Over the last few days I had the opportunity to revisit both Anise in Kendall and Chili Duck by the Pru. I hadn't been to Anise since shortly after Frank left for Beehive, and Chili Duck for probably about 2 years or so. I was pleasantly surprised to find both still quite strong, and I had terrific meals at both.
First, Chili Duck. I dropped in for a late lunch on Friday and had a terrific server who steered me to a few items I'd never had before. I mentioned that I was feeling in the mood for something like Larb Gai, but would love to know what else he'd recommend. He guided me toward the Moo-Ma-Now on their "Authentic Thai Menu", described as "Steamed sliced pork in a Thai hot & sour lime sauce with Chinese broccoli on the side." It was great -- very sour, very spicy, and the pork was extremely tender. He also recommended their lunch-sized duck soup, which was a nice counterpoint to the spice of the pork. It's main flavor profile included star anise and cinnamon, and had many large tender pieces of duck with the skin on. The bowl wasn't large, but because of the duck, the soup was very rich and satisfying. I had forgotten how many nice meals I'd had at Chili Duck in the past, and was happy to rediscover it. I'll definitely be adding it back into the rotation.
Last night, two friends and I hit Anise after a movie at Kendall Sq. I'd been wanting to return there for a while, and just hadn't made it over that direction. Also, though we'd been a few times after Frank left, it wasn't as fun as it had been with him there. I think enough time has passed (for me) that I am able to appreciate the restaurant on its own merits these days. ;)
So, the menu is a lot different than it was when it first opened. They may have done this a while ago, but again, I hadn't been there in a while. They have added significantly to the number of items, but thankfully, had retained most of my favorite dishes from before. (Interestingly, the dishes that previously had been described as "pork belly" are now called "bacon," which while perhaps more familiar to Americans is not exactly the same thing.) We started with the dan dan noodles, which used to be made with spinach noodles and now seem to be plain noodles. The flavor is still terrific, though less nutty than before. For the mains, we had the baby bok choy and black mushrooms, the diced chicken with sour mustard greens, the chicken with dry spice and sichuan peppercorns, and the scallops with dry pepper sauce. The bok choy and mushrooms were very good, though the brown sauce was more gloopy and sweeter than the previous incarnation, and the mushrooms were fewer in number and not as meaty. They seem to be using crimini now, whereas before I think they were a different kind. The diced chicken with sour mustard greens were a big hit, with a good balance between the spice of the chicken and the astringency of the greens. I was expecting something different from the dry spice chicken, and was disappointed that it didn't seem to have a particularly noticeable amount of sichuan peppercorns (no numbing sensation), but the dish was tasty nonetheless. I have always been a fan of the scallops, and they were terrific as always. I recall from previous visits that the heat level of the spice was fairly variable, and I prefer them on the spicier side (a nice contrast to the super-sweet scallops). I made sure, therefore, to ask for them "extra spicy," but alas, they did not come out extra spicy. Still and all, though, it's a great dish, and still tasted wonderful. I was a little sad overall that I didn't in any of the dishes we ordered get that wished-for numbing sensation from the sichuan peppercorns, but the flavors were good anyhow, and it was a nice evening. As to the drinks, they still have Franks cocktail list, with a few new additions. I had a green tea martini -- citrus ketel one with lemon juice and matcha green tea powder -- which was amazingly tasty and refreshing. I'm inspired to experiment with matcha cocktails at home. One friend wasn't as thrilled with his drink selection -- a shiraz that had a bitter/vinegar undertone at the end of the palate. It hadn't turned, as far as we could tell, but it wasn't a very good wine.
Anyway, overall, it was great to revisit both these restaurants, and I can say that both meals were very satisfying.