Saturday, September 6, 2008

Absinthe Restaurant Naples Review


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


Anonymous said...

This is an outstanding blog about Naples, Florida restaurants! You have really done a nice job!

Ivan Seligman said...

Thank you!

I know what it is like to visit a new city, and try to "dig out" what's good value, and what's not.

Colorful advertising tells you little about quality, with some of the better places never having to advertise- folks fill them just by word of mouth advertising.


Anonymous said...

I've visited this restaurant several times and every time the food was wonderful. I believe this blogger has a personal problem with the owners as he has made the same unoriginal comments about Nektar. Seems to me that if you're going to blog for all to see you should keep your personal feelings out and report the truth. From what I can tell you wouldn’t know good food if it came up and bit you in the rear. Stick to Applebees.

Epicurean said...

I've visited this restaurant several times and every time the food was wonderful. I believe this blogger has a personal problem with the owners as he has made the same unoriginal comments about Nektar. Seems to me that if you're going to blog for all to see you should keep your personal feelings out and report the truth. From what I can tell you wouldn’t know good food if it came up and bit you in the rear. Stick to Applebees.

Ivan Seligman said...

Dear Anonymous, and Dear Epicurean,

What an incredible coincidence that two such different food lovers shared the same thoughts!

Both of you must confuse me with another blogger- I liked Nektar. I was there several times years ago, and Chef Cooper's food was very good-that's why I kindly suggested he might have had an off night with the fish, and raved about his lamb. Truth is truth, I call it like I see it.

If you check my blog, you'll see I've not reviewed Nektar's food yet-so maybe I need to.

I do need to try more restaurants, I've only been blogging/reviewing for friends for a year, so I'd be happy to check out your favorite spot-Applebee's!

Anonymous said...

well ivan,
you seem rather pleased with yourself to put such a negative spin on this new venue - perhaps you should continue to patronize sucky chain restaurants like bonefish grill, because you and your guest seem cranky old farts who would complain about anything - and the underpaid overworked managers will give you a free gift certificate to keep you coming back for more substandard vittles - perhaps a proper terrine? do you know that the owners are on the premises and i guarantee you that if you had told them about your many issues, and you do seem to have MANY, they would have resolved them - they are that accomodating and serious; i have experienced their professionalism firsthand - however, you come off as completely out of touch with what the owners have done for this stodgy little town; don't pretend to tell anyone that a hole in the wall like escargot41 is offering better quality ANYTHING than this beautiful ethereal spot does - i have dined at absinthe several times and met friends for drinks and small plates, and for the middle of summer, there was enough of a scene to keep us in good spirits - and by the way, do you and your lame friend get off sneaking around taking pictures and writing nasty things about people; who do you think you are? a couple of food spys? how come you don't open your own restaurant and educate us all - do you have the nerve to post this? ivan the terrible?

Anonymous said...

I find Ivan's review fair. His comments, in my my view ad up to a recommendation of your restaurant. A freind of mine, chose to hold a large celebration at your restaurant recently; there were no complaints about the quality of the food. On the same token, the service was sluggish and every person in the group (30) was made to feel less than welcome and please do not return. I'm sure this reaction was prompted by complaints of slow service.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, such a tough tirade for someone so cowardly that they hide behind anonymity - and all this fuss over a slightly negative review in which Mr. Seligman seemed to otherwise bend over backwards to point out the positive and give Absinthe the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. If you are the owner then you would be much better off sitting up and paying attention rather than hanging yourself out in public on a pole and swinging wildly at the wind - it might possibly save your business. Of course, no one enjoys facing the ugly truth and I’m sure that Mr. Seligman’s factual statement “With a capacity of 190, Absinthe had only 24 diners at 7:45 pm on a Saturday night” must have really wounded your fragile ego. Mr. Seligman has stated the facts – empty restaurant, lackluster service, and food not of the quality that one would expect. The past cannot be changed but the future is shining brightly ahead and, based on Mr. Seligman’s review, you have a lovely restaurant on which to base a lucrative business. An open person, while initially wounded, would look at the underbelly and realize that he should be appreciative of this tempered review. Mr. Seligman doesn’t strike me as a cutthroat reviewer with malice in his heart. Instead, he strikes me as a connoisseur of good food who loves to share his ‘finds’ with anyone who cares to listen. So I find it extremely interesting, to say the least, that you stated “you and your guest seem cranky old farts who would complain about anything.” Have you not read this blog? If so, you might notice that Mr. Seligman’s reviews are consistently positive and upbeat. So yes, you SHOULD be concerned!

Furthermore Anonymous, if you are not the owner or some other principal of the restaurant, why would you call his friend ‘lame’ and state that they were ‘sneaking around’ taking photos. It certainly sounds as though you were on the premises that evening. Your attitude is belligerent and obviously defensive. I will not patronize your restaurant - not because of Mr. Seligman’s review, but solely due to your personal, unprofessional, and frankly, quite nasty remarks!!!!

As for you Mr. Seligman, here's what you need to know: If your An Insatiable Appetite blog has Anonymous so concerned, then you know that your column has clout and that you are doing a terrific job! Keep up the good work!!!

Anonymous said...

well sherry jones , you seem confident enough hiding yourself behind the anonymity of the internet, so who are YOU kidding? your jumping to defense of sneaky mr seligman and your other comments would lead one to believe that you were his crotchety dining companion - so who is really 'hanging themself out in public and flapping in the wind'? my vituperative remarks are in defense of a gorgeous restaurant and owners who have been through the ringer in this xenophobic little town and happen to be very close friends of mine - i certainly will defend them and their vision for their business any time - let me ask you, madam, assuming you work, do you have clients who sneak into your business, clandestinely take pictures and complain about you and your service in a public forum and pretend to be giving you constructive criticism? i think not. you are dealing with people's livelihoods here, so if you really have an axe to grind with these boys, at least admit it -

Anonymous said...

Anonymous,you do your "good" friends a disservice with your crazy tirade.

I have been to Absinthe twice for dinner. Once I had a wonderful soup but over cooked meat both times.

Constuctive criticism should help improve restaurants.

rabey said...

I love this place.Great vibe and music,especially the crowd.Loved the green eyes cocktail and my friend had an absinthe.Beef carpaccio and the tuna tartare were nicely done and tasty.My watermelon and feta salad was so refreshing and light,and my friend's crab and manchego salad was another hit.We were full and had to split the goat's cheese crusted australian rack of lamb,that by far is one of the best i have tried,period.And we payed $28 for it and no split charge,maybe a misprint but we loved it.Ended our night at their fabulous bar with some'79 px spanish sweet wine and some crema catalana and a small cheese plate.I can hardly wait to go back.

Anonymous said...

went to absinthe this past thursday night for a huge party - some gulfshore magazine bachelors something or other - LOVED IT - very hip very pretty design very nice drinks - my favorite: cucumber martini - will definitely be back for dinner

Anonymous said...

Oh the audacity, Mr. Anonymous. A second post and still you don’t sign your real name. And yet you accuse me of hiding behind the anonymity of the internet? Goodness, I thought this WAS an internet forum. Silly me! I am as forthright as one can be without posting my photo. I do not have an axe to grind with the “boys”. Nor have I ever dined at Absinthe. I’ve not even been to Naples in several years! I am not ‘lame’ in either sense of the word and it is my personal opinion that I am not crotchety. But since you were apparently at the restaurant the night of Mr. Seligman’s visit and saw his dining companion, if she was 5’7” tall; had brown eyes; blunt-cut, shoulder-length, strawberry blonde hair; and was covered in a bazillion freckles, then by golly, you got me!

Once again you’ve hung yourself out and are swinging wildly AT the wind – fighting enemies that exist only in your own mind. While I admire your spirit of loyalty to your friends, you’ve done them a disservice on this blog – blowing completely out of proportion what might otherwise have been interpreted as a ‘mildly negative’ or even a ‘constructive’ review. Instead, you’ve brought only more negative attention to their apparently beautiful (except for the television) restaurant and have resorted to name-calling and unfounded accusations. I suppose everyone handles friendships differently but one would think that a truly good friend would quietly tell the owners the truth. At least that is what I do. I don’t bother with those who are not good friends – it is simply not worth the effort and turmoil.

I only weighed in here because I have thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Seligman’s blog which, as I previously pointed out was 100% positive until this review, and felt that your name-calling and accusations were unwarranted. For all I know Mr. Seligman might very well be crotchety - but that is certainly not what comes across in his writing. Was he in a bad mood the night he visited Absinthe? Possibly. But did it ever occur to you that perhaps he simply told the truth? You cannot credit Mr. Seligman for lack of patrons on the night of his visit – the public had already spoken.

Mr. Seligman has consistently shown people, and restaurants, in a kind light so I cannot fathom why the owners of Absinthe would mind that he, or anyone else, photographed their beautiful space – or why you have protested this point so vehemently. If anything, the lovely photos should entice people to go to the restaurant and try it for themselves. Perhaps an earlier commenter has some true insight into what is really going on. Regardless, I do believe that Mr. Seligman has every right to photograph the food which he has purchased – and to write fairly of his personal experience.

That is all that I have to say on this subject and will not waste additional time or energy responding to your unfounded accusations of either myself, Mr. Seligman, or his dining companion of that evening.

Anonymous said...

From what I have heard regarding the arrest scandal of the once NEKTAR restaurant now known as something or other on 7th is that the charges were dropped and that it is the third owner Tom Scholten who is the one now in trouble. Apparently he has quite the criminal record in Illinois.

Anyway it is my opinion that a couple people on this blog may have some personal vendetta against this restaurant….it’s too bad because I’ve been twice and so far so good. No complaints from me or my three guests and we are looking forward to our next visit.

The FBI....paaleeease!

Anonymous said...

I Love the drama a restaurant blog brings. Foe someone who has dine at both restaurants (Absinthe and GINA'S on 7th Ave) I can say that I will go by comparison of The lamb chops. Overcooked at absinthe and Perfectly done by the Chef at Ginas who by the way came out during the busy rush to meet my family and I and tell us about himself, where the food came from, where he has cooked.
While in Anbsinthe I did get my wallet stolen and Im pretty sure its sitting in a bathroom garbage can minus the cash. The credit Cards are probably there due to the fact that these "mediteranean" brothers can only finance terrorism with cash stolen from restaurants not the credit cards cause they leave traces. Living in N naples we would rather travel down to Ginas then that place.

Anonymous said...

As a Naples resident for 15 years,and have tried almost all the dining venues,old and new,the simple fact that Absinthe has the ultimate number of comments on this blog,for better or worse,shows the interest of the public on this great restaurant.And,yes i have dined and tried the lamb chops and the halibut and were very tasty.Absinthe is one of the best,if not the best restaurant Naples should be proud to have.

Anonymous said...

aaah ha ha - the second to last blog was so obviously an illiterate & pathetic scholten! i know, i know, your restauant is horrible & you're desperate - don't hate so hard, it makes you look soooooo small - cheers!

Anonymous said...

We haven't dined at either Restaurant and nor would we. We do believe that the brothers got out smarted by Scholten. Scholten knew what he was doing when he got them thrown out of their own restaurant, he wanted his OWN Italian place. He succeeded....but you have to ask yourself for how long????Nothing seems to last for this thief......Construction Companies, real estate, restaurants, which is it?

georgina212 said...

I’ve been to absinthe several times over the past year, and have nothing but great things to say about it.
I’m from NY and visit Naples every few months- I go to absinthe every chance I get. I’ve tried many dishes and found that the quality is second to none. I’ve noticed that a lot of restaurants in town skimp, and cover up sub-par meat and fish with heavy sauces.
Also, I really like their idea to offer something different in the way of featuring vintage movies, I think it’s brilliant. Overall absinthe has a lot to offer the serious diner, and in my opinion this place is on par with any of the restaurants that i frequent in Manhattan.
Recommend to anyone who wants a delicious meal and a great time.

revrendandy said...

I enjoyed the blog about Absinthe, although not as much as the comments about the blog. With the wife out of town for the weekend, I thought I would check out what all the fuss was about.

When Nektar opened in Naples, I thought it was the best food in town. It was cutting edge cuisine that would be at home in any city. Their cocktails were fantastic. Of course this all came at a hefty price. I was sorry they couldn't sustain the restaurant.

The menu at Absinthe shows some of that creativity, but at a slightly lower price point. Dining alone, I couldn't sample much of the menu.

I began with clams with oven roasted tomatoes, smoked mozzarella and oregano. It was a wonderful dish and forced me to order more bread to sop up the delicious sauce. I ordered whole branzino with sour orange, however I was informed they were out of that item. I hesitantly ordered the infamous halibut spoken of in the blog. I told my waiter/bartender(who actually was 1 of the owners)to prepare the fish medium rare. He said halibut should be cooked thru. I disagreed and said please undercook it-I can always send it back if it's not cooked enough. Sure enough, the fish was a bit overcooked-not enough to send it back. I mentioned this to the owner and he said when I come back they will cook it less for me.

I agree with Ivan that the flavors may be a bit strong but overall I would've really enjoyed this had the fish been a bit more rare. I don't understand how a chef with this much talent can't get his halibut correct-although it was Sunday night and he may have been off. It would've been interesting to see how he handled the branzino.

I didn't find the dessert list to be of much interest. I took a pass.

Ivan Seligman said...

RevrendAndy, That just confirms that:

1. They consistently overcook fish.

2.They consistently overcook fish when the waiter/owner is asked to not do so!

I'm not returning there to waste my money-I was going to to give them a second try; you confirmed they owner has a "my way, or the highway attitude" towards customers.

Curious that the owner is now a server and bartender, too. I hope they don't go belly up because the owners pointedly do not do as customers ask, inthis case, aking that Absinthe not overcook fish.

One "anonymous" writer earlier said **"the owners would resolve any issues" to make the customer happy. This proves how the owner, faced with a customer's request, could care less.

Worse, the owner teasingly invites the unhappy customer to return, to maybe, just maybe, have the fish cooked right. Sad.

** " you know that the owners are on the premises and i guarantee you that if you had told them about your many issues, and you do seem to have MANY, they would have resolved them - they are that accomodating"

Anonymous said...

i've been to absinthe several times. had the scallops, the steak (the hangar and the NY Strip), several desserts (the terrine is not my favorite, but the flan-like one is) and have several of the special cocktails. most of the time they hit their mark. the brothers are very friendly and accommodating. everyone i take there loves the place.

Unknown said...

great restaurant. have been there several times. the scallops, the steak (both the hangar and ny strip), the terrine is not my favorite but the flan-like dessert is wonderful. the specialty drinks are worth a try. for the most part it hits its mark and would put it up against any rest in town (except for Sea Salt) but its almost half the price. the brothers are very friendly and accommodating. everyone i take there loves it.

Anonymous said...

This is the best place in Naples for everything. It's inexpensive. If you are not cheap then you must try the bronzino for only $32. The drinks are better than anywhere else. Why go to Sway, the Pub Blue Martini or the other night spots. Nobody goes to those places. This is the happening spot. Its the best in Naples, Fort Myers and Miami. Tell all your friends.

Anonymous said...

We have been to Absinthe. The place is okay and not great or bad. Food has been alright. Something is missing. It is a empty nursing home at night, with few visitors.

We go to Blue Martini for better drinks, better food that's less expensive and very good live music. We can be inside or on Blue's patio in cool wather. The bars and good food at The Keg, Flemings and others are warmer and nicer, and there's good people to meet if you want to be sociable. Bay House is pretty with free live music. We go to Sam Sneads or McCabe's on 5th Ave for casual drinks, or Handsome Harry's. Locals avoid Absinthe for a reason.

Our friends and we are not going back. It hurts to see a place go downhill. Hope Absinthe gets new management and put life back. It's sometimes quieter than a cemetery.

Anonymous said...

Worst service ever.... we went out to dinner ... we ordered a drink... 30 min later still no one came by to take our order or even talk to us.... stopped someone to ask for the bill.. they said it was on the house and shooed us away...... Cant rate the food because they never let us order....AWESOME - good thing sprite is filling

left there and hit up bricktops for an great meal and outstanding service

Anonymous said...

Out of 2 entrees. Very very slow to serve. Food grade c
Can not make pasta
Prices outrageous even with 2 for one
Loud music
Few customers on sT evening
Will Never return

culinary grad said...

Let me start by saying you are so far off when it comes to this restaurant!
Food was superb!!! We had impeccable service! we must of had 4 servers with our man waiter who was fabulous.There wasnt anything they could have done to improve our dinner experience. Ivan I stopped reading your review when you said your friend could have gotten a whole meal at Bonefish for $4 more.You have no business writing reviews! You and your friend better stick to the lower end restaurants maybe that is your niche.

Ivan Seligman said...


Such a glowing "review" --sounds like one of the owners writing this one!

I like to see restaurants succeed. Absinthe has brought a lot of business in with the Groupon internet 50% off coupons just this week-no surprise.

Sad they have to run these in the season, just to get anyone to come in. Nicer places usually stop the specials in season-they are full and don't need to cut prices and ahem, some quality to still make a profit.

Still, even with the coupon, Absinthe is still not full. That's why you had 4 servers, and your "man waiter" hovering over you! There was no one else around to keep those five servers occupied!

I liked some of the items at Absinthe, and didn't like others. Friends who dined there a few weeks ago said the same thing about their items, Some good, some not so good. That happens-it's called inconsistency. My companion in my write up didn't like her halibut and felt she had better fish at Bonefish for a lot less. That's her opinion, that's all.

Sorry you are so delicate to get your underwear in a twist over my mentioning her comment! Maybe you should keep going back to Absinthe on your half off coupons. At half price, it's a match for the food quality, and you can spend lots of time with your "man waiter" and the 4 servers who are not busy at lonely Absinthe, even in the season.

I'd love to see Absinthe improve to the point where they can attract people in the season...without needing half-off coupons.

Anonymous said...

Absinthe sucks. Ivan was lenient in his comment. I have never seen such a rip off. With the money I spent there I would have had so much more food, with better taste.

The owner looked like a mafia guy looking at our discontent and ready to kick us out if we complain too much.

This place survives thanks to the seasonal clueless people that go there and don't know what they are getting into.

I paid the price once and..only once.