Sunday, June 26, 2011

Weekend of Michelin-Starred Gluttony: Bouley and Annisa

This weekend was a festive one, and I ended up partaking in two menu tastings in the city. Bouley, for lunch on Friday, was a fantastic deal with four courses for only $55. Maybe I'm biased, but the food, service and overall dining experience was noticeably better last night at Annisa. 

The dining room at Bouley is pretty in an old school rich, formal library kind of way. It had a funny evening-style feel that confused me when I walked outside and saw it was still daytime.

Bouley has the type of tasting menu where you choose from about three items for each course. I like being able to coordinate this way, bartering with Rob over who will get what for each course. We ended up splitting everything down the middle which worked better in his favor, because I wound up picking all the winners.

We started with a summery palate cleanser of celery sorbet, halved cherries and beets.

Course 1 -- bibb salad with a light pine nut dressing and dandelions; tuna sashimi. The raw dish had some kind of tiny jelly squares that enhanced the salty/fruity wetness of the dish.

Course 2 -- porcini flan and black bass. The black bass was a forgettable, overly fancy version of something that can be done much better (See: Annisa) while the porcini flan with dungeness crab was easily my favorite dish of the whole meal. The second you take the lid off the tiny copper pot your face is bathed in a warm, truffley aroma. The one inch-long piece of dungeness crab is supplemented by hunks of regular crab. The dish has a great mixed texture of heady broth with pockets of creamy tidbits. Amazing.

Main course -- duck and chicken. Both were cooked really well, but overdressed with sauce. The chicken with buttermilk and tarragon didn't really taste like much, but it was very tender. The duck with truffle honey was a perfect medium-rare, but despite being covered in thick gravy I couldn't really make out the truffle or the honey. I really liked the surprise side of mashed potatoes that came with both of these. It looked like butter and tasted like cheese.

Another palate cleanser -- a nice melon soup with a thick dollop of rich ricotta. A mellow combination of sweet and salty to reset the taste buds before dessert.

For dessert, we got the cheese plate and the chocolate. The cheese plate was forgettable, and no one explained what any of it was. The one really cool thing about it was one of the harder cheeses was cut up along the top to look like a real white flower. The chocolate souffle was amazingly rich and chocolatey -- maybe the one thing I like better here than at Annisa -- with the darkest scoop of ice cream imaginable and a melty buttercream of (I think) espresso.

Finally, coffee and petit fours, which was more like petit 12. The dessert tower offered up macarons, sesame brittle, chocolate truffles and a few others. It was hard, but we polished it off.

Last night a group of six of us dined at Annisa. Here we did the tasting menu the way it should be done -- leaving each and every course up to the kitchen to decide. After the contrast from Friday's lunch, it's amazing how relaxed the atmosphere is here. The dining room is intimate but casual, the staff members are attentive and lovely, the drinks are well-balanced, the dishes are subtle and unique. Here are pictures of the honey lavender julep and cucumber gimlet:

First, the amuse of chicken liver mousse in crispy little bite-sized cups.

The raw courses to start. I had the tuna two ways: hot and cold. The raw tartare is always my favorite in this one. There's a bit of marinated seaweed in the center. Great presentation. Others in our group got the fluke ceviche with black lime and radish.

Next was the wild boar belly with fried eel on top, a small salad of apple and daikon, and a soup spoon with the braising liquid from the boar. I'm not a big fan of eel, but I did love the soft rich, deep flavors in this dish, which balances well with the sweet and crunch from the apple. Here's also an obligatory photo of the signature foie gras soup dumpling -- the only item Anita never rotates off the menu.

I've had the miso marinated sable before, but I don't remember it being this good. It is fantastic and flaky, perfectly cooked with a crispy exterior, paired with silken tofu soaking in a bonito broth with lots of crunchy roe. The roe settles to the bottom of the dish so towards the end, the roe starts popping like crazy in your mouth like a fourth of July finale.

Next, a new item for this spring -- golden trout with golden split peas and a syrup-glazed bacon. I'm almost glad Photoshop isn't working for me so you can see how GREEN this came out in the half light. This was a popular dish at the table, definitely the favorite of a few.

My personal favorite was the Wagyu with escarcots. I'm still amazed that beef this lean can be so tender and flavorful. I have never been wowed by Wagyu in the past, so it was nice to verify that it isn't just a gimmicky hype. I've never had escargots before and wasn't in a huge hurry to try them. I expected chewy, springy snails that tasted like mussels, but instead it was buttery with a texture more like a tiny scallop. Loved finishing with some red meat after all the fish.

After the meal we played a very fun game of dessert roulette. The cheese plate here beat the pants off the one at Bouley -- even without the gaudy flower. The chocolate tasting is more unique too -- love the malted bubble tea and the mousse. I wasn't crazy about the banana and peanut butter tower -- I've had it before, and found it a little plain -- but the poppyseed bread pudding with myer lemon curd surprised me and maybe became my new favorite. The butterscotch beignets always capture hearts, especially with the thoughtful pairing of bourbon ice (but that's always secondary). The nectarine posset rounded out the dessert with some fruit. I didn't get pictures of them all, but here's chocolate plate, the banana tower and the bread pudding:

This weekend definitely solidified Annisa as my favorite restaurant in the city. It's going to be hard going back to normal eating after a weekend of spoilage.

163 Duane Street

13 Barrow Street
West Village