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Review Recap: Annisa

Today, Sam Sifton of the Times awards two stars to Annisa:

Annisa reopened in April, scrubbed and clean and new. And the food Ms. Lo is cooking there is as good as any she has made in her career…

The ambitions of the kitchen are as quiet as they were a decade ago, but no smaller for the time elapsed since Ms. Lo first introduced us to them. There are the requisite Asian influences, as well as African ones, none of them overwhelming in taste or technique. Ms. Lo is not by any means a flashy chef. She does not stalk the dining room in gleaming whites, glad-handing patrons and accepting praise. She simply stays in the kitchen and works…

That’s not a bad description of Chef Lo, who nevertheless is probably a bit glum, as I’m sure she was aiming at something more than just the same two stars William Grimes gave her a decade ago. We gave Annisa 2½ stars, but if I didn’t have half-stars, I would round down, arriving at the same deuce that Sifton did.

Sifton seems to be obsessed with the civility of a dinner at Annisa, having apparently forgotten that what he calls “novel” used to be the norm:

Ms. Scism champions a service culture that is rare and noteworthy. It dictates that restaurants are about much more than eating, or ought to be. They serve a social purpose, as well.

And so here is something novel in New York City in 2010: You can hear every word of conversation at your table at Annisa, without hearing every word of the one going on at the table across the way. People act like grown-ups in the restaurant. They are polite….

Annisa…remains a destination for grown-up and serious restaurant-goers, both for its cooking and the experience of eating it.

A restaurant for adults! Who’d have believed it? How “rare and noteworthy” is that?

This was one of Sifton’s better-written reviews. Aside from the obscure reference to “Puget Sound novelist David Guterson,” you could actually tell what he was talking about. There was only a bit of Sifton’s tortured and lazy prose:

  • A beautifully cooked piece of chicken breast, crisp on its exterior and stuffed with chanterelles and bits of pig’s trotter, was a marvelous second act…
  • …fluke with caviar and beets brought the same happy laughter you hear drifting out of car windows at beach-town sunsets
  • …a marvelous dish of barbecued squid with Thai basil and fresh peanuts…
  • …a creamy, perfectly cooked fist of halibut…

Not a single “terrific”!


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