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I'm mildly sorry that we forget to order some green and white asparagus with green garlic aioli for the table (when I spy a plate on a neighboring table, it looks beautiful), but by now we've moved on to dessert. Glenn chooses two from a page of a half-dozen or so cheeses, each alluringly paired with fruit or nuts; Bill wants lemon pudding cake, and I, the made-to-order beignets. The Camembert, served warm with black-truffle butter, comes with big toasted walnuts, and the Italian Piave, a hard, sharp-flavored cheese, with plump Medjool dates. The fragrant pudding cake is lush, as are the three "condiments," as the menu has it, that come with my three tennis ball-sized doughnuts: whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and berry sauce. We are sated, luxuriously so: The men revive with tiny espressos before setting out for Berlioz's Faust, ready for anything, even a little stylish S/M.
I've had such a good meal that it hits me, while I'm walking to my car, that Absinthe is where I should take my parents and their houseguests Maurice and Helene for dinner on Father's Day. Absinthe is pleased that we want a prime-time rather than an early reservation on a night when performances are taking place right down the street. We settle into a comfortable round table, set into the window, and tuck into eight assorted oysters (Fanny Bay, Hog Island, and Miyagi, chosen when they prove to be out of our favorite Kumamotos), with a rosé mignonette; a plate of thin-sliced Serrano ham served with morel mushrooms carefully stuffed with truffled mashed potatoes, so good that my mother was loath to share them (but she did!); amazingly fragile, airy ricotta dumplings sauced with braised fava beans, sturdy chunks of pork cheek, and pecorino; and two excellent soups, lentil thick with tiny diced vegetables (served with toast slathered with a lusty olive tapenade) and a proper, cheesy French onion soup that for once rewarded the orderer of what so often turns out to be a pallid brew.
San Francisco, CA 94102
Region: Hayes Valley/ Tenderloin
Ricotta dumplings $12
Coq au vin $21
Confit of pork ribs $20
Poached beef tenderloin $26
Lemon pudding cake $8
Torta de la Serena $4.50
Open Tuesday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to midnight, Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to midnight, and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Closed Monday
Noise level: moderate
I allow both my father and Maurice to order the grilled rib-eye (it's Father's Day, after all, and they can claim eight progeny between them). The hunks of meat come out more blue than black-and-blue, as ordered ("charred rare"), but they are nice hunks, anointed with a petite pile of unusual bread-crumb salsa, good thin French fries, and grilled fennel. Helene's grilled King salmon, with grilled escarole in a fig-walnut vinaigrette and an interesting red-onion marmalade, is deliciously moist, and my mother loves her confit of pork ribs, the crackly-crusted meat falling off its tiny bones: It's pork candy! I am enthralled with my poached beef tenderloin: The thin slices of barely rosy meat are soft as meat can be, and I enjoy choosing whether to swish a small collop through the pearà sauce, creamy with marrow, or the sharp mustard, or the little bowl of sea salt, alternating with bites of velvety-soft poached baby turnips, carrots, and leeks. It's like the most delicate pot-au-feu imaginable, and goes very well with the '99 Gevrey-Chambertin I pick (when my father hands me the wine list, professing to be too shocked by the markups to make a choice) in homage to a '45 Gevrey-Chambertin I'd given Dad on another long-ago Father's Day.
After such a dazzling dish, dessert seems anti-climactic, but we linger over a crème brûlée pleasantly scented with lavender, a rich Scharffen Berger chocolate pot de crème, and big, crisp cranberry-pistachio biscotti, with a cappuccino for my father (Mr. Cappuccino) and, what the hell, a glass of 10-year-old Madeira and some Spanish Torta de la Serena sheep's-milk cheese with a delicious cherry compote for me. At every step of the dance of a meal, Absinthe offers a luxurious choice that not only entices, but also fulfills its promise, dreamily.
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