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Annisa: Why all the fuss?

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Annisa: Why all the fuss?

Caseophile | Jan 9, 2004 09:33 PM

After reading uniformly glowing reviews of Annisa on this board, I decided to try it. I called on a recent weeknight, hoping to obtain a last-minute reservation. A friendly and cheerful host told me that one wouldn’t be necessary, so I showed up around eight.

Annisa is a small restaurant, with only thirteen tables. The room has a boxy shape that makes it seem even smaller. Simple tables and chairs and a textured, off-white wall-covering with no adornment whatsoever were, I suppose, designed to convey a sort of airy Asian ambience. Unfortunately, in the very dim light, the wall covering mostly looked like dirty white plaster to me. There was also a strong stench in the dining room when we arrived, reminiscent of an old wet mop. I have a feeling that the décor would have been more successful without the smell, and that it would have contributed a nice feeling of space had the restaurant been more crowded. However, when we arrived, only two tables were occupied, and the room was almost eerily quiet, as the very pleasant and suitably hip jazz on the sound system was kept too quiet to fill the silence. For some reason, the host seated us at the table directly between the two occupied tables, even though the restaurant was otherwise empty. I began to feel as though I had walked into a Saturday Night Live sketch.

Our waiter was fantastic. He was extremely friendly and knew both the menu and the wine list very well. Service was extremely prompt, basically perfect. I suppose prompt service isn’t especially hard to achieve with only three occupied tables, but I appreciated it nonetheless.

The amuse, a little piecrust cup filled with seaweed and herring roe, was poor, verging on disgusting. It was extremely fishy, and the seaweed had a sort of pungent, underripe taste that was tough to take. Fortunately, the bread was excellent, and fresh.

An appetizer of spicy grilled eggplant with yogurt and lentils was very good. The lentils were heavily seasoned with Indian spices, like a hearty dal, except that they were stacked up in a little cylindrical pile instead of being made into a stew. The yogurt was also quite heavily seasoned, in a very good way, and its cool creamy texture was an excellent match for the spices of the dish. The grilled eggplant was an excellent choice to accompany the lentils and the yogurt, and, again, was beautifully seasoned. Unfortunately, the eggplant was a bit undercooked for my taste. It had a nice, slightly blackened texture on the outside, but the flesh of the eggplant was a bit chewy (I think mushier would have worked better with the dish), and it had that slightly bitter taste that eggplant can sometimes have, I think maybe when it’s underripe. Overall, this was a very good dish, and only my quibbles over the eggplant’s preparation keep this from earning very high praise from me.

I ordered sautéed filet of skate with avocado, chili, and Iroquois hominy. This could have been called sautéed skate with salt, salt, and more salt. The fish was lightly breaded and very nicely sautéed, as far as I could tell by the texture. But its taste was indiscernible, as it was coated with so much salt that I really couldn’t taste anything else. Now and then, while my sense of taste remained intact, I tried little bits of the avocado and the small quantity of chili sauce that was served with the dish, and they were very good indeed. So, I suspect that this dish could have been quite successful with a few orders of magnitude less salt on it, and more sauce to spread around.

I also tasted the slow cooked salmon with smoked paprika, savoy cabbage, and spaetzle. I’m not sure how one slow cooks salmon, but I liked what it did for the texture of the fish, which was quite soft and buttery. The salmon had an unnaturally bright reddish pink color, which I at first attributed to artificial coloring of farm-raised salmon gone horribly awry. However, as this was advertised as wild salmon, I suppose the color must have been imparted by paprika. I wish there had been more of it – the fish was very mild, and this dish overall was too subtle for my preferences. I couldn’t quite make sense of the various elements of it together. I do remember some large pink fish roe, which paired well with the salmon. I wished there had been a somewhat assertive sauce that could have helped to tie things together.

We didn’t try any desserts, but we were treated to three complimentary treats: a small passionfruit popsicle which was excellent, if quite simple, a few small shavings of candied ginger (warmed – a nice touch), and a little mint chocolate bon bon that was pretty good as well.

In summary, this was a fairly poor meal, though some of the dishes showed some promise. I really wish I could have had a better experience. I liked the people working there, and the place has a great location, on a nice little street in a great neighborhood. But the truth is, for a menu in this price range emphasizing seafood with diverse, innovative, and strong flavor elements, I'd be inclined to pick Union Pacific over Annisa.

It's very possible that I just selected a bad night, and that explains my disagreement with other posters. The appetizer was very good, and the skate could have been quite successful if prepared (perhaps by another cook on another night) with less salt. Maybe some key personnel were missing from the kitchen as it was a quiet night. But there really could be no excuse for that amuse. And I found the ambience rather spooky, but it could have been a lot better on a busier night. Although I have noticed a lot of available reservations on Open Table for weekend nights lately. If Annisa is usually this empty, then I'd have to wonder how much longer the place can stay in business.

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