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.
Dining Time: They got us out in time for the show, but we did lose track of time and it was close.