Keough brings a level of confidence to Absinthe’s menu, allowing the ingredients to shine: never fussy and just right for the beloved restaurant’s understated Hayes Valley neighborhood vibe. Standout dishes on the seasonal lunch menu include potato-crusted arctic char (one of my favorite fishes, which I am happy to see appearing on more menus these days); American Kobe beef French dip; and white asparagus soup with green garlic. The French onion soup is also a winner, and like the asparagus soup, is offered in two sizes (a nice touch). Keough’s playful side comes out with soft garlic pretzels – addictive, chewy, salty pretzel bites served with tangy, decadent Vermont cheddar Mornay for dipping. The dinner menu features a wild-mushroom potpie, coffee-crusted Liberty duck breast, and Mediterranean-spiced California lamb shank.
Complementing Keough’s fresh, young approach is Bill Corbett, one of the most talented, innovative pastry chefs I’ve encountered in a long time. Like Keough, executive pastry chef Corbett’s resume is impressive, honing his skills at Manhattan’s WD-50 under chef-owner Wylie Dufresne, considered one of America’s best chefs and a leader in the field of molecular gastronomy. Corbett moved to San Francisco in 2007 to become pastry chef at Restaurant Michael Mina, and in 2009 he became executive pastry chef for renowned chef Daniel Patterson at his inventive and highly regarded restaurant, Coi. At Absinthe, Corbett manages to walk the fine line between the simple, comforting dishes Absinthe’s customers have come to know and love and the unique, creative touches you would expect from someone who has made desserts for the likes of Dufresne and Patterson. Caramelized apple tarte tatin pops with burnt cinnamon ice cream; panna cotta parfait is light swirls of white chocolate and passion fruit with a macadamia nut crumble; German chocolate cake is a compact little package filled with milk chocolate mousse, intense pressed coconut and candied pecans.
Keough and Corbett also lend their talents to the Arlequin Café, an Absinthe offshoot located right next door offering breakfast, sandwiches (including “grab and go” and wraps), hot entrées (like an Indian-spiced lamb burger and a mac ’n’ cheese casserole), pastries, and desserts.
Absinthe Brasserie & Bar: 98 Hayes Street (at Gough), Tuesday–Friday 11:30 a.m.–midnight (Thursday–Saturday bar open until 2 a.m.), Saturday–Sunday 11 a.m.–10 p.m., 415-551-1590, www.absinthe.com
– S. Reynolds