Anise

An ‘A’ for effort, but not a perfect sum
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  December 5, 2006
2.0 2.0 Stars

In many ways, the most satisfying entrée is “Chef Zhou’s Tasting Menu” ($25). This is five selections from a group of 10 on the menu. I had the dumplings, pig ears, Sichuan aromatic duck on the bone ($17), snapper filet with hot bean sauce and tofu ($18), and green beans with special Sichuan black pickles ($12). The green beans were terrific. And I don’t know what Sichuan black pickles are, but I want more of them. They look like bits of caramelized scallion, but taste sweet and salty and have the numbing menthol flavor of Sichuan peppercorns. The snapper filets were just morsels of fish with larger and more delicious squares of silken tofu in a brown-bean sauce with some red-pepper paste involved. The duck was sliced breast on the bone, with the interest lying mostly in a black sauce that looked like hoisin but tasted more like Worcestershire.

Anise has a large and interesting wine list. But if it’s hard to find a wine to stand up to the salty and sharp flavors of most Chinese food, it’s nearly impossible to find one that works with the peppery flavors of Sichuan. I tried a glass of the Shoo Fly blend from Australia ($6/glass; $23/bottle). It’s aromatic and a little sweet, and if I had to guess the blend, I’d suggest chenin blanc mellowed with semillon. It would work well with almost any other cuisine. The obvious alcoholic choice is beer: Tsingtao ($4) for fun, Heineken ($3 on recent special) for economy. However, the bar has a “red cat dark and stormy” ($7) based on rum and ginger beer that has the ginger burn to cut the red-oil burn. The non-alcoholic version would be the ginger-mint lemonade ($3), which is almost all ginger, some lemon, and overpowering mint. When I ordered hot oolong tea at lunch ($4.50), I got a glass of hot water with slowly unfurling balls of gunpowder green tea. It eventually brewed up and the tea sank to the bottom.

For an interesting dessert, try the sweet sesame dumpling ($4). This is a bowl of warm water with four small “eggs.” In fact, the eggs are sticky rice dough, with centers of toasted sesame goodness. And the overall effect is like the black-bean doughnuts in Chinatown, but slimier and inside-out. Those with more conventional tastes will enjoy ginger ($6), green-tea ($6), or chocolate ice cream ($6), all served with a vanilla wafer.

Service at Anise is still somewhat spotty. On the plus side, though, servers explain the dishes well, and the one who boned our fish did quite a good job. I can’t understand why any restaurant serving dumplings this close to MIT wouldn’t be packed all the time, but the price and upscale look of the room may be scaring off the nerds. The space has been redone with ochre and crimson walls, bamboo café tables, modern art, and blond wood floors; it’s handsome and fashionable. And while starting up loud Christmas music the Sunday after Thanksgiving was a little much, I appreciated catching the end of the Patriots game on the bar TVs.

Anise, One Kendall Square, Building 300, Cambridge | Open Mon–Fri, 11:30 am–2:30 pm snd 5:30–11 pm; Sat, 5:30–11 pm; and Sun, 5:30–9:30 pm | AE, DI, MC, VI | Full Bar | No Valet Parking | Street-Level Access ramped from binney street and Kendall Cinema Garage | 617.577.8668

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Robert Nadeau: RobtNadeau@aol.com.

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