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Anise...Mmmm


jpps1
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My girlfriend and I went to Anise last night to celebrate our anniversary. I'll begin by stating the obvious: it was really, really good.

The service was excellent, knowledgeable, and to-the-point, without being rude. Rather, they were polite in their lack of intrusions (though they were always on hand).

The food was out of this world, the way Racha doesn't use traditional ingredients. Not even that, but her flavours don't complement each other, but play off of each other instead. It's remarkable.

We both ordered the nine-course menus--I had the surf, she had the turf (though after sampling some of my food, my girlfriend was beginning to come around on fish).

The amuse-bouche was roasted peanuts, served with strings of curry. It was needed, considering I had downed a martini and a half by that time on an empty stomach. Needless to say, many bathroom trips would be made throughout the evening, with the fear of falling always lingering in my thoughts. A side note on those bathroom--they were beautiful. Clean and regal, with very private stalls, and a towel rack and bin. I like to say that you can always judge the attention to detail in a restaurant's food (or of a hotel) in the quality of their bathrooms. These are the nicest I've ever been to.

The first course was a thick and creamy red lentil broth. Truly remarkable for a soup devoid of "filler" material. It was incredibly flavourful--some pepper would have done it even better, though. Next came the first wine-pairing. I don't remember any of the wines other than their countries. A small glass of white French wine (2001) was served with something termed as "salmon curry bonbons, with nori ribbons and pineapple salsa." The salmon was of an incredibly high quality They were incredible, and my fish-hating girlfriend agreed. She had the foie gras with gingerbread and chutney...I, the foie gras hater, thought it was excellent...She agreed.

A large glass of white French wine (2001 as well) was served in accordance with the next two courses. First came perfectly seared ahi tuna, with a side of soba noodles in a japanese olive sauce. The tuna itself was flawless and tender; however, the spices it was encrusted with made it a little too salty. The noodles were fresh and the sauce was tangy and excellent...Iw ould have preferred those served hot. My girlfriend had sausages wrapped in brussel sprouts. These weren't grocery-store or mass production sausages...They seemed homemade, on the level of those at the Passe-Partout. The brussel sprouts overpowered them a little too much.

Next came a cup of grilled shrimp...It was a single jumbo shrimp served on a bed of risotto. The shrimp was basted with fennel and arak, I believe, making it juicy and tender, not to mention very tasty. The risotto was out-of-this-world, with a perfect consistency. My girlfriend had quail, in a mushroom, almond and fig mix. A little too sweet for the quail, but nonetheless excellent.

A grapefruit sorbet was served next, to cleanse our palette for the main course. Grapefruit being my favorite, I felt this to be some of the best sorbet/ice cream I've ever had (nothing beats the homemade ice cream at Bice).

The main course for me was served with a glass of Californian wine from 1999. Pan seared red snapper, on a bed of dandelion stems. I originally had doubts about ordering the surf, since red snapper is not my favorite fish, but it was soft, meaty, and somehow (and for red snapper this is surprising) 99% deboned. It was perfectly cooked as well, with overcooking being a real possibility. The dandelions were an excellent contrast, bitter, but not to the point that you'd cringe. My girlfriend had the Quebec lamb saddle, which was juicy and tender, the way lamb should be. I wasn't a big fan though--I prefer lamb shoulders.

On to the desserts. First came a piece of Charlevoix cheese, served with a side of raisin bread. While I normally detest raisin bread, it proved to be an excellent companion to the cheese, which was somewhere on the level of cheddar in terms of mildness. The cheese itself was fresh and creamy, like brie.

A glass of red wine was served...I was surprised to get it, considering the menu said three wines, not four. Oh well, no complaining. The only problem was that it was served AFTER the cheese course, leaving that cheese without a wine companion. Maybe I was supposed to leave some in the previous glass for the cheese. Oh well. I couldn't even finish this last small glass, as the previous three glasses and 1.5 martinis was starting to really get to me.

I hate dates (the fruit)...Absolutely hate them. I was planning on skipping the next course entirely, called a date delight. It was a small date served in an ice-cream-style cup. I don't remember much else about it, other than that it was quite good for a food I hate.

Last but not least, the show-stopping final dessert. REAL pistachio ice cream with coconut (I believe), chocolate fondant (think of an ultra-thick think, pure chocolate mousse--a cross between mousse and fudge) and a cinnamon stick attached to a glazed slice of orange. The ice cream was subdued, though pistachio was not my thing. It could have easily been too sweet, but it's mildness proved an excellent counterpoint to the mind-blowing chocolate fondant. It was thick and creamy, with semi-sweet chocolate heated to perfection. It had a hint of star anise (which is all over the place here, lending the restaurant its name), which after a few off-putting spoonfuls, proved an excellent compliment. I hate cinnamon, especially pure cinnamon, so that was a moot point. The espresso I had was excellent.

Dinner clocked in at $320 CAD for two, but my girlfriend didn't order the accompanying wines (it would have been around $400 in that case). We should have ordered our own bottle though, as the wine pairings were none too spectacular, with the best being the second wine (which I'm sorry to forge the name of). The martinis were also a little bland, both in presentation and taste.

Everything about this place was a study in beauty. From the muted exterior windows, the the cream coloured, barren walls, to the railings, to the chairs, to the tablecloths, to the lights (concealed in "bumps" coming out of the wall). The plates were gorgeous, with a different plate for each course. The sorbet plate was especially noteworthy, with it's large, swooping rim, and tiny indentation cut out in the middle for the sorbet. As I mentioned before, the bathrooms are the nicest I've ever been in (I wish my bathroom at home was this nice), and the service was accomodating without being annoying.

All in all, the best 4 hours of my culinary life.

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hear hear. i was at anise on my anniversary, too. the folks in the kitchen knew it was our anniversary (we mentioned it when we reserved) and they wrote "happy anniversary" on our dessert plates in chocolate. cute. thanks for the great review... makes me want to go back soon! if only i had another 300 dollars to throw down.

"Bells will ring, ting-a-ling-a-ling, ting.... the bell... bing... 'moray" -John Daker

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We should have ordered our own bottle though, as the wine pairings were none too spectacular, with the best being the second wine (which I'm sorry to forge the name of). The martinis were also a little bland, both in presentation and taste.

jpps1, do you mind a counterpoint?

I've done the wine flight thing at Anise only once but found it quite satisfactory. And since our party was pretty evenly split between those who took the nine-course surf and those who took the nine-course turf, I got to taste all the matches on offer that evening. None of them was less than good and a couple were truly inspired. The waiters were generous with their pours, too. Sorry to hear your oenological experience was less than satisfying. Maybe it's the luck of the draw?

By the way, we skipped the hard stuff and started with a house cocktail, a sparkling Montlouis (think Vouvray) haunted with a few drops of the chef's homemade violet syrup. Light, refreshing, aromatic. Just lovely.

All in all, the best 4 hours of my culinary life.

We spent at least as long there, too. Time seemed suspended, a sure sign of a great dining experience.

Thanks for the detailed report.

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rats...i thought that this thread was about anise, the seasoning. ahh no worries, cumin is the bestest of all spices and tasty things. but anise is yummy. i wish NYC had a place called anise....

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jpps1, do you mind a counterpoint?

I've done the wine flight thing at Anise only once but found it quite satisfactory. The waiters were generous with their pours, too. Sorry to hear your oenological experience was less than satisfying. Maybe it's the luck of the draw?

Could be bad luck...Maybe the martinis numbed some sensation who knows...though the more I think about it, the better that second wine was...I'm no connaisseur though; I'll admit some of the subtleties still elude me.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Had the 9 course Turf Tasting Menu last Dec. I thought the bread(especially the pita-like roll) & Deer Chop were outstanding. The Quail w. Quail egg and the Scallop w. Seared Foie Gras were great. Everything else was at least good.

Decor is unique & very nice. The service was excellent.

ChowAlf

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  • 2 years later...

I'm on Anise's mailing list. I just received this email:

La Grande Finale

Anise a cinq ans!

Cinq ans de saveurs, de plaisirs et de magnifiques souvenirs en cuisine, dans la salle et avec nos convives.

Anise vous fait ses adieux!

Pour célébrer cet anniversaire, faire ses adieux et faire honneur à tous ceux qui l'ont supportée durant ces années, la chef Racha Bassoul vous propose la Grande Finale:

Un dernier voyage sur

La route des épices avec François Chartier dans le cadre du festival Montréal en lumière Les 22, 23, 24, 27, 28 février et 2 et 3 mars 2007

http://www.anise.ca/fml07.html

Ah well, at least they're going out with a bang.

Edited by rcianci (log)
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It's always easy to blame the customers when things don't work out. But considering the lousy $340 meal I had in one of Montreal's "top" restaurants last night, I think it may also be time for many high-end restaurants to rethink their missions, as it do it right or don't do it at all.

And considering the fact that doing it right means you need a lot of staff and Montreal is suffering a shortage of hospitality industry workers, yes it looks as though the restaurant scene in our city is not necessarily imploding, but no doubt having to adjust.

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What a depressing shock. Having just recently left Montreal, it's really sad to hear about this. With the closing of Anise and of Les Chevres I think it raises a broader point about the Montreal restaurant scene. What strikes me a strange is that every time I visited Anise the restaurant was full- be it on a weeknight or weekend. It makes me wonder why Montreal has so much difficulty supporting high-end restaurants. Certainly the problem here was not the cooking. Each time I visited Anise (three times over two years), the quality of the cooking improved. Indeed, my last meal there was so good that my mom declared it to be better than a meal we had at Susur a few weeks later (although I would have ranked it just behind). Lesley, you seem to agree that the cooking had not slipped given your favourable review earlier in the year. Barring a precipitous decline in quality, I can't see the food being an explanation. So why are such well reviewed and seemingly well loved restaurants struggling?

I have always said that the food in Montreal is superior to that in most other cities I've been to. Not only were the high-end restaurants better- Toque! being as good a restaurant as I've been to on this side of the Atlantic- but also the quality of the neighbourhood restaurant was always very high. To hear that a legitimately great restaurant like Anise is closing is both sad and perplexing. Especially one that was still improving and had already received international acclaim. Just too bad...

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Had the cooking slipped? Maybe from my last visit, but probably not enough to justify a drop in business. I don't know what happened, maybe they simply tired of the struggle with a locale they never really liked. From day one they seemed to be on the lookout for a new space.

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Can I be so bold as to say the day of the white table clothes in Montreal are coming to an end? Or am I just hoping?

I have witnessed something similar in Vancouver many years ago. The "High-end white table cloth" places started to die off as people were wanting a more casual, more relaxed environment.

Is Montreal moving that way with the likes of Joe Beef and others that offer amazing food but in a non stuffy setting?

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Oh, plueese!!

Since when did white table cloths signify stuffy!!! I think you have a bit of trendoidinitis there!

You HOPE restos like Anise and Le Chevre dissappear???

Hmm, is that you unfolding a white cloth napkin at a white table cloth

table at Buchon on that other track you posted. :)

Ok, so I agree more "casual" and approachable restos makes sense, and

fawning and tired waiters don't, but I don't think that has anything to

do with being well apointed, dressed well, and sitting at nice table.

Look at CC&P.... chic, comfortable AND what APPEARS casual but is

anything but....

True, that splendidly laid table COSTS a lot, and that's the real

problem I think.

And clattering Formica can be just as pretentious, with the "right" attitude...

Here's to HOPING and WISHING Racha Bassoul and staff returns in an even more elegant setting.

She - and we - deserve it!

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Let me rephrase...

First off, I would never want restaurants like Anise and Les Chevre to disappear. Every time a place closes, weither it be a place like Anise or Mom n Pops place on the corner, a big part of me really feels for them. I've been there and seen it too many times.

What I DO want to disappear are restaurants who want to be like them but can't pull it off.

Far too often I have gone out to eat and paid way too much for crap. Those who open a restaurant and try to be the next Keller or Blumenthal but can't get there. Or open a place that is all about looks but have no substance. And these are the places that cause places like Anise and Les Chevre to close. It's like Wal-Mart moving into into a small town. Looks good, but sells crap. Then puts everyone else out of business.

Maybe saying "White Tableclothes" was not the right word.

Every city need's it's Toque or Anise. Unfortunatly, these places close down eventually. Peoples taste change. The Chef/Owners want something different. Will Racha return with a "More elegant setting"? I don't think so. Will her next restaurant be as good if not better than Anise? I have no doubt!

You watch, a lot of these chefs in the business want to move away from the "High end" way of doing things. A more casual, relaxed atmosphere is what is appealing to them. And we want it too, most just don't know it yet.

Why is APDC, Garde Manger, Joe Beef so popular? Cuz it's amazing food without the "White Tableclothe". There is more emphasis on the food and they don't worry about the image.

And yes, it was me unfolding the white napkin at Bouchon. But what you may not have noticed was that the table was covered with a white paper sheet and the menu was made of parchment paper. And the guy sitting next to me was wearing a Hawiian shirt and shorts.

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Bon Appetit Cookbooks, all the restaurants you named are good but not out of this world. The image is important on some occasion and these restaurants are not enough classy for some special moments. And for sure, Garde Manger and APDC food is far away from a top restaurant.

Comparing bistros and really fine cuisine makes non sense to me.

There is only 3-4 really fine cuisine restaurants in the province, it's not that much (Toqué, 357c, Laurie, Chronique and ...) It's not that bad considering there is not a lot of money here.

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L'offre et la demande.

Supply and demand.

Montreal is a average size city, there's a lot more restaurant than patrons to fill them up...

Also the subburbs are having a selection( not always good) of new big restaurants next to theyre homes so the island get less destination costumers... The new complexe 10-30, for example, next to brossard is planning to open 8 other restaurants after Cumulus... take your calculator... and trust me they paid for an extensive market analisys... they are already "stealing" some costumers to "montreal".

Subburds+condos+dynanic citizens+"pouvoir d'achat"= spending in restaurants

Because every body knows that we all need to attract people from outside on a saturday night. Even " white tablecloths" restaurants

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L'offre et la demande.

Supply and demand.

Montreal is a average size city, there's a lot more restaurant than patrons to fill them up...

Also the subburbs are having a selection( not always good) of new big restaurants next to theyre homes so the island get less destination costumers... The new complexe 10-30, for example, next to brossard is planning to open 8 other restaurants after Cumulus... take your calculator...  and trust me they paid for an extensive market analisys... they are already "stealing" some costumers to "montreal".

Subburds+condos+dynanic citizens+"pouvoir d'achat"= spending in restaurants

Because  every body knows that we all need to attract people from outside on a saturday night. Even " white tablecloths" restaurants

"LE SEPTIÈME CIEL N’A JAMAIS ÉTÉ SI PRÈS…" this is the line on the web-site

Cumulus web-site

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Holy shit that's a large and bizarre menu, general tao and submarines and filet mignon, jeezus, I'm sure this place isn't stealing any customers looking to eat in a good Montreal resto. That's the problem with the Shore(i'm not dissing it I live there) but there are too many chain resto's, bad italian joints, buffets and belle province. the general populace has forgotten what a good resto can be like and I don't mean big and fancy but there are no small bistro on the shore that offer anything close to what is on the island and I'm sure if one did open they would have a hard time surviving.

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