New York, NY – Making the new seem amazing without being bizarre, making the tried and true seem totally refreshed, doing this day in and day out year after year, that’s the mark of a great chef.
I have followed Daniel Bouloud’s inventive cuisine for more than 25 years, and he shows absolutely no signs of letting up. Take a table in his 1930’s Hollywood-style dining room – words like plush and lush and posh come to mind – on New York’s Upper East Side and let him and his attentive staff take care of you.
Daniel’s cuisine is steady but far from boring, and for sure he is one of those chefs that manage to surprise you, staying one step ahead of the game, presenting you with a dish before it becomes a cliché. But behind it all, you know that his standards are high and he’s not just there to make waves but make pleasure.
Sometimes new is just the tiniest twist on a classic, like his recent main course of veal cheeks cleanly flavored with rosemary, miniature Thumbelina carrots, a mound of spinach, and – the surprise – the creamiest of polenta flavored with a welcome, refreshing touch of citrus.
Earlier this year, Daniel created an astonishing, multicourse feast that covered all bases, dipping into Asian flavors with a lemongrass-cured salmon appetizer; setting us clearly in France with seared tuna embellished with peppers from Espelette in the Pays Basque, tiny bites of crisp socca (chickpea batter crepe) from Nice and a remoulade Nicoise full of the flavors of the Mediterranean; and taking us to Italy with an unforgettably smooth and satisfying ricotta and fontina ravioli showered with shavings of fresh black truffles.
World cuisine it is, and he pulls it off with finesse, flavor, bravura and clearly lots and lots of hard work, discipline and planning. While dining in America I never get enough of the country’s top-rate crab, and Daniel filled the void with an astonishing salad of North Pacific Dungeness Crab, soft textures offset by the crisp of cucumber, the sweetness of mango and the surprise of a summer roll stuffed with the bright flavors of mint, coriander, sweet pepper and mint.
Daniel spares nothing in terms of quality ingredients – whether they are sweet Nantucket Bay Scallops, Vermont baby lamb, or Beau Soleil oysters from the coast of Maine.
The wine list alone is worth a visit, with knowledgeable wine stewards at your side throughout the meal. Some recent treats include Peter Michaels’ 2001 Sauvignon Blanc “l’Apres Midi,” and a stunning red Russian River Valley Seghesio Zinfandel “Old Vines” 1994 that still had tons of life left in it.
There are times you sit down and examine a menu and soon you find yourself thinking, dish after dish, “Why didn’t I think of that!” And this is the way I felt as I began selecting my meal at Annisa, a thoroughly pleasant Greenwich Village restaurant run by chef Anita Lo, where everything from the service to the execution of the food is straightforward and unmasked.
The all-white dining room creates a soothing, comforting environment and the efficient staff - void of attitude - make you feel that much more at home. The modern American menu is full of pleasant surprises, from the kumquat and lemon confit that brightens a pleasing salad of shaved fennel and fresh jumbo shrimp, on to the miniature lemon and radish garnish that flanks the memorable unagi – or eel – that is served tempura-style, bathed in a salted egg yolk batter.
Hours later I could still close my eyes and relive the mouth filling taste of the thin slice of charred eggplant, laden with spice and set atop a cloud-like dollop of yogurt. This nice twist on what could well be a hackneyed dish is embellished with a tiny timbale of perfectly cooked, deep green lentils.
Here the chef deep frying oysters in a buckwheat batter and anoints the salty bivalves with fresh caviar; while smooth, alabaster sablefish is marinated in miso, set atop a rectangle of silken tofu, and set afloat in a golden brown bonito broth.
But perhaps my favorite dish was the straightforward sautéed filet of skate, teamed up with cubes of avocado, the right hit of chili and tender bits of Iroquois corn.
In a city overrun with large and often impersonal restaurants, Annisa is a little jewel to put on your list when you want personality, full flavors, no nonsense.
60 East 65th (between Madison and Park)
New York, NY
Telephone: 212 288 0033
13 Barrow Street (between Bleecker and West 4th Street)
New York, NY
Telephone: 212 741 6699