Saturday, November 28, 2009

ABSINTHE ~ Magic in the Pan & The Little Green Man!

Absinthe is a lovely little Brasserie on the corner of Hayes and Gough in San Francisco. It's within walking distance of the theater where Wicked is currently playing, so it was once again our choice for a pre-show dinner. It often has been so, ever since my eldest child was performing at the Marine's Memorial one holiday season. Absinthe was recommended by a good friend who knows food, we went, we fell in love, the rest is history.

The bar is always crowded at happy hour and there is absolutely nowhere to sit if you are waiting for a table; but we were seated at our table promptly, so it wasn't a problem. We arrived right at five-thirty for what we hoped would be a leisurely meal before our show, and wasted no time ordering from the specialty cocktail menu. On this trip we tried the Fool's Gold, which was a new twist on tequila. This particular drink is a lovely concoction of Benesin organic mezcal, Verveine du Velay Jaune (a delicious herbal liqueur), and a dash of orgeat and lemon juice. It was refreshing and tasted a bit like citrus-kissed sunlight. One of us had the Citron Lemonade, a nice combination of Hangar One vodka, ginger syrup, lemon juice and ginger ale with a splash of cranberry juice. It was delicious as well. Lastly the BH tried the Sacred Heart, consisting of La Pinta Pomegranate-Infused Tequila, a dash of Absinthe, Limoncello and a splash of lemon juice. It tasted like a margarita, but with a dash of licorice from the absinthe. We also had an order of their Spiced Chickpeas with our drinks. They are a specialty of the house, and I highly recommend you try them when you visit.

We also tried a variety of their cheeses. I am a sucker for a cheese plate these days, and this was no exception. We requested the three-cheese option, and our selections consisted of a Smokey Blue (Oregon), an Idiazabal (Spain), and a La Tur (Italy). The blue was good, not overpowering, with a subtle earthy tones of hazelnut and caramel. The Idiazabal was paired with a fig-cake and had a lovely texture and flavor. The La Tur was rich and creamy --- a treat as sexy and earthy as a young Sophia Loren cavorting barefoot in a thin cotton dress! I do love a good La Tur!

Next came the soup and salad courses. My husband had the French Onion Soup Gratinee. Absinthe's version is among the best I have ever tasted. The cheese is carefully melted over a wonderful slab of toasted sourdough, the underside of which is just beginning to dissolve into the hot, oniony broth. The cheese slithers down the throat on tiny rivers of liquid golden onion. It is a warm and hearty delight of texture, taste and chewy cheese coming together. Splendid. My daughter had a Chestnut Mushroom Soup, with walnut oil, crispy crimini mushrooms and micro celery in the broth. It was creamy, but not overly so, and the texture of the creamy mushrooms in the broth was a clever touch. My daughter loved it. My spoonful tasted lovely, with the mushroom melting into the walnut oil to make that great combination of flavor in the mouth, with the crunch of the crimini adding a surprise of texture. Well done.

I passed on soup and instead had a salad of Frisee, a marvelous surprise comprised of fluffy frisee lettuce, baby leeks, all tossed gently with a lemon vinaigrette, some bacon and herbs and topped with a perfectly cooked duck egg and some caviar. The lettuce was coated with just the right amount of dressing and the egg broke nicely when nudged with a fork, letting the yolk drizzle into the lettuce and mingle with the caviar. It was magnificent.

For my main I tried the Sausage-&-Cornbread Stuffed Mary's Chicken, which was a delightful blend of roasted white chicken breast stuffed with a savory stuffing set off by a parsnip puree. The dish was moist, rich and tasty. Even the brussel sprouts were delicious. The BH stuck with his favorite, which is pretty much any version of scallops Jamie puts on the menu. Today it was Pan Seared Scallops, accompanied by bacon, wild mushrooms, braising greens and caramelized onions. Each scallop was perfectly seared to form a golden top, with the underside left moist and delicious. They really know how to cook a scallop at this restaurant. Really they do.

For dessert we shared a Cookie Plate and a Pumpkin Custard. The cookies were lovely and the pumpkin custard was light as air. My sister-in-law didn't think she liked pumpkin but rapidly became a convert. We were all stuffed at the end of dinner, having taken the meal a little too slow and had to dash to make our show. Another perfect visit to this wonderful establishment.

Absinthe's Executive Chef is Jamie Lauren of Top Chef "fame" but we have been coming here long before the show. This young woman can really turn out a magnificent menu. I've never made a trip here and come away disappointed by the food. It's been pretty much one successful dining experience after another. Check it out for yourself. Bon Appetit!

Absinthe Brasserie and Bar
398 Hayes Street at Gough
San Francisco, CA 94102

Table size: adequate
Noise Level: fine away from the bar. Dining near the bar, is very very loud.
Price: Expensive
Dining Time: They got us out in time for the show, but we did lose track of time and it was close.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

B - A Second Letter Can "Be" First Rate!

Last week the BH and I found ourselves on our usual "lunch block" - an intersection that offers a choice of many of our favorite haunts, where we can simply let the mood strike us as we walk and just pick one. Today we picked B. B was one of the earliest additions to this revitalized part of Old Oakland and in its original form it proffered soups, salads, sandwiches and roast chicken. The menu was reliable but not terribly inspiring.

We hadn't been in maybe ten months, and I have to say that on this return visit I was delightfully surprised to see the revamped menu. There were all sorts of new additions --- cheese plates, mixology, and wonders, oh my!

Drinks. Two, please. My husband's drink, the Paloma, of course, was a refreshing combination of Tequila and fresh grapefruit juice. The cocktail was well-blended and he loved it. Mine was called a "Love On" and it was this lovely combo of Skye vodka, pineapple juice and a fluffy cloud of Raspberry puree floating on top, with a lovely cherry-red heart staring up at you. It was sweet, almost a little too much, but overall I enjoyed it. And it was so so pretty!
We began with a Cheese Plate, choosing the Marin Triple Cream and the Manchego. We also had one of the charcuterie selections, a Sopressata from Fra Mani of Berkeley. I thought the portions were sufficiently generous, not as big as Franklin Square used to provide, but not the table scraps served up at some places. We both enjoyed the selections, finding them all mouth-watering good.

For lunch I ordered the Pear Salad with Chicken. As you can see from the picture, the slices of chicken were generous, basically a whole chicken breast sliced over fresh greens. The greens , pear and walnut of the salad itself was lightly dressed with a really tasty champagne vinaigrette and overall the dish was perfection. Just what I was looking for. The chicken meat was moist, but not underdone, and had a lovely savory taste to it that may have been from their wood ovens.

My better half had the Mussels with House Made Sausage, White Wine Sauce and Crostini. They looked delicious and he seemed to enjoy them. I tasted a bit of the sauce on some bread and it was balanced and seasoned well. Success!

We needed to get back to work, so we passed on dessert. Overall, we were thrilled to discover what felt like an entirely new restaurant. Attention to detail, variety of offerings, all of it up to date and well-executed.

Check it out and Bon Appetit!

B Restaurant
499 9th Street
Oakland, CA 94607

Table size: adequate
Dining time: Lunch hour do-able
Noise level: moderate to a bit loud, but didn't bother us. Sound levels never got "echoey" or unnerving.
Cost: moderately pricy