The Green Fairy

A few weeks ago I made an impulse decision to drive into SF for dinner, which is never a poor decision when looking to liven things up in the midst of a slow week. The problem is I can never decide where to eat! When it comes to trying something new, I get overwhelmed with the options and then slink back to the same old fall-backs (which are nothing to scoff at by any means). But this time I was venturing out with someone that expected me to know the trendy spots in the city and pick something exciting and different. While I have visited Absinthe Brasserie and Bar before, its been a few years, so I felt comfortable choosing to revisit and re-experience this unique eatery.

Decorated in dark French decor and pictures of the little green fairy (or devil) covering the wall, the restaurant was bustling with a high energy crowd when we arrived around 8pm. Tables were scattered throughout the bar area, and we weaved in and out of the diners to get to our table that was located in a separated area just slightly elevated from the bar floor. Absinthe, while being known to serve the obvious choice drink, is also known for their extensive cocktail list that features historic drinks accompanied by an explanation of where in history they have roots. I definitely recommend checking this list out online before visiting, because the choices are detailed and in a face paced environment like this, its good to know your drink of choice right away so you can spend you time drooling and deciding amoungst the food selections.

My drink of choice for the evening was the French '75, a gin based cocktail with a splash of champagne and brandied cherries, named after a WWI piece of artillery. My date's choice was the Daedalus, made mostly of Jameson Irish Whiskey and created by an Irish bartender after he was hit by a Guinness truck. Both drinks were well made and strong in force and flavor. They were the perfect palate teasers to enjoy while we awaited our meal, which began with the Winter pumpkin soup, made with vanilla creme, ginger and topped with toasted pepitas. It was rich and warm with a special combination of flavors that strayed away from your average Winter squash soup. The citrus flavors from the drinks also worked nicely with the vanilla creme in the soup and the combination danced around nicely on the inside of my cheeks. We also shared a wedge of Brillat Savarin, a triple cream from Normandy that has always been a close personal favorite. Combined with the cold, crisp red grapes, this cheese was a special treat, especially watching someone else enjoy and fall in love with it for the first time.

The main courses we chose were the Vaudovan-scented carrot risotto with English and sugar snap peas, along with Machego and Chorizo stuffed Mary's chicken with shelling beans and grilled shisito peppers. The instant attack of zip was fantastic and fun, and the dish's characteristics fit the ambiance of the brasserie perfectly. The risotto was cooked perfectly with just a hint of the al dente crunch and the chicken, cooked with the skin on (and stuffed to the brim) was juicy and soaked through with the essence of chorizo.

The evening's combination of lively flavors and an even more lively crowd left us both quite pleased with the experience and both eager to return again! Suppose when you find places this good, its easy to just keep going back. My favorite part about this restaurant was its proximity to Hotel Biron, favorite wine bar in SF, which made it the perfect choice since walking to the bar was necessary after the cocktails Absinthe serves up! Look out for that green devil!

Can you say "tapas"?

As a fairly new resident to Napa, I have had my work cut out for me when it comes to visiting all of the fine dining establishments the valley has to offer. A little apprehensive at first regarding where to even begin, I asked the more established locals where they choose to dine on a special evening out. I expected answers such as The French Laundry, Bouchon, or Bottega, those being the highly reputable places one hears about when not actually living as a local. But instead, the answer across the board was Zuzu, a funky, easy going, no reservations tapas restaurant located in downtown Napa right on the river. I was told when it comes to choosing a birthday dinner spot or just a casual night out with friends, this is the top choice; I was sold.

My first visit was with an old friend that had also become a new resident of Napa, so we were eager to become cool "locals" as soon as possible. We sauntered in on a Thursday night with no reservations at about 6:30pm and were immediately seated in their cozy dining room that is filled with unique artwork and a lively buzz of people all happily engaged in their food. We ordered a pitcher of their house sangria straight away, which came full of fresh fruits and rich in color; this started the meal off right. The menu selections left no room for disappointment, and narrowing down choices was a difficult task. The nice surprise however was that we would order 6 or 7 different tapas plus wine and still not come close to breaking the bank (almost all the tapas are under $11 each!) The owners insist on using local organic ingredients as much as possible, and try to incorporate several different styles of dishes from around the globe. The wine list reflects an eclectic taste as well, highlighting several smaller regions of Spain that are as unique as the food.

As our meal commenced, we were served our dishes one by one and allowed adequate time to savor each one along with our sangria that went down all too smoothly. We started with salad of pears and arugula, a Spanish pastry with tuna and a fried egg in the middle, and (my favorite) the Bacalao salt cod with white truffle oil. Each dish had its own mix of unique flavors and fresh ingredients to fit the season. We moved along to the lamb dish and sweet corn with bacon only to feel more and more satisfied with every bite. It was a relatively quiet dinner for two girls that usually can't stop chatting when they get together, but we were so impressed and focused in on the food, that we only looked up occasionally to exchange glances of pure bliss.

I have now been back three times in the past 2 months with different groups of people and had the chance to try several different dishes that have been added to the menu as the seasons change. Some of those current favorites are the lima beans with chorizo and saffron, and the queso frito with manchego cheese and roasted poblano chiles. They also offer a different fresh ceviche and paella dish each night that are well worth adding to the mix.

The true highlight of that first evening however was the dessert: Tres Leches with tequila lime sauce paired with a glass of late harvest Garnacha blanca from Priorat, a delectable finish to a perfect meal that literally left me speechless. Zuzu quickly proved to be a spot that is not only a must visit, but a must return, as much as possible!

Check it out!