Restaurant Review: Absinthe

Happy [belated] anniversary to Hook and me! On Wednesday, we celebrated our one-year anniversary with dinner at Absinthe, where Adam Keough started as Executive Chef just a few days earlier (the 17th, if you must know). I’d never been to Absinthe but had heard plenty of raves; the good press + the menu changeover convinced Hook that this would be the ideal place for a romantic dinner.

We began the evening with cocktails. After some hemming and hawing, I chose the Casino, a blend of gin, lemon, maraschino, and orange bitters with a brandied cherry:

The Casino, replicated from a 1938 recipe.

Hook ordered a Galapagos, a combination of Pisco, kaffir lime, lemon-lime, pepper, grapefruit, and three brandied cherries. It was similar to a peppered Pisco Sour; it was delicious. Later, I ordered a Perfect Pear, composed of vodka, pear brandy, lemon and orange, served in a sugar-rimmed glass. Major kudos for the use of extremely fine-textured sugar (none of this clunky, chunky granulated schtuff) and for the subtlety of flavors.

Hongry as we were, we started with bread:

Bread & butter: the proper way to begin a meal.

And also with a dish of olives, marinated in oil, Herbs de Provence, and Meyer Lemon juice. Oily, but good:

Olives marinated in oil, Herbs de Provence, and Meyer Lemon juice.

When dining out, I tend to order things that I don’t make for myself. Generally, this translates to red meat. For my main course, I ordered the Grilled Skirt Steak Frites, served with red wine butter and a mixed green salad. The steak was cooked well, not a hair over medium (as requested) and rubbed with rosemary. Still, I found a few largeish bits of fat that I excised. Salad was pretty basic. Really, the Frites were the shining star of this plate. Wisp-thin, crispy, and moutherwateringly salty, they were like the offspring of Pringles and the fries found at Steak & Shake. I could have eaten the whole golden tangle of them, but I wanted to save room for dessert.

No extra points for plating here, but the fries were damn tasty.

Hook got the pinot-braised short rib with potatoes and mirepoix. For research’s sake, I tried a few bites of his meal and was suitably impressed. The ribs were tender and succulent; the pearl onions sweet, with just enough bite; and the potatoes fork-tender (nary a mushy patch!) and gently browned on the cut surfaces. Beautiful.

I wish I could have expressed the same enthusiasm for our dessert, a scoop of Jasmine rice pudding served atop a chocolate-hazelnut wafer, garnished with Thai tea ganache, a few violet petals, and fanned slices of coriander compressed nectarine. Conceptually, the dish seemed like a winner, but in actuality, it lacked the cohesiveness that would have elevated it to a level of awesomeness. The pudding was good, though the rice was bitier than I’d expected. The wafer provided excellent textural contrast to the pudding, but it was so salty that I almost didn’t want to eat it — prohibitively salty, practically. And the nectarines, though pretty, were very very tart and seemed unripe. It seemed, perhaps, that the introduction of ingredients not traditionally paired with rice pudding were intended to exoticize, defamiliarize the dessert in an appealing way, but I’d take a perfectly prepared, perfectly simple serving of rice pudding over a reinvented version any day. (Note: my photo of the pudding was so blurry that it’s not worth posting here.)

Hook and I will likely be back to Absinthe: the atmosphere is pleasant, the waitstaff attentive, and the bar really well-stocked. Foodwise, Hook’s selection was a lot stronger than mine, though Hook and I agreed that we’d sooner go to Catch or NOPA. Overall rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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