Marinated Calamari Salad; Roasted New Zealand Rack of Lamb; Cookie and Confectionery Plate
Occupation: Actor, Business Analyst
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Absinthe
Reviewed Absinthe Brasserie & Bar: Thursday, June 29, 2006
The interior of Absinthe is designed to evoke the French Belle Époque and provides a very comfortable atmosphere with a nice balance of casual and slightly plush. And just for fun, showing in the wall murals, (what appear to be) antique art posters and occasional displays, is more than a hint of the historical culture surrounding absinthe. It offers American-influenced Southern France brasserie cuisine on a menu combining French classics with California creativity. It’s always my impression that the preparation is done with a superior understanding of which herbs, spices, and treatment best complement the food itself.
We began the evening with a relatively small amount of excellent Camembert with small toast points and a few toasted walnuts as a taste complement — perfect to take the edge off the appetite without ruining it. There is always a basket with a selection of excellent breads and sweet (unsalted) butter for those who want more at the beginning of the meal. The shark I chose on this visit was simply prepared to reveal the flavor of the fish. In the seven years I’ve patronized the restaurant, I’ve never had a bad dish.
They offer a full bar and an expansive wine list from vintners world wide, prices ranging from modest to very expensive. This time we asked our server about some of the wines and, when she no longer felt qualified to answer, she asked the wine expert on the premises to come the table. We chose a modestly priced Pinot Noir (a favorite red) and thoroughly enjoyed it with our meal and afterward during an extended table conversation. We shared a primarily chocolate desert at the end of the meal, something I enjoy doing, and it was the perfect finish. Their deserts are never excessive, carefully combining flavors and giving you just enough to delight the taste buds and fulfill.
Absinthe employs what appears to be a three-tier system of service in the dining room. The waitperson makes certain you are welcomed, understand what’s available and that your order is promptly delivered to the kitchen, maintaining continuity at the table. The “bus” staff tend the table and make certain you have all the support required for a complete meal, then a specially engaged staff bring the food to the table the minute it’s ready in the kitchen and always seem to know where each dish goes without asking, gracious and very efficient. It’s the very best of service, beautifully presented, and you seldom wait or want for anything. I do, from time to time, drop into the restaurant bar last minute with a friend to enjoy their cafe menu. With fewer offerings until a later hour, often more simply presented, the quality prevails, you seldom need a reservation and it’s a great place to chat.
The combination of quality food, warm atmosphere, and attentive service make this a place of substance, to which I return again and again. Its continued popularity and central location in the Performing Arts district means that, if you’re planning on eating before or after performances, reservations are as highly recommended as the venue itself.
Occupation: Operations Consultant
Location: Corte Madera
Favorite Restaurant: Hing Lung
Reviewed Absinthe Brasserie & Bar: Thursday, July 20, 2006
Our evening got off to a great start when we got a parking place right in front of the restaurant. We were promptly seated and I was really impressed with the understated, polished elegance of the rooms. We were seated in the front room where the bar is, and in spite of some initial misgivings about the noise level, we were soon nicely distracted by the menus.
The bar menu alone took many happy minutes to peruse — so many things we had never heard of. With a wide range of wines and liquors, THIS would have to qualify as one of the great places in San Francisco to have a drink. I tried something called L’Opera, and my dining companion had a Bloody Mary, both were excellent. Absinthe uses nice glassware and their drink portions are generous, the flavors are smooth and the presentation amazing. We were very happy. As we dug into the walnut bread presented, our appetizers appeared. It was the freshest arugula salad ever, it was like the leaves had been picked minutes before their presentation in a subtle dressing that allowed the freshly-roasted pine nuts and the bits of accompanying grapefruit and watermelon to surprise and delight — perfectly balanced, light and delicious. I went into orbit over the calamari — the texture was al dente, the marinade a cool and sublime mix of a really good olive oil, sweet red peppers, onions, and exquisite flavorings I couldn’t identify. I LOVED this dish, and that the portion was generous was much appreciated as well.
We were amused to note that both a mixed seafood grill and a rib-eye were featured on Absinthe’s menu as well. Both were priced about $6 more than Saylor’s Landing, but we decided to see what the differences might be. The rib-eye came with grilled eggplant and stewed tomatoes with a pesto sauce as accompaniment. As our waiter placed my plate before me, I asked what the small bowl of green stuff he was placing on the side of the plate was. He explained that it was more of the pesto that was on the steak. Great anticipation on the chef’s part, the pesto was delicious and you wanted a bit of it with every bite. The veggies were perfect, the steak was cooked perfectly rare, as I had ordered it, and as happy as I was, the mixed seafood grill was getting even better reviews from my dining companion. Her plate was beautiful, two of the most delicious scallops imaginable, several succulent prawns, little neck clams, mussels, perfectly cooked Yukon golds, tender green beans, slices of radish, and sweet red peppers, all accompanied by a perfect aioli.
One enormous piece of chocolate cake — fresh, with several kinds of chocolate and cherries involved, and crème fraîche as part of the presentation — along with two great cups of coffee, and we were very happy to part with our $150. We were even happier to have made the acquaintance of another GREAT San Francisco Bay Area restaurant that we would be happy to recommend or return to any time.
Occupation: Recruiter in Restaurant Industry
Favorite Restaurant: Saylor’s Landing
Reviewed Absinthe Brasserie & Bar: Sunday, July 11, 2006
I really enjoyed the dining experience at Absinthe. The hostess, who took the reservation, was really sweet and suggested we reserve a table just to be on the safe side. We went on a Sunday night and that was a great choice if you’re looking for a nice quiet dinner and a lot of attention from the staff. Parking was easy, metered spaces on Gough, which are free on Sunday. The lighting and decor was so comfortable with velvet booths and the feeling of really relaxing and enjoying the atmosphere. The music from the lounge was just the right volume, and we didn’t have to yell to have a conversation. Our waiter, Aaron, was really adorable. He was honest and seemed to love working there. Since this restaurant caters primarily to the performing arts crowd, it was a treat to practically have the place to ourselves.
We ordered all of our food, and Aaron made sure to time everything just right. The cheese course was delicious, and the French onion soup was served in the traditional way, baked with just the right amount of cheese. The temperatures of the main courses came out just right: medium-rare lamb and seared, rare tuna. The sauces were the best part, I thought — no heavy creams, mainly light purées that didn’t overpower the flavors of the meat or fish. The side dishes were also outstanding. Be sure to try their sweet corn gratin. By the time the dessert menu was presented, we were really too full to indulge, but managed to squeeze in a few cookies from the cookie and confectionary plate. I would definitely go back to Absinthe and most likely order the same exact thing and request Aaron as our server…