Review: Anise Showcases A Splendid Array of Mediterranean Flavors | Dallas Observer

Of Olives, Bread and Wine: Anise Showcases a Splendid Array of Mediterranean Flavors

When British writer Elizabeth David’s A Book of Mediterranean Food was published in 1950 it introduced much of the English-speaking world to the concepts of Mediterranean cuisine.
The lamb pressé comes with a smoky and sweet muhammara dip.
The lamb pressé comes with a smoky and sweet muhammara dip. Kathy Tran
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When British writer Elizabeth David’s A Book of Mediterranean Food was published in 1950, it introduced much of the English-speaking world to the concepts of Mediterranean cuisine. In the book’s introduction, David defined the region as “those blessed lands of sun and sea and olive trees.” Olives, wheat and grapes, considered the triad of the cuisine, yield the oil, bread and wine that many of us associate with Mediterranean fare.

Tucked into the first floor of the Drey Hotel, Anise was part of the recent revitalization of The Village and opened in 2021. Anise brought in chef Rene De Leon following the departure of the original chef last August. De Leon had served as the executive chef at Bullion after Bruno Davaillon’s departure and came to Anise with an eye on updating the pan-Mediterranean offerings.
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The dining room at Anise is one of the prettiest in the city.
Kathy Tran
If we were dining on a patio in Santorini, we might partake in views of the azure Mediterranean Sea with mountains at our back while enjoying our meal. At Anise, the views from the floor-to-ceiling windows may not rise to that level but are stunning nevertheless, with lush lawns and a sparkling pool a fitting substitute. Turn your gaze inside, and Anise’s dining room is just as calming. Warm woods dominate, punctuated with splashes of blues and greens that are clearly inspired by the region.

Waitstaff appears promptly and are quick with suggestions from Anise’s impressive wine list. Instead of a single glass, it may be easier to pick one of the wine flights, with five pours to sample while perusing the menu. The menu is much more compact than the wine list and is stocked with flavorful options.

On our first visit, we immediately got right in the mood with a bowl of marinated olives ($5). The bowl is a generous selection of olive varieties, each with subtle differences in tenderness and salinity, all perfectly balanced with seasoning of fresh rosemary, fennel pollen and the tang of citrus zest.
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The whipped ricotta is a signature dish at Anise.
Kathy Tran
We also found ourselves enthralled with the whipped ricotta ($10). Just as the name implies, the base of creamy and slightly sweet ricotta is delicate and light, accented with bits of grilled pears, pistachios and a dash of mint. A side of warm and fluffy pitas would be stellar on their own but are the perfect instrument for dipping into the cool ricotta.

On a second visit, we ordered another round of ricotta but paired it with an order of Anise’s falafel ($10). Perfectly shaped orbs of ground chickpeas and spices are flattened ever so slightly and fried to a deep brown color. A trio of them are nestled into a wide stoneware bowl on a dollop of tzatziki, topped with a drizzle of chili oil and a tiny rosemary sprig. Each bite starts with an audible crunch that unveils the warm and soft center, while the subtle chili heat is balanced by the cooling tzatziki.

Nothing speaks more of the Mediterranean style of dining than an assortment of dishes designed for sharing with friends, and Anise sparkles with its offerings. There’s a bright and light fattoush salad ($13) adorned with juicy roasted tomatoes and slivers of cucumber among gem lettuce and an olive oil vinaigrette, with crisped shards of pita bread offering a crunchy counterpoint.
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Delicately fried octopus over gigante beans.
Kathy Tran
A chickpea salad ($13) strikes a different flavor profile, with the lightly fried whole chickpeas serving as the base for sweet roasted peppers, tangy feta and bright mint. Perhaps our favorite of the small dishes was the crispy octopus ($24), each salty tentacle delicately fried without ruining the tenderness underneath. Gigante beans are the perfect foil to the brine, and a creamy paprika sauce at the bottom of the dish added another layer of flavor.

A quartet of full-sized entrees rounds out Anise’s menu, and if you’re like us and already made plenty of hay with the appetizers and small plates, splitting an entrée between two diners is the way to go. On our first visit, we picked a delicate olive oil-poached salmon ($27). The salmon comes artfully presented in a shallow bath of beurre blanc and wilted spinach, topped with a gossamer rye tuile. Our salmon couldn’t have been more perfectly poached, each bite nearly melting in our mouths.

We were equally wowed by the lamb pressé we tried on our second visit. That dish is also a visual stunner, with a brick of braised lamb nestled against a pile of field peas, topped with Moroccan spiced carrots and charred okra. The dish comes with smoky and sweet muhammara dip that you’ll instinctively find yourself combing with bites of the tender and robust lamb that falls off with a gentle nudge from the fork.

As we wrapped up our second meal and our waitress asked how everything tasted, we told her to pass along our compliments to Chef De Leon for an enjoyable meal. And that's when she dropped a bombshell: Chef De Leon had left Anise over the holidays, citing a desire to spend more time with his family.

In the restaurant and service industry, employee turnover is a cost of doing business. Nevertheless, it's surprising for a restaurant to lose two executive chefs inside of 18 months, much less one that's received such acclaim as Anise. (While working on this story, we included Anise as one of our Top 100 Restaurants for 2023.)

Anise operates as one of 12 restaurants in The Village under the same umbrella, overseen by chef Junior Borges as culinary director. Borges just earned a James Beard nomination for his work as the executive chef of his Brazilian restaurant Meridian, another member of our Top 100 restaurants. We reached out to Borges and the team at Anise for some clarity on Anise's future.

In a statement to the Observer, Borges said that chef Tony Ibarra had been selected as Anise’s new executive chef. According to this statement, Ibarra has been a part of the Anise team since its inception, and his resume includes Dallas stops at Petra and the Beast, FT33, CBD Provisions, Small Brewpub, Proof & Pantry and Nana. For the time being, no major changes are expected.

Even in the relaxing and charming atmosphere of Anise, where the menu and dining room offer the best glimpse of Mediterranean dining this side of the Côte d'Azur, the stress that comes with developing that calming vibe can't be overstated. We wish the best to chef De Leon, and have high hopes for Anise remaining one of our favorite getaways in the city.

Anise, 5630 Village Glen Drive (The Village). Tuesday – Thursday, 3 –10 p.m.; Friday, 3–11 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. and 5 –11 p.m.;  Sunday, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. and 5 –10 p.m. Closed Monday.
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