Our dinner at Absinthe on the weekend wasn’t our first encounter with the restaurant. My better half and I have been following the exploits of its chef/owner Patrick Garland since we moved into the Wellington Village five years ago. Then, Absinthe was located on Holland Avenue (65A), adjacent to what looks like a family-owned garage. Today, a restaurant named Canvas is in Absinthe’s former location, and Absinthe is now situated on Wellington Street (1208). There, it seats three times as many patrons in its much larger dining room.
During the summer of 2007, we followed the construction of the new Absinthe with anticipation.
It opened anew August 2007.
The former Absinthe was a small location with few tables and a cozy French bistro-like atmosphere. In its original incarnation, lightly stained wood tables, leather padded chairs, and warm colours were predominant. On Wellington, the restaurant has a cavernous feel, dark and mysterious. While the floors are still hard wood, the restaurant seems to have taken on the culture surrounding the green tinged liqueur for which it is named. The back of the restaurant sports a murky green wall with the name of the restaurant written on it in gold. The furniture is all well worn, almost black, and the lighting is dim. It feels as it should were one to go to an establishment that serves an illicit liqueur.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, absinthe was favored by artists and writers because the anise flavoured liqueur was distilled from worm wood, making it hallucinogenic and addictive. Recently, the century-old ban on the liqueur that reputedly drove “good men mad” has been relaxed in several countries. The metal implement decorating the Absinthe’s restaurant signage is an ornate absinthe spoon. Because the herb infused liqueur is bitter, it is traditionally served diluted with water and trickled over a sugar cube suspended over a glass with a slotted spoon. The process turns Absinthe milky white. It is seldom consumed green.
The September (20) following Absinthe’s grand re-opening, Jenn made reservations to celebrate my 30th birthday. We both ordered the signature steak frites. However, I found the setting to be somewhat disconcerting given that Chef Garland’s menu had not changed, serving up the same bistro fare. Bistro food in a dark venue felt somewhat “cold.” Besides, we were directed to a table next to the large glass double doors. While we ate, a cool evening breeze, characteristic of Autumn in Ottawa, wafted into the restaurant, forcing us to reach for our coats. To our waitress’ surprise, we finished our meals with our jackets on. An early November restaurant review by Ottawa Citizen’s Anne Desbrisay likewise mentioned the same shortcoming. Still, we enjoyed our meals. Our cheque came with a business card and an advertisement for a lounge night.
A year later, I’m not sure lounge night events are still being held. The newly re-opened Absinthe, however, has participated in many community events.
This past summer (June 7, 2008), Absinthe was one of the restaurants along what I like to call the “Wellington Street Epicurean Row” that doled out free edibles during the “Taste of Wellington West” event. Absinthe’s contribution: mini-burgers.
Absinthe’s mini-burgers were made with ground bison. Unfortunately, the eggy bun did not go well with the gamey pattie. When Jenn and I took the burger apart, we realized that the bun was actually a halved cream puff that came from a classic French pÃƒÂ¢te ÃƒÂ choux.
Absinthe also participated in this past fall’s “Celebrity Hors d’Oeuvres” event (October 28, 2008), winning a second “Silver Spoon Award.” The first came from the notorious 2005 competition, where the restaurant Kinki served sushi off of scantily clad women. This year, the competition was again fierce. Still, Chef Garland’s appetizers earned more tickets than his contemporaries: Allium, A’roma Meze, Canvas, Dish Catering, Epicuria, Juniper, Le Café (NAC), Murray Street, Pelican Fishery & Grill, Sala San Marco, Savanna Café, Thyme & Again, Urban Element, Whalesbone, or Kinki and Mambo. True to form, Kinki and Mambo presented their appetizers with a woman in a bikini draped across the table. Proceeds from the competition benefited the Great Canadian Theater Company (GCTC).
Congratulations to Chef Garland.
This just in:
Apparently, Chef Garland likes to shop in Ottawa’s little Chinatown, frequenting the likes of Kowloon Market (712 Somerset), Little Latin America (764 Somerset), Manphat Grocery Store (800 Somerset), Manphong Supermarket (775 Somerset) and 168 Market (1050 Somerset). This, from yesterday’s Ottawa Citizen where he also extolled the frugality of shopping at ethnic markets, particularly Asian ones.
I’m shopping in Chinatown all the time. It’s a really great open-air experience…At Kowloon Market, for example, the seafood is right in front of you in ice-covered buckets. The selection of spices and condiments is astounding
To Chef Garland, I have to ask, while the seafood maybe splayed out in front of you, have you also noticed that shoppers rest their baskets in the seafood when they order from the butcher or fish monger?
Furthermore, for pigs’ feet, I recommend visiting he College Square Loblaws or Uni Mart (corner of Montreal Road and Selkirk). Like Loblaws, Uni Mart’s pigs’ feet may be a bit more expensive, but it packages them on trays and wraps them in cling film. I prefer my cuts of meat to be handled as little as possible before I get to them.
1208 Wellington St.