Absinthe Café is a stalwart in the Wellington West community, serving classic French bistro food since 2003 and successfully finding the balance between fine dining and hearty comfort food. Chef and co-owner Patrick Garland notes that one of his most formative jobs was as an apprentice in Switzerland, where he honed his French techniques — and learned about absinthe, which was popular in the early 20th century, especially in Europe. (The restaurant’s namesake is welded in a beautiful sculpture behind the bar alongside its partner in crime, the absinthe spoon.)
As you’d expect from French cuisine, plates are well constructed, rich, and saucy — the Mariposa Farm duck breast comes with a Le Coprin mushroom ragout and Madeira sauce. Dishes are created from local seasonal ingredients, a passion of Garland’s, and treated to traditional French techniques: a bearnaise mayo, which accompanies the beef tartare, and a foie gras ganache on chicken-fried quail. Likewise, Absinthe executes classic French desserts well: good luck deciding between the choux pastry profiteroles and the crème brûlée.
And lest you think Garland’s shelves of beautiful caquelons are just for show, be sure to visit on a Monday night in cooler weather, when the kitchen offers fondue featuring cheeses from the region — it’s convivial and retro in all the right ways, just like Absinthe Café.