Saturday evening my better half and I headed down to the Absinthe Cafe for dinner. I was sporting another freshly cut Rob Meyers (master hair stylist) “original” from Celebrity Hair Design and I wanted to show it off. She earned an evening’s fine dining after having put up with a week of my coming home late, exhausted, and somewhat surly. I recently accepted a transfer to another department and have been asked to stabilize a half dozen projects before I depart. As such, I spent a very long week documenting work and formalizing my corporate knowledge. To make matters worse, upper management has started showing its unhappiness with my choosing to leave.
Dinner at Absinthe provided both relief and escape.
With our menus came an amuse bouche, chilled shrimp in a mango salsa, served on house-made sesame crackers.
The meal started off great. The salsa provided sweetness and brightness. The shrimp provided savoriness. Both had soft textures, compared to the crunchy sesame crackers.
Jenn opted for an à la carte steak frites. I opted the 3 course table d’hôte, choosing the charcuterie duo appetizer, the mushroom velouté, and the Mariposa Duck Breast entree. Each were paired with a different glasses of wine, but I chose to stick with my glass of cranberry juice and water.
Before any course was served, the waitress brought us some herb focaccia.
The bread was rustic and irregularly cut, sporting a dense interior and crusty exterior. It was warm and quickly melted applied butter. Jenn and I originally thought it was a poppy seed sourdough as the bread had the characteristic sour flavour and unidentifiable black specks. Clearly, whomever baked the focaccia took time to develop the dough, ensuring great flavour. Perhaps a sourdough starter was used.
Next came the charcuterie duo, a very large plate consisting of a duck terrine, duck parfait (liver mousse with port gelée) and onion rosemary bread crackers.
I was hoping for a rabbit terrine as was advertised on the door of the restaurant. Nevertheless, the appetizer was glorious. The terrine was studded with pistachios and what Jenn and I figured were quartered Turkish apricots. It had a solid texture and a mixture of flavours: savory duck force meat, earthy sweet apricots, and nutty pistachios. The duck parfait, on the other hand, had a singular dark livery flavour that was accentuated by the tanin from the jellied port. Its texture was delicate, far more refined than pâté. I smeared it liberally on the crackers. Jenn and I shared the plate. It easily served two.
Richly flavoured soup followed.
This ain’t Campbell’s! The soup was smooth and carried its mushroom flavour very well with every spoonful. It seemed garnished with a mushroom oil, adding to the overall “shroominess.”
Here is Jenn’s steak frites.
According to the menu, the fries were freshly cut and fried from Yukon Gold potatoes. The two fries I made off with were great, crisp on the outside and tender in the middle. The serving dish, on the other hand, was unconscionable. Putting freshly cooked fries into a porcelain container causes the fries to soften with condensation and pool with grease. If the fries are left to linger, they become inedible. I dubbed the green dish the “soggifier.”
The steak was a work of art. I actually found it odd the the waitress never asked for a doneness. After reviewing the menu and reading up on “hanger steak” (aka: onglet), I understood why. In North American bistros, steak frites is usually made with fillet. In Europe, the cut of choice is the “hanger steak.” Why? Firstly, there is only one hanger steak per cow. As it is cut from a cow’s single diaphragm, it literally hangs on the carcass and is attached to the last rib and spine, proximal to the kidneys. Secondly, cooking hanger steak with fast high heat methods requires finesse. Since it is not really tender, hanger steak needs to be marinated and then cooked rare or medium-rare. Anything else, and it will resemble tougher skirt steak, which is also cut from the diagram. Thirdly, hanger steak is very flavorful. Some fans believe that it takes on an offal flavor because of its proximity to the kidneys.
My better half thoroughly enjoyed her entree, deeming it superior to steak frites from Allium, which she feels is over sauced with jus. Me, I find fillet unremarkable and was slightly puzzled by the hanger steak’s slightly chewy texture.
Here is my Mariposa duck entree.
Mariposa is the name of an organic farm located in “Wendover” Ontario. There, ducks are grain-fed, watered with well water, and allowed to roam around freely. Its quality of life must have contributed to its gamey flavour and succulent texture, because I have never had duck so good. Expertly sliced pieces were served on a bed of pureed cauliflower and goat cheese, surrounded by a maple syrup/cranberry reduction. On the right, glazed carrot threads, glazed parsnip, and “garlic fried spinach.” The spinach tasted as if it were sauteed and was poor accompaniment to the delicate balance of fruit and meat on the other end of the plate. The perfect bite was a piece of duck, a dab of puree, and a gentle dip in the fruity reduction. I almost ate the plate!
Cost of dinner: $72.89, including 1 cranberry juice ($2.50), 1 sprite ($2.50), 1 Table d’hôte Duck ($41), 1 A La Carte Steak Frites ($19), and taxes. With tip, we paid approximately $42 each.
We’ll definitely be back.
1208 Wellington St.