A bunch of us finally made it over to Anise this weekend, with a big group we got to try a bunch of dishes. "Diagnosis? Deelicious." Bottom line is you should DEFINITELY check them out, and give them your business to promote one of the few really unique and creative new restaurants on the scene. The food is excellent and unlike most other Chinese or even Sichuan places in the area. It's the best Sichuan I have had outside of China.
Some things still need to be tuned, of course. As others have noted the space is too big and even on a Friday night the place felt half empty. If they closed off the back room it might be more cozy. The lighting is terrible -- far too bright. That might be the right thing for a casual lunch crowd but it doesn't set the atmosphere for a restaurant of this caliber. (They should take a hint from a place like Elephant Walk or Blue Room...)
Nearly everything we had on the menu was outstanding. We started with the pig ears (extremely spicy, a bit chewy - not everyone's favorite), wild fern, flower tofu (big hit), spicy pork wontons (incredible), and clams. For mains we shared the ma po tofu (not bad), spicy rabbit (tasty, but too bony and difficult to get to the meat), eggplant (sweet and smoky, a nice balance to the other dishes), and shrimp.
The overall favorite was the hot-and-numbing whole tilapia. This is a fantastic representation of "ma la" flavor from Sichuan. The fish (while quite bony and needs to be treated with care when serving) was covered in an incredible rich and spicy sauce that was inundated with Sichuan peppercorns -- the net effect being nearly overwhelming. Actual quote from one of our party: "This fish is really tripping me out!" This is a great introduction to Sichuanese cooking and a kitchen that is not afraid to lay on the spice.
Sadly, I worry that Anise will fail to attract enough customers to stay in business for very long. The location is unfortunate, although some other restaurants in Kendall Sq seem to be doing OK. The menu is really interesting and has a lot for foodies, but I wonder how folks expecting more conventional (Americanized) Chinese food will find what they're looking for. If they can improve the space and get the word out I think they can do very well. They definitely have the right approach to the food.
Would love to hear any other recent opinions about Anise...