I’m not sure who first paired craft cocktails with small plates, but it is a match made in heaven. And Anise Global Gastrobar is a prime example. Not only is it open ridiculous hours — 11 a.m.-1 a.m. daily, Friday and Saturday until 3 a.m., but Rohit Patel’s drinks rock and Chef Mary Paff’s culinary creations explode with complex flavors. You can see the influence of Ciro’s Speakeasy, where Ted Dorsey mentored the chef. But Paff’s kitchen turns out its own wonderful creations to make her teacher proud.
Anise’s menu is anchored by five delicious “stinky bunz” options that began on the street in a food truck but now have a beautiful, high-ceilinged black and white, mirrored room with a stunning ancestral photo mural in which to work their magic. The puffy white Asian “bao” are stuffed with uniformly terrific fillings packed with flavor. My companions can’t decide — so we have them all. After trying the succulent beer-battered shrimp paired with crunchy papaya slaw and the zing of ginger aioli, luscious braised pork belly with tangy kimchi, red-curried crusty chicken with the snap of fresh cucumber, fried zucchini with crispy garlic, and Chinese BBQ pork with pickled radish, my head is spinning.
Each combo, you see, is layered and balanced with tastes that bounce around — pinging to all the buds on your tongue. Chef Paff knows how to play fat off acid while keeping each from stealing the spotlight from the other. It’s the gastronomic equivalent of the Flying Karamazov Brothers juggling.
The same is true for the craft cocktails and Rafael Millan’s eclectic wine choices. The $6 options for the extended happy hour, which begins just after your lunch break at 2:30 p.m. and extends well into dinnertime at 7 p.m., are also delightful. Whether you crave a glass of Hungarian wine, a perfect rye old fashioned made with Old Overholt whiskey or are intrigued by the Kurrant Bramble, which pairs Damrak gin with fresh berries over a huge mound of crushed ice with Crème de Mure and Cassis, you can’t go wrong.
Once your drink is in hand, other small bites to consider include three meaty curried coconut chicken wings that come to the table standing up like a Rockettes kick line. Their glaze is decidedly sweet and the tzatziki-like cucumber mint yogurt is a surprising but yummy accompaniment. We also quickly scarf down a quartet of savory deviled eggs; Anise offers blue cheese with bacon or curried crab to mix or match.
There’s lots of Web buzz hailing the truffled tater tots, but we must leave room so we skip those and the dozen cold-water oysters with a choice of cool hibiscus mignonette or warm brown butter bourbon. Bivalve mollusk fans, take note.
We choose the duck confit mini tacos over those filled with grilled shrimp. Again, the chef brings the dish alive with pickled daikon relish, jalapeños and hoisin barbecue sauce to launch a party in your mouth. You can also substitute tofu for duck or lettuce wraps for the tacos themselves. The menu offers two tartares: either spicy beef tenderloin or tuna with crisp wonton chips. We opt for the meat, which is packed with zesty flavor and topped with fresh apples and chives. It disappears quickly, but I enjoy my bite immensely.
Next, our friendly server descends with a large ramekin of warm baked goat cheese topped with tomatoes, Kalamata olives, Italian basil and fried capers served with a fresh baked baguette. There’s so much cheese we have to order extra bread, but it’s worth the $2 add-on.
Only the lobster mac and cheese fails to impress. Surprisingly, it’s not because of lack of lobster. As you dig past the crispy Parmesan panko crust, there’s plenty of coral-tinged shellfish amidst the properly al dente pasta. But where is the Gruyere and white cheddar? There’s almost no cheesy béchamel to be found, which is particularly disappointing given the kick-ass food that’s been exiting Mary Paff’s kitchen heretofore.
When it’s time for sweet treats, we choose the deep-fried sweet buns over the homemade ice cream. Both the strawberry-nutella and the banana-crispy cookie spread fillings are good but don’t pack the flavor punch of the savory buns. The chocolate indulgence flourless torte is intense with a lovely, creamy texture, but I can’t help thinking how much better it might be with an extra dimension, say of Cognac or orange zest with Grand Marnier. The desserts are fine, but don’t tease the palate in the same enticing way as the rest of the menu.
I know when I say “don’t miss the corner of Zack and Ashley,” that it sounds like some Southern California OC coupling, but the flavor fireworks bursting forth from the restaurant that holds up the Skypoint Tower are worthy of your rapt attention.