Friday, March 21, 2008

An Absinthe Dinner

Last week, we had the pleasure of attending the Absinthe Dinner put on by the team at The Drawing Room at Le Passage. For $45 per person, we were treated to seminar on absinthe, as well as a series of absinthe cocktails and matching food courses.

The cocktails and food were designed by The Drawing Room’s Chief Mixologist, Charles Joly, and their Executive Chef, Nick Lacasse. As the first-ever event of this kind in Chicago (at least in modern times), it was exciting to see how they presented absinthe to the diverse crowd in attendance.

The sold out room was intrigued with learning about absinthe and tasting it, and Charles began with a brief discussion of the history of absinthe, the reputation it developed, and the truth about what it is (and is not). Throughout the evening, he interjected with stories about absinthe and its rituals.

Here’s a brief rundown of the event:

Beginnings: The Amuse Verté

  • Drink: Absinthe, lime, mint and pineapple
  • Notes: A light, refreshing pre-dinner cocktail with only a hint of the signature anise flavor from the absinthe. Very popular with everyone around us.

First Course: Corpse Reviver and Fennel Pollen Gnocchi

  • Drink: Gin, absinthe, Lillet Rouge, fresh sour
  • Food: PEI mussels, fresh fennel gnocchi, baby spinach and pepato reggiano
  • Notes: The use of Lillet Rouge rather than Blanc was a nice change of pace (never seen/done that before), and it really worked well in the drink. The drink paired well with the saltiness and richness of the food, and each accentuated flavors in the other.

Second Course: Forbidden Fruit and “Cobb Salad”

  • Drink: Absinthe, elderflower liqueur, peach puree, orange bitters
  • Food: Chicken roulade, corn mascarpone, avocado, vinaigrette
  • Notes: Another excellent pairing, with the sweetness of the cocktail balancing out the savory flavors in the salad. The cocktail was not as sweet as it sounds from the ingredients, and the salad was much more complex than the description lets on.

Third Course: Heightened Senses and Roasted Pineapple

  • Drink: Crème liqueur, Absinthe, vanilla cognac liqueur, peach bitters
  • Food: Shortbread cookie, yogurt-rosemary sorbet, vanilla-bean caramel
  • Notes: Both the drink and the food were delicious on their own. The pairing didn’t quite work though, they didn’t really complement each other; instead they were competing.

Grand Finale: Louche Final

  • Drink: 3 parts Water, 1 part absinthe, sugar cube optional

This was what many in the audience were most excited about – the opportunity to drink absinthe in the traditional way, with a fountain on each table. It was interesting to see the varied reactions to the cocktails once they were ready.

While some of us really enjoyed them, some did not. Anise is not popular in the U.S., and for some of the attendees, this was the first time they had tasted something with so much anise flavor. The other couple at our table did not finish their cocktails, saying they were just too much licorice flavor for them. We, of course, finished ours and had a second.

It was a great evening. Given the general aversion to anise in the U.S., however, it will be very interesting to see if absinthe really catches on or if it will be more of a fad (or cult) phenomenon.

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