You might think that after my brunch, I might forego dinner. Well, I had planned a big dinner, and the brunch came after, so I could not give up my table at one of NYC's most intimate, amazing and hot spots, ANNISA (www.annisarestaurant.com) located on quiet secluded Barrow Street in the West Village.
It had gotten even colder and when I walked in at 630pm, the temperature was 7 with a windchill of god-knows-what-below-zero. The dining room was protected with a huge hanging carpet like wall from the door, but my table was closest to the door, so I did feel a chill but it was rare as the place only has some dozen or so tables and the turnover is slow as most folks eat for 2-3+ hours here. ANNISA is Arabic for "women" and Chef Anita Lo, who had taken the night off after a no doubt arduous Valentine's Day the day before, is known for sourcing her wine from all female vintners! Logan, the manager, explained that I was in good hands with Chef Mary Attea, and indeed I was convinced of this within one course, if not two.
I started with a Candied Ginger Vodka Cooler with Baby Ginger, Lemon & Soda and perused the not too large menu. There were starters and mains and two choices of tastings: 5 & 7 courses. I opted for 5, told my charming and helpful server Dominic that I had eaten a large brunch and needed to spread these courses out over the entire evening. He was fine. I chose to do wine pairings to allow me to taste more of these awesome ladies' wines as well.
If one thing was wrong with Annisa, it was the slightly loud volume of the very nice music. I found myself humming along, but if I had company, it might have been just a tad too high to converse well.
Dominic was assisted by Anna throughout the evening and all the staff really work here as a team and it does work well. I always had my wine and food on time and was offered an extra taste of wine if needed. When I asked to take more time, I got to relax between courses and find out that one of Dominic's friends was on Top Chef II and has a place in Brooklyn, which he promised to email be about.
The 5 course tasting is $85 and this was indeed a bargain for such a high end NY dining spot. Speaking of the spot, the décor is simple with a large overhead fixture at my table so I could see well, candles at others. White walls, gold curtains and large wiry branches arranged in huge vases decorate the room. There is a bar with stools at the front on the entry level which was jammed and SRO only by 730pm, and it was Sunday. My table had some of the most beautiful fresh floers including luscious white roses.
The Amuse arrived in the form of a tiny Tartelette, cup shaped and filled with Escargot with Green Garlic Butter, Lemon Zest & Chive. It was salty, garlicky and full of flavor one small bite that burst. Bread had arrived, but I never touched it all night as it was a simple roll not made in house.
Steak Tartare was my first course and I saw this on the menu, but was wary of the preparation, one of the Signatures of Annisa. It is mixed with bulghar, red onion for crunch, cinnamon and allspice and has a big Tunisian brick (chip) on top laden with cayenne which gives this dish a kickass punch. It was paired with a Lanzarote Listan Rosado 2013, a superb crisp rose from the Canary Islands that fought the spices and cleansed the palate easily. Three sauces were on the plate for amazing variety. A Chinese Chili Oil was simple, a Black Sesame Sauce and the OMG Sesame Tofu with Garlic & Lemon which was like an aioli and also had a dash of cinnamon. This had to be the BEST steak tartare I have ever had anywhere, hands down.
My second course was another Signature dish and this one will blow anybody's taste buds off the planet. Chop Sticks, Chinese Soup spoon and silverware arrived, so I was confused, but I had heard about and seen this dish already around the room. I was ready.
Shanghai-style Dumpling(with broth inside) was served with a magnificent slab of Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras on top over a Ginger Balsamic reduction. Dominic explained the safe way to engage this "creature" is to place it in the spoon with the chopsticks and then bite into it (it is way too big for one bite) so that the insides flow onto the spoon and can be enjoyed, Speaking of insides, the broth is foie gras mousse based with jicama for crunch, shitakes, ginger and yes, anise (which I could not taste at all, thank goodness). The 2013 Jean Baptiste Gunderlach Riesling Kabinett from Rheinhessen had an essence of pineapple in the mouth and was super with this blow your mouth apart dish.
Next came an extra course of Pakora Fries Oysters in a cucumber with Pickled Fennel. I had told Dominic that fennel and anise were not my faves, but pickled fennel is now in my list of awesome things to pickle and boy did this carry a punch. This team is not afraid to use spice and it is done with great love. There was a chive oil, which was really a puree and yogurt underneath the crunchy oyster treats. 2012 Athina Assyrtiko from Santorini was one of my favorite wines all night.
Broiled Spanish Mackerel is such an intense fish, it is often so hard to prepare well. Here it is given oerfect bursts with so many different awesome spices. Alone the fish was seasoned perfectly with an amazing skin, but it was served with the most spectacular Korean Gocujang Sauce of Fermented Bean & Chili which reminded me of the fermented sauces we had in SE Asia recently. It had a great kick and a plummy aftertaste, and was served with Satsumaimo Sweet Potato Cubes and leaves (from Japan) that I adored. The crowning touch were Garlic Fried Milk Balls, think fried ball with supercreamy garlic filling of a cheesy consistency!! With this fermented sauce a 201 Tokay Furmint from Dobogo, Szent Tamas Betsek Vineyard was a tough wine to dissect as it was quite earthy to fight the spices and fish intensity.
I asked for a break and enjoyed some of the first red, Nittnaus 2012 Blaufrankisch from Kakund Schiefer that was slightly spicy and a great new find for a drink alone or with food red. Eventually my Seared Tenderloin of Venison arrived (perfectly rare) with Parsnip Puree, Saskatoon Berries, Parsnip Chips, Black Truffles and a sauce of Venison/Sage/Pink Peppercorn & Butter with Crispy Sage Leaves. YUMMY. And to my surprise, the next table was occupied by an opera singer friend of mine from DC!! Small world.
For those of you on Facebook (where I can now be found) I posted a photo of this superb dish with the caption, "Bambi, eat your heart out."
So if you want foodie photos and need to where I am eating at that moment (so you can walk in and surprise me as well), just friend me.
I watched as a lady at a nearby table lit her check on fire and blew it out; was she unhappy?
No matter, I was thrilled. Lafage Ambre Hor's d'Age Grenache(white) dessert wine from Rivesaltes was poured and I adored the golden liquid (thing young acidic Sauternes)even though it was not super sweet. Pecan Beignets arrived in a small basket with nary a drop of grease from the frying. They exploded in my mouth with the Warm Salted Butterscotch Filling and an awesome oozy center. I ate all but one as I was now at my limit. The Bourbon Ice Milk next to it in a shot glass was okay, but just too cold and icy as the temperature had dropped way below zero by now and the windchill was -17 or so!!
There was one farewell plate and it was quite hefty. The trio of treats was a Huckleberry Lychee Popsicle (this I ate as it was so small and oh so yummy)=, despite its chill), Candied Ginger and a Chocolate Mint Truffle.
ANNISA is not to be missed if you can get in!