Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Top Chef Restaurant Experience - Absinthe

NYCMenuGirl is back, this time with details of her lunch at Season 5 cheftestant Jamie Lauren's restaurant, Absinthe, in San Francisco.

My time in San Francisco was limited to a mere 9 hours. There were plans to see a movie, get to the airport, etc., so one meal would have to do. There was not much time to learn the city, travel on public transportation, or hike up and down several hills to go to a restaurant. This is when that "go with what you know" instinct kicks in. For most people, that means a chain. For me, that means a restaurant with a Top Chef contestant from one of the 6 glorious seasons. Maybe it seems cliche and dorky, but I like Top Chef, and I always read up on the restaurants. It is my go to place, and it is better than defaulting to Red Lobster.

It turns out that Chef Jamie Lauren from Season Five is the Chef of Absinthe, located a short 25 minute walk from where I was staying for the day. I loved Chef Jamie, and was sad to see her go on that season. My boyfriend's sister and our host for the day, Lenore, had been to Absinthe, and said we should go and try burgers. I felt even more confident now that Absinthe, one of the very few restaurants I know in SF, would be a good bet.

My bf and I set out, down the SF hills, back up the SF hills, looking at the Aladdin like homes, and best of all, walking past the infamous "Full House house," which seeing felt like a true fulfillment of my childhood (I am being serious. Laugh it up. I don't care. You cannot take away my moment).

I take my picture, and we keep walking. We arrive at Absinthe, located on Hayes Street (which means jack to me). We walk in, and it is so pretty. It has this brown and green earthy and elegant look. At 2 p.m. on December 30th, the restaurant is about 1/3 full. There are bottles of wine outside and on the walls. I love wine decor. Next time I move, I will not buy ANY art wall and I will decorate my whole apartment in bottles of wine. Even better - empty bottles of wine. Hmm. Must start drinking wine now to achieve goal of filling apartment with bottles of wine. I love New Years goals. So great.

Back to Absinthe. We are seated. A lovely waiter comes by. Tap water of course. We peruse the menu. As we look it over, we get a plate of bread. It was a wheat sourdough bread. DELICIOUS. But, we knew we had sandwiches in our future, so we had to take it easy on the bread. A bread basket at lunch can be a nice addition, especially when you are having a soup or salad. But when you are going to get a sandwich, a bread basket is just overkill.

We eat a slice, and put it to the side. Time to focus on what the menu has to offer. The sandwiches are $14 and under, entrees for $18 and over, and assorted cheeses. Appetizers at lunch are not usually my bag.

My boyfriend says he may want the burger. I also want the burger. We never order the same thing though. It seems like a waste. One of us has to change, or we agree to split. PAUSE: As the guy who has to go out to eat with me the most, watch me take pictures of all of our food, and force summaries upon him at the end of the meal like some episode of Jerry Springer, I would like to say thanks Alex, for accompanying me to several of these restaurants, and putting up with all that comes with it, like dissuading you to get the burger so that I, NYCMenuGirl, can get the burger. Your blog support is noted.

I decide to order the burger (score)! The Absinthe burger is $12.50, and includes aioli, red onion, lettuce, house-made pickles. Hmm. Not going to be good enough. For $1.50 extra, I order smoked gouda for the burger. Alex decides to get the croque monsieur (ham and cheese) for $11.50. Those are some pricy sandwiches. Ooo but what do they come with on the side??? O wait. Nothing. Side dish fail. We have to order a side dish separately.

Well, I want fries of course, for a whopping $6.00. There they are. They came with three delicious sauces! We got 1 order, which was more than enough of course. And for $6.00, with the sauces, the price seemed right. The only problem was that these were shoestring fries, which I like, but they were so small that they were not ideal for dipping. So, to sum up, Jerry Springer style, I liked the fries, and I liked the sauces, but I would have preferred thicker fries for the sauces.

Now for the sandwiches. The burger was such a nice size. It was hand held, like a gameboy. Nothing too juicy falling out. The smoked gouda was great. And the burger tasted great. Still, not as good as The Smith, or Bill's Bar & Burger, but as we see the haute burger trend, this fits the bill. This is not the burger that is supposed to be greasy, falling out of your hands, as you prove how manly you are eating this piece of meat. This is the date friendly burger, where everything remains intact, and still flavorful. That is not to say that it is not as good. Not at all actually. But when you need a burger recommendation from me, the first thing you should tell me is if you want your burger "fancy style," "chow down style" or "sloppy sloppy style (which means, a totally sloppy burger, hence the second sloppy)." This burger was fancy style.

On to the croque monsieur. This was actually a little greasy. But OMG did this sandwich melt in your mouth. Alex said he was surprised because he thought the croque monsieur would come on a fancy baguette, but instead it came on toasted white bread, and resembled a melt more than a sandwich. But it was delicious. And SURPRISE, salad on the side. That was a nice touch. The croque monsieur was definitely a full meal, and for $2.50 less than the burger, the value was much better.

All in all, Absinthe was just lovely. The service was great. The menu items for lunch, although just sandwiches, are such upscale versions of sandwiches, that you don't feel cheated, like you could have made it and put it in your lunchbox next to your thermos (omg I want a thermos so badly. where you drink out of the top cop. maybe a full house thermos. a girl can dream).

If you have a Top Chef Restaurant Experience that you'd like to share with our readers, please drop us a line at alltopchef@gmail.com.

1 comment:

Melinda said...

Thanks for the review! I've been doing the same thing, trying to hit a Top Chef restaurant everywhere I travel. Just a tip on the photography...turn off the flash. The photos will come out just fine with the ambient light usually, especially if it's lunchtime.

I take photos of all the food we try too so just experience of trial and error :-)

Happy eating!