Entries in Jennifer Scism (3)


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”!




Chef Anita Lo didn’t have the best of luck in 2009. Annisa, her flagship Greenwich Village restaurant, closed after an electrical fire. An ill-considered venture into Asian barbecue, Bar Q, quickly failed.

Lo’s national profile gained luster with an appearance on Top Chef: Masters, in which she reached the champions round. But anyone who was impressed with her food would have had no restaurant in which to find it.

Annisa re-opened last month, after nine months of re-building. She and her partner, Jennifer Scism, say that it was like having a baby. The space has been brightened up a bit, with help from a fung shui consultant. Food is now served at the small bar, which (as before) is separated by a half-wall from the dining room.

In the Times, William Grimes awarded two stars to the original incarnation of Annisa. I gave three stars in 2005, though I was being more generous back then, and I always had a nagging feeling I’d overrated it. My doubts were confirmed with a re-visit on Saturday night.

Don’t get me wrong: Annisa is a very enjoyable restaurant. Chef Lo’s wizardry with French technique and Asian accents produces food that is often compelling. And it comes in one of the city’s most romantic rooms, on one of its most romantic blocks.

There are also a few misses. The newly remodeled room is a bit cramped, and the air conditioning is under-powered: we found it sweltering, and the server acknowledged that we are not the first customers to notice. It will only get worse as the summer goes on.

I puzzled over the wine list, which seemed shorter than it ought to be, and had no particular focus that I could discern. Finally, Ms. Scism explained it: Annisa (which means “women” in Arabic) only serves wines made by women, or from wineries owned by women. Ultimately, we were pleased with the wine we chose—the marvellously funky La Stoppa “Ageno” (listed with the wrong year)—but it feels like a 1970s conceit to limit oneself to suppliers with two X chromasomes.

The menu is on the expensive side, especially the entrées, almost all of which are north of $30. Tasting menus are $75 (five courses) or $95 (seven). These prices are not unreasonable for the quality of the ingredients and the care taken in preparing them.

Photos weren’t an option, in low light with the tables on either side of us occupied. I’ll describe the food as best I can.

The amuse was a duck rillette with mustard seed, pickled barbary, and chives, that tasted like it had been in the refrigerator a while, and did not have much flavor. Bread rolls were cold and a bit chewy, though the butter was soft, just as I like it.

To start, Steak Tartare with Korean Chili, Yamaimo and Asian Pear ($16) was a classic Anita Lo dish. There wasn’t quite enough chili sauce, but even without it, the flavors were strong and vivid.

Tuna: Hot and Cold ($17) was a dud, as the “hot” side of the plate was a a square of over-cooked and unseasoned fish. We later saw the same dish at another table, and it appeared the tuna had a sauce or garnish that ours had lacked. The “cold” side of the tuna was a tartare—not bad, but not as special as the steak.

The entrées were more successful. Butter Poached Lobster ($37) was as good a preparation as you’ll find outside of a seafood restaurant. It came with a sweet pea flan so good that it deserves promotion to an appetizer in its own right.

Fluke ($31) was beautifully prepared, tender and full of flavor, in a beet sauce so rich it could have been blueberry. A fluke tartare was just fine, but didn’t quite stand up to that, even with caviar.

We could have been happy with any of the desserts (Anita Lo is the pastry chef, as well), but we settled on the Pecan and Salted Butterscotch Beignets with Bourbon Milk Ice ($9), which were as wonderful as they sound.

Annisa may be a hair short of the three stars the chef aspires to, but it is a compelling restaurant, and a lovely place for a romantic meal.

Annisa (13 Barrow St. between Seventh Av. S. & W. 4th St., Greenwich Village)

Food: **½
Service: **½
Ambiance: **
Overall: **½

Annisa on Urbanspoon



In early September, I took a friend to Annisa for her 40th birthday. It’s a sweet-looking room. We were seated side-by-side on a banquette, which was an intimate twist on the usual arrangement.

The Seared Foie Gras with Soup Dumplings and Jicama appetizer has been on the menu from the beginning. William Grimes loved the dish when he awarded two stars, and I guess the restaurant doesn’t want to fiddle with success. Then again, when an appetizer is this good, why should they?

For the main dish, I tried the Miso Marinated Sable with Crispy Silken Tofu in Bonito Broth, another dish Grimes loved. I suppose I should have trusted my instincts, as I’ve never been a tofu lover. The dish was beautifully prepared, but somehow it just didn’t seem like tofu and sable go together. This item, like the foie gras, has been on the menu from the beginning, so I must be in the minority.

Mind you, we had a wonderful time, especially my friend, and I can see why Annisa has garnered so many plaudits. In my book, it certainly ranks at the high end of two stars. Indeed, I am going with consensus, and awarding three. 

Annisa (13 Barrow St. between Seventh Ave. & W. 4th St., Greenwich Village)

Food: ***
Service: ***
Ambiance: ***
Overall: ***