THIS IS LEFT FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSE ONLY.
ABSINTHE CLOSED EARLY MAY, 2012, AFTER 3 YEARS IN BUSINESS.
CUSTOMERS LEFT TO ENJOY BARS SUCH AS BLUE MARTINI, AND LOCAL RESTAURANTS SUCH AS NEARBY AGAVE.
YELP.COM IS STILL SELLING 50% DISCOUNT COUPONS FOR ABSINTHE, OVER A WEEK AFTER THE CLOSING. 5/20/12
Absinthe's attractive advertising draws curious tourists to check out its trendy, pleasantly minimalist décor. It would fit well in a Manhattan or Milan setting, and fits nicely in Naples, too. It’s off the beaten path in a barely occupied complex of shops, eager for other tenants to fill it's empty buildings. The restaurant can't be seen from Vanderbilt, unlike the Keg Restaurant and even Pei Wei, so walk-ins are nonexistent. With a capacity of 190, Absinthe had only 24 diners at 7:45 pm on a Saturday night. Not good. Other “out of the way” venues, like IM Tapas or Escargot 41, are full, well known to locals, and these spots are turning away "walk-ins" at this hour. I like Absinthe's cool design and décor.The single large room is wide open, with white walls, white tablecloths, and the white scheme is broken up by pale lime green chairs at the bar, pale wood chairs and the black ceiling. The long white back wall has a subtle embossed tree branch pattern. The central bar is long, open, and has the liquor bottles attractively backlit. There’s outdoor seating available-better during the cool season. As it transforms into a popular lounge after 10 pm, I recommend it for dancing and drinks. This was my second visit for dinner; at my prior visit I only had so-so appetizers, and figured I'd give them a second try.
We were mildly distracted at first, then more distracted in time, as others were, by the huge, ~12 x 10 foot projection TV screen on the far back wall, showing a 1960’s movie of a cat burglar’s Mediterranean escapades, and distracting car chases. On the side wall, between windows, a smaller flat screen TV showed a James Bond 60’s thriller, with grimacing scuba divers spearing, knifing, and killing each other by the dozens. One can go to a sports bar for a movie or TV fix; the 12 x 10 foot movie and the TV were too distracting for a nice dinner. You want to watch movies with your dinner? You can go to Blockbuster for movies to pair with beef, fish or dessert, and at least have the choice to turn them off when you tire of them.
The woman at the table next to us had the Watermelon & Feta Salad appetizer ($13), a rectangle of watermelon with mint, red onion, and a balsamic topping. Her companion had the soup of the day (8), both seemed pleased, but not overwhelmed with their choices.
James, our waiter, was superb, animated, knowledgeable about all the offerings, and very helpful in offering suggestions. His knowledge, and the lamb, were the high points of our evening. The well designed menu is compact, with a selection of starters and salads, five pasta dishes ($19-21), three fish offerings (24-26), one scallop (25), a roasted half chicken (22), half roasted duck (23), veal chops (27), braised short ribs (24), and a grilled hangar steak (24). Delicious fresh baked bread slices and butter were brought to each table.
The potato Encrusted Halibut, with a White Bean and Tomato-Vegetable Broth (26) arrived hot and picture pretty-three little filets of fish, topped with thin, mandoline- sliced spiced potato discs (below). Problem was, the halibut was overcooked, a too firm, dry white throughout. The salty, crisp potato slices on top were fine by themselves, but way too strong a contrast for the delicate halibut, even if it were properly cooked. The white bean and broth combo base was also a little too strong for the delicate fish. My unhappy companion noted that for a few dollars more than the Watermelon Salad, she could have had a great pistachio crusted rainbow trout at Bonefish Grill. Oh well. Some chefs still cook fish well done, “till it flakes easily". Well done steaks were popular too, back in the sixties, along with the Jame Bond movies. The next table's fish was similarly cooked through as well. Our halibut was well paired with a glass of the $7 Muscadet, that was not as sweet as some other Muscadets. Thanks to James for a great suggestion.
The Herb & Goat Cheese Encrusted Rack of Lamb (28) was a fine counterpoint to the dismaying halibut platter. Properly cooked medium rare as asked, with a wonderfully seasoned crust and heavenly rich brown sauce; its warm goat cheese topping was understated enough to let the taste of four boned chops shine brightly. The accompanying mashed potatoes were ok. The portion was good sized, enough to leave room for dessert. I paired the lamb with the $8 Malbec, and was very happy.
My partner was still hungry after picking at the halibut, so we shared the "Pistachio and White Chocolate Terrine" (7) (below). Constructed by Pastry Chef Heidi Vaarbjerg, and molded in thirds as a free standing tower, it certainly is NOT a terrine. (A terrine is a French finely ground meat and stuffing, cooked and served in the casserole-like earthenware terrine dish. There are seafood terrines, too.) Shame, that improperly educated chefs "parrot" fancy-sounding French cooking terms, clueless about their meaning, and thus misinform diners as to what to expect. Diners are disappointed when not getting what's advertised. This “terrine” is really a “mousse”. It's not baked in a "terrine" either. Please call it like it is, learn the French terms, start using them properly, and stop misleading your patrons. Otherwise, you just lose points, credibility and respect.
This non-“terrine” dessert has a green pistachio mousse top, a white chocolate mousse middle, and a firm, cake-like pistachio base. On either side, are placed bits of crunchy pistachios, in a green sauce. This misnamed dish was technically nicely prepared, and properly priced. There’s also a “crema catalana” listed-don’t be surprised with this chef if it’s a flan, or more likely a Crème brûlée-they are close, but not the same. (The Catalan custard base has a mix of milk and heavy cream, vs. a Crème brûlée's heavy cream, and the Catalan is thus a lighter dessert.)
Chef Sean Cooper, one of the original chefs at the owner’s prior Naples restaurant, Nektar, years ago, could have a had an off night with the fish. That happens. We heard the next day from other recent diners that the food was just not the quality they expected. One food lover said “This is trendy, the food is decent, just nothing to write home about, so why come back?”
One can hope that the food quality will increase, and be uniform. I like the creative, stylish setting. For ~$100 for two, including tip, we were hoping to get more than the hodge-podge and inconsistency of overcooked fish, great lamb, and grimacing frogmen dying on the widescreen TV, while dining.
Absinthe- 2355, #200, Vanderbilt Beach Rd, Naples 239-254-0050