Tried the 7 course tasting menu. In a moment where every restaurant in New York seems to have become enchanted with the "local, seasonal" ethos, I was shocked to see minimal acknowledgment on the plate of the blustery November night outside the windows on Barrow street.
The amuse was a clever deconstruction of classic escargots -- a plump snail sitting in a pastry shell about the size of a miniature reese's peanut butter cup nestled atop a garlic and parsley puree. Unfortunately, the sauce was fatally oversalted, requiring several hunks of our cold rolls to clear our palates in time for the first course.
First course was a seasonally disorienting trio of tuna preparations, each paired with a different mint (aren't raw tuna starters and mint, of all herbs, better situated on a summer menu?) The first of the trio was a by-the-numbers tartare, laced with sriracha or perhaps togirashi and tasting eerily reminiscent of the tuna tartare at perry st. It was, as my dining companion wittily observed, the inside of any spicy tuna roll in the city. It was paired with an apostrophe of pineapple gelee, which did not have nearly the depth of flavor necessary to elevate the tartare from the realm of the ordinary. The tartare was next to an unremarkable square inch pf nicely seared tuna with a sort of slaw on top. The trio was rounded out with a piece of confit tuna, topped with bittersweet chocolate. It tasted of five spice and was not thoroughly liberated from the oil in which it was slow-cooked, amounting to an experience not dissimilar from eating Italian tuna canned in oil. Moreover, the accompanying chocolate shards were so powerful that they would have been overwhelming in any portion larger than the bite of tuna provided.
Per our request, one course was the foie gras with soup dumplings and jicama. This was probably the most disappointing course of the night, especially since we had read so much about what is hailed as Annisa's signature dish. Perhaps we had our most recent visits to New Green Bo and Joe's Shanghai too fresh in our minds, but the al dente texture of the wonton skin and the laughable trivial pursuit piece-sized wedge of foie gras perched on top of the dumpling did not amount to a soup dumpling. If anything, this was an undercooked ravioli with a dry interior. The black vinegar on the bottom of the plate further fueled our longing for the genuine article in Flushing or on Bayard st.
The next course was the best dish - a very original twist on agedashi tofu. Miso marinated sable was rescued from being yet another derivative, Matsuhisa knock-off by being paired with a cube of fried tofu floating in a dashi broth. There were shards of buckwheat noodles floating in the broth, which also had strategically dispersed bites of spicy flying fish roe. This was a dish with clear focus, and evinced an easily discernible voice and theme coming from the kitchen. However, this harmonious note lingered only briefly and was extinguished by every dish that followed.
For instance, a tower (napoleon/millefeuille style) of wedges of pan roasted trout paired with a crisp potato rosti and smoked trout roe that was presented next. This was once again well cooked fish but we felt that this dish was approaching generic territory once again. Whereas the sable had a warmth and richness that paired so nicely with the cooling weather outside, the trout had a summery lightness that, while not filled with objectionable flavors, still seemed out of place.
Instead of each getting the same cheese plate, we opted for one sorbet course and one cheese plate. The cheese plate consisted of some thoughtful bites of cheese in good condition, but offered with no pairings or accompaniments thatreflected a discernible culinary philosophy or let patrons know they weren't at one of any 1000 restaurants in the city offering the same bites of Montenebro and Beaufort. The sorbets were not advertised as homemade, and they may very well have been. But the mango, raspberry and passion fruit quenelles that graced our bowl were very reminiscent of haagen dazs and ciao bella sorbet. Just saying. Also - if you're doing sorbet, isn't that a prime opportunity to reflect the seasons? How about a concord grape or apple sorbet?
The biggest insult was dessert, which consisted of - wait for it - a pro forma flourless chocolate cake and an apple tart that was overwhelmed by a pool of caramel that devastated any crisp texture in the tart. How can a restaurant in Manhattan, let alone one that has made efforts to cultivate a reputation amongst foodies, serve such an uninspired dessert course? Is there anything more overdone than flourless chocolate cake and a tarte tatin? Had there been any sort of unique twist, or some particular way that the Annisa kitchen had placed its imprimatur on either dish, it would not have been so catastrophically boring.
I made a point of telling the front of the house that while the service was friendly, attentive, and professional, the food fell short in our eyes. The restaurant was full and buzzing, no small feat for a sleepy Monday evening. I wish them well, but I won't be returning.
I'm starting to think that every time I have the impulse to try a new place, I should just go to Ssam instead. Invention, inspiration, and seasonality are guaranteed - try the new "pb and j" dessert with saltine ice cream -- it's extraordinary.