I can still remember my very first stinky bun. No, this is not some sort of sick joke. Stinky Bunz are all too real and for that, I am so thankful. This unforgettable food memory was created last April, when I was ravenous as ever and dreadfully hot from Florida’s springtime sun. Prancing around a Tampa Bay Food Truck Rally set in the cobblestone streets of historic Ybor City, I couldn’t for the life of me, choose my midday chow. Standard Leslie style, I desperately walked from truck to truck reading off each sandwich, taco, and burger description. My stomach was growling, my brow was filled with sweat and my beau was losing it with my inability to make a simple lunchtime decision. With mere seconds left before I threw a self-induced hissy fit, I spotted it. Stinky Bunz food truck…there it stood, parked and waiting for a visit that would forever change a little lady’s life. Lover of nearly all ethnic fare, I had no worries. For these Korean sandwich-like bundles of goodies would pleasure my palate-I was certain.
Sinking my teeth into the spongy, soft and slightly sweet mini taco-shaped wrap filled with Korean BBQ pork, homemade kimchi, and Sriracha aioli, I was in pure and utter spicy cuisine bliss. Having never tasted something so unique, so complex and so addicting in flavor, I almost couldn’t contain my excitement. It was then that I foresaw many stinky bunz in my future. With an ungodly number of stinky bunz consumed in a year’s time, it was to my absolute ecstatic surprise when I heard word the Stinky Bunz owners would be opening up a real-life restaurant in downtown Tampa. Filling a vacant but stellar spot on Ashley Drive below the cloud-high “Skypoint” condos and across from the always happening Curtis Hixon Park, the brand new, Anise Global Gastrobar would surely entice “Nine to Fivers,” Curtis Hixon concert goers, downtown residents and forever Stinky Bunz fans alike.
After impatiently waiting a month to visit Anise, I couldn’t take the mystery any longer. When I took one step into the dark and sexy restaurant and lounge, I was in design and décor awe. Ornate black chandeliers hang beautifully over dramatic high-backed lounge-like booths. Shades of black and tan with Asian inspired prints and photographs add authentic character and charm. Ceiling to floor windows create big city swank. Candles and white mums at every table are just a few of the final details that give Anise an ambiance of romance and exclusiveness no guest could possibly dismiss.
It was half past seven on a Friday night and we were immediately seated at the last empty table in sight. Our server, Erica, greeted us with a sincere smile and insisted I made one excellent choice with my quick cocktail selection. Though we found ourselves getting slightly anxious with our dry delay, my Rye Raspberry Fizz was so worth the semi lengthy wait. Ole Rye came shaken with fresh raspberries and citrus with a serious pour of soda to magically mix the varying ingredients. A tangy zing on my tongue was followed by a slight burn in my throat…libation perfection, indeed. Chris ordered his usual Old Fashioned and was very pleased with Anise’s mixology and generosity with that grand Kentucky Bourbon pour.
On a dinner devouring mission, we scanned the menu, looking for the five most drool-worthy creations. Ordering two dishes to start with, knowing we’d order the rest soon thereafter, we began to wait. Once we waited a solid twenty minutes with no plate presented, we decided to order the rest of our chosen items in hopes we’d get some belly fillers fast. It was easy to see that the place was packed and the servers were high-tailing it to and from the kitchen. Had we waited this long for our first course at an established eatery, I would have been much less forgiving. However, I chose to visit a brand-spanking new establishment at 7:30 on a Friday night. How annoyed could I be? Just when I thought my stomach was going to begin feasting on itself, our Truffled Tater Tots were served. Fried golden and dished up in a mini wire deep fryer, the tots were paired with a Lemon parsley crème fraiche. I smelled the truffle aroma the second the tots hit the table. Then, I popped one of the fried bites onto my tongue. A little disappointed with the very faint tint of truffle oil, I took pleasure in dipping the tots into the cool and refreshing crème fraiche, lots and lots of that glorious crème fraiche.
It was no doubt that we’d have to order some stinky bunz; I mean, it would be breaking an unspoken rule had we not! Chris’ eyes lit up with joy when the bunz of yum finally arrived. Anise offers several stinky varieties to please every Bunz loving soul but we opted for the Red Curried Crispy Chicken and Chinese BBQ Pork bunz. Two superb choices if I do say so myself. Yes, I toot my own horn with menu “wins.” With bold flavors from the Chinese five spice and pungent tastes from the pickled radish, the Chinese BBQ pork bun was not the least bit “stinky.” The Red curried chicken bun was also delightful with a perfectly crispy and zesty-sauced batter encasing the supremely moist chicken. If you take away one thing from this review, please, go get yourself a stinky bun. Your world will be a far better place; I guarantee it.
Out next was our last minute noodle pick. Per our server’s recommendation, we chose the Jap Chae- a bowl filled with Gluten Free noodles (score!), sautéed vegetables, scallions and sesame soy sauce. To the bowl, we selected Roast chicken breast as our protein add-on. As you know, now more than ever after my last blog post, I am a certified noodle buff. I’m afraid to say these noodles didn’t quite steal the show for me. The sauce I found relatively bland and the veggies sparsely thrown in the mix. I think it would have been far better concocted with some more inventiveness in ingredients. Definitely not a deal breaker, the bowl was still wiped clean in no time.
Halleluiah. Our Duck Confit Tacos were now upon our salivating mouths. With one look at one another, we each speedily grabbed a taco (2 per plate). The duck, so incredibly moist, was dripping with luscious juices. Mouth-watering rich, it was making friends fast with the pickled watermelon radish, slaw and Hoisin BBQ sauce. Fresh and crunchy, the cool toppings contrasted with the succulent meat just flawlessly. Topped with a few fresh jalapenos, I was in culinary la-la land to the very last delectable bite. I will be ordering these with every Anise visit, no questions asked.
Alas, our final number of the indulgent evening. I must declare (probably for the 100thtime, mind you) that I am a wing aficionado. I love ‘em buffalo, jerk, BBQ, teriyaki, you name it. I’ll take ‘em sopping wet or baked dry, naked or battered, the wing or the drum. I love them all. So when I read “Curried Coconut Wings” on Anise’s menu, I was quickly dreaming about what eating these beauties might be like. Let me tell you- eating these wings was like your first time with laughing gas at the dentist. It was like your first ever buzz from just two beers. Yes, this wing experience was all the above and much, much more. Plated un-cut, (meaning the wing and drum are still attached) and colossal in almost an intimidating kind of way, I’d give them a 10 for size (and meatiness). Coated with the crispiest crust I’ve ever seen on a wing, I would give them a 10 for crunch. Dressed in a sweet yet savory, spicy yet creamy, robust red curry sauce, I’d give them a 10 for flavor. Yep, these wings were a perfect 10 all around. Oh, and dipped in a cucumber mint yogurt, they brought Indian and Thai cuisine together in only the most phenomenal kind of fusion possible. Bravo Anise; you created a Curry Wing believer out of me…
I have to say, though our wait for our first course and our last two courses was particularly pro-longed, the service was stellar from beginning to end. Our server not only apologized profusely for the delays, she also offered us drinks on the house at the end of our meal. Whether the gesture was her idea or the owner’s, I was pleasantly surprised. I think it speaks volumes when a restaurant can own up to their shortcomings and strive to keep the customer pleased and with intentions to return sooner than later. Only one month into its initial opening, I was overall very content with the Anise experience. With absolutely scrumptious menu offerings and a determined/friendly staff, I am praying this restaurant survives the test of time. I am already giddy thinking about my next encounter with those duck tacos and humongous curry wings.