NYC: Experiencing the Highs of Anita Lo’s Annisa

Being in Manhattan has a way of making me lose all sense of reason. What is it about this city?  Perhaps it is the endless choices of foods from the fascinating to the frivolous to the fantastic. As soon as I arrive my tastebuds rev up for adventure and my pace quickens considerably.

I have my blog to thank for bringing me to NYC last weekend. A friend passes my blog link on to her sister-in-law who happens to be the first cousin of one of my oldest friends (and I am not referring to her age- she is younger than me).  We met in Hebrew school and were inseparable from fourth grade through sometime in high school.  That’s going back a long, long ways. We’ve stayed connected but haven’t seen each other in at least fifteen years.  She lives in Connecticut.  But when she sees my blog she sends me an email to tell me she has an apartment in New York, and asks if I want to join her for an eating adventure.

Of course this appeals to me on so many levels.  I love reconnecting with old friends.  And it goes without saying that I’m looking forward to a weekend of NYC dining.

I don’t have to spend hours researching where to have dinner on Saturday night.  We’re not going to the theater, which means we are not geographically restricted.   I watched Chef Anita Lo compete on “Top Chef Masters” and I was impressed with her fortitude and her cooking style.  She immediately comes to mind when I think about where to eat.  A google search leads me to Annisa in the West Village. I read this on the Annisa website:  by combining flavors inspired by her Asian roots, her travels, and seasonal influences with her classic French technique, Lo creates a persuasive, yet disarming, menu that exudes excitement and zeal.  A Zagat rating of 28 and a Michelin star rating clinch it for me.

Chef Anita Lo

What attracts me even further to Annisa is a review in New York magazine, particularly this part:  Lo seems to have let the old superstar-chef concerns drop away. She’s not worried about expanding her brand, or chasing trends, or pleasing hordes of riotous eaters in Vegas-size dining rooms. The result is an experience that strikes that delicate (and increasingly rare) balance between modern style, classic technique, and pure, old-fashioned gourmet pleasure. Yep, this is right up my alley.

A 9:30 pm reservation is all I am able to secure, which in DC would never fly with my husband and friends with whom I normally dine.  In New York, however, this isn’t a problem. There’s lots to see, do, and eat.  A late-afternoon cupcake at the Little Cupcake Bake Shop tides us over.

As interested as I am in tasting food prepared by Top Cheftestants (Masters or otherwise) I am always concerned that I am not really tasting their food.  I am delighted to see Chef Lo emerge from the kitchen to chat with someone at the bar.  My friend is wondering if I am going to go over there, or ask to speak with her.  This is not out of the realm of possibility.  But since I have not yet had a morsel of food, I decide to stay silent since I can’t yet say anything more than I’m a fan of her television appearances.

Too bad, as moments after she returns to the kitchen I become a serious fan of her food.  We are served an amuse bouche of smoked salmon mousse, cornichon, lemon, and chives.  It is a burst of flavor.  My bouche is definitely amused.

I have an appetizer of eggplant with two Turkish chilis in yogurt water. The eggplant on the outside of the dish has a beautiful smoky flavor and the eggplant with the skin on is both spicy and a bit sweet.  The yogurt  provides a nice cool contrast to the spices.  It’s a phenomenal dish.

eggplant with two Turkish chilis in yogurt water

My friend begins with cauliflower gnocco with hazelnuts and sheep’s cheese. (Gnocco is singular for gnocchi.)  I don’t take a bite so I am not going to even attempt to describe it.  Hopefully it’s enough to say that my friend thoroughly enjoys the dish.

cauliflower gnocco

My entree is pan roasted farm chicken with sherry, white truffle, and pig feet.  I don’t plan to order this initially, as I picture little pigs feet surrounding the chicken.  But our server tells me this is a signature dish and the potentially-offensive item is pureed  in the sauce.  I take a leap of faith.  Fortunately, no little piggies in sight.  The sauce is rich and creamy, and the most distinctive flavor coming through is chanterelle mushrooms and leeks.  The chicken is moist with a layer of crispy skin.

Annisa chicken

My friend orders a dish which is a strong contender as my own entree: broiled Spanish mackerel with garlic fried milk, satsumaimo (Japanese sweet potatoes) and Korean chili.  She is bowled over by an array of flavors that meld together surprisingly well.  Yes, I am a little envious as I am always drawn to Asian flavors. But I only have to go back to my own plate of food and recognize that it is pretty brilliant in its own right.

The atmosphere at Annisa is sophisticated and elegant, but not stuffy.  The wait staff, who work in a restaurant that earns them the right to be snooty, thankfully are warm and friendly.  You can tell that they really admire the food they are describing.  At one point during the evening my friend can’t find her earring and a few of the staff make an earnest – and endearing- attempt to help in her search.

Sometimes all the right elements come together to form a perfect evening.  I am on a high because I have reconnected with an old friend and am able to pick up exactly where we left off so many years ago.  I’m in one of my favorite cities in the world.  I’m eating at a beautiful, top-notch restaurant, and the food is more than meeting my expectations.  For me, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Of course our eating is not limited to a single dinner.  On Sunday I want to go to Doughnut Plant because the owner was a judge on Top Chef Just Desserts. It’s a distance from where we are staying, so first we stop at Ess-a-Bagel.  These are seriously some of the best bagels I’ve had in the city.

Then we go to Doughnut Plant where I’ve already scoped out the creme brulee doughnut. There’s also tres leches, and carrot cake, and blueberry.  I have to try these flavors as well.   Creme brulee is the standout. Some advice- don’t  save any until you get home.  The ones I ate right away were far better than the ones I “took home for my husband.”

creme brulee doughnut

After the bagels and the doughnuts is the trip to Chelsea Market where I eat a hot dog with kimchi from Dickson’s Farmstand Meats, get a sandwich from Lucy’s Whey for the ride home, and weigh myself down further with olive oil and spices. Let there be no doubt.  When I say that Manhattan makes me lose all sense of reason, I really mean it.

Annisa, 13 Barrow Street, New York, NY
My rating (on a 1-5 scale):  4.8
Zagat rating:  28 (out of 30)

Tastemakers 2014:  Anita Lo

Doughnut Plant, 220 W 23rd St, (between 7th Ave & 8th Ave) and 379 Grand St, New York, NY

Annisa on Urbanspoon

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