Don't Drink the Green Fairy...Eat It With an Absinthe Meal at Bistro Provence
I imagine that before 2007, many people in the United States had never tried absinthe. That year, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau made it legal to buy and sell in America, provided it was free of thujones, the chemical compound in wormwood that was long thought to produce the libation's psychedelic effects.
Painting by Viktor Oliva "The Absinthe Drinker"
These days, absinthe is as harmless as whiskey, but there's still a mystique surrounding the preferred drink of turn-of-the-century European bohemians. Regardless of whether you believe in the green fairy and the purported harmful effects of consumption, the taste can be a difficult demon to get past.
The flavor is often described as medicinal due to the combination of green anise, sweet fennel and wormwood that makes up the spirit. It can be difficult to pair with a mixer -- let alone food -- but Genevieve Guy, chef/owner of Bistro Provence, has created a dinner menu in which absinthe is the star.
The idea was to celebrate National Absinthe Day on March 5, but Guy had so many recipe ideas that it was turned into a weeklong event at Bistro Provence. Through Friday, guests can order off a special menu that incorporates absinthe into every dish.
Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg Cassoulet d'Escargots à l'Absinthe
I ate at Bistro Provence on Monday evening and was able to try some of the unique items coming out of the kitchen. I admit I was skeptical, because I've had absinthe before, and I didn't recall being very fond of it. Guy's recipes make use of absinthe in the best possible way, though; rather than highlighting the spirit outright, it's used like one might use herbs or spices. It delicately flavors dishes, adding a hint of star anise and something vaguely foreign and mysterious. And thank goodness, nothing Guy created was green.
I started the meal with an escargot cassoulet that was less like the traditional cassoulets with white beans and more like a stew. Tender snails, carrots and chunks of sausage were swimming in an absinthe-scented broth that was neither overwhelming nor understated. It was alluring, because I couldn't quite put my finger on the various elements that comprised the broth. I dipped freshly baked French bread in it and finished the entire little pot.
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