken with cubed pig trotters stuffed under the skin, falling into a thick caramelized onion puree, which tastes almost like savory applesauce. The scent of white truffles looms over all.
My date and I were limited by our appetites as to the number of things we could order, and this is not a review, but merely a first look. We found the food astonishing, all the more so because chef Anita Lo had ignored many of the fripperies of the modern menu, which somehow made us feel like adults. No locally sourced pig; no pandering to celiacs, vegetarians, or locavores; little seasonal produce or faddish ingredients. No fried chicken or hamburgers or pizza.
I'll have a Knob Creek neat, please.
Instead, a menu of startling and elegant dishes, with breathtaking attention to detail, but at a rather steep price. A piece of sable, with oily, bulbous flesh and crisp skin that might be mistaken for toasted nori rests atop a plank of panko-fried tofu, which in turn sits in a lake of dashi broth punctuated with strips of chewy seaweed. Floating in the dark sea, like tiny bits of plankton, are thousands of tiny red fish eggs, which fluoresce in the dim light and pop between your teeth as you inhale the delicious broth.
Apps were very small, but totally on the money. We had a novel chawan mushi, the Japanese custard. It came in a tiny cup with a slice of crisp lotus root on top, and from the quaking pudding--enriched with sea urchin--we drew bits of morel and gingko nuts. A steak tartar came pucked on a bed of minced Asian pear. "Pull the tartar through the twin sauces," our server advised us. One sauce was orange and fruity, the other brick red and very spicy. It was a tartar to remember.
Other dishes on the new menu that sounded intriguing: butter poached lobster with ramps, black trumpets and sweet pea flan; roasted rack of lamb, South African flavors; warm salad of beluga lentils and bulgur with many onions.
We shared a single dessert, a small mille-feuille with fresh strawberries and concentrated balsamic. Dinner for two, a modest bottle of wine, one dessert, tax, and tip: $185. 13 Barrow Street, 212-741-6699
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