No news in the NYC restaurant world this year has shaken me quite like the closure of Annisa in the spring. As there are so many new restaurants that open up in the city on a daily basis, it is impossible for me to revisit all the places I’ve had a good experience with, but I’ve always made a point of visiting this institution from chef Anita Lo at least once a year. With lots of restaurants advertising their cuisine these days as globally influenced without borders, mixing taste of different parts of the world, the execution doesn’t always match the level of conceptual creativity. Annisa is one of those places, however, where I feel like if there is an ideal restaurant showcasing New American cuisine with Asian influences, this is the place to beat. The level of sophistication and ingenuity in Annisa’s dishes has always provided me with good memories when I visited this quiet restaurant in West Village. Once I heard of the scheduled closing at the end of May this year, I scrambled to find a date in the spring to visit with my wife Jun, who also happens to be an eager fan of the restaurant.
Once we got seated, I was hoping to get tasting menu options to get as many dishes as possible for the last time. To my surprise, the server wouldn’t tell us what dishes (even types of ingredients) will go into the tasting menus. We figured we couldn’t risk our last meal at Annisa with an unknown tasting menu, so decided to go with a la carte options focusing on dishes we had tried before. The seared foie gras with soup dumplings, which has become one of the iconic New York dishes, still displayed that rich sensation that I had remembered, although for some reason it felt a bit heavy too. On the other hand, chilled spring pea soup with snow crab and hearts of palm was able to aptly neutralize that heavy sensation from the soup dumplings, with its clean flavor that I makes me think I could eat this every day before I go to work. Broiled Spanish mackerel with garlic fried milk and Korean chili (gochujang) was one of my favorite dishes during my visits to Annisa, but this time the gochujang quickly overwhelmed the otherwise perfectly cooked mackerel. As the resident cook in our household, Jun pointed that gochujang is always better with meats to balance against the grease. What was the difference this time? Has my taste changed over time to look for something more subtle instead of bold?
We both enjoyed Long Island duck with pickled plum and a side of foie gras chawanmushi, but in this case portion was a bit of an issue ($49 for six pieces wasn’t exactly what we came here for). For dessert, hazelnut torte with soy milk ice cream was delicious but we struggled to find honeycomb on the menu that was supposed to be part of this dish. Overall, the last meal at Annisa was, as Jun succinctly put her impression on her Instagram, still good but not “Annisa” good. We couldn’t quite make sense of why our difference was different this time. Lately, we’ve been focused on eating healthy at home during weekdays, limiting our restaurant trips to the two weekend nights generally. Perhaps that eating habit has changed our taste over time? Or the kitchen has lost its step or its attention to detail with the impending closing? Our mixed experience added more sadness to the realization that this institution will be gone soon.
After the news of closing, getting a reservation at Annisa has been pretty difficult with long-time diners looking to stop by at least once more before chef Anita closes her shop, so try to book whatever space that becomes available. Annisa’s sublime but not stuffy atmosphere has long been an element of strength for the restaurant and I wonder what will happen to this beautiful minimalist space. It’s really been an awesome run for chef Anita, and I sincerely hope that she returns to the New York restaurant scene soon. Not many chefs have displayed the kind of discipline and creativity quite like her, and her ability to truly bridge the culinary influences of different parts of the world will be deeply missed.
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 7.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.5/10
- Flavor: 8.0/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
Address: 13 Barrow Street, New York, NY 10014
Telephone: (212) 741-6699