I live in East Vancouver (BC) and we have a large number of restaurants on the Drive. In the past year or two some of the standbys of many years (or even decades) have disappeared. Latin Quarter, with its lousy food, but good Latino music finally was driven into the ground. Stormcrow, the pub with cheap food for gaming geeks seems to be doing quite well in its place. One of the Italian places disappeared and the Dime Roadhouse, with its $5 food and college crowd atmosphere opened up. An Italian pizzeria moved in where a video store once was so we’re keeping our healthy balance of Italian restaurants in a once predominantly Italian neighborhood. There are Indian, Japanese, continental and Cafe Carthage as well as other types along the Drive.
The other day I was on the Drive and noticed that Turk’s coffee house had disappeared (we have a glut of coffee places) and instead there was Absinthe Bistro. It looked tiny, yet quaint. Two of my friends and I go for “wings” throughout the year but since this is the holiday season we often look for something a little fancier. I suggested trying the bistro.
Run by a Cory and Juliana Pearson, the Absinthe Bistro has room for about 24-30 patrons. Cory trained with famous Parisian chefs for six years and then returned to Vancouver. Along with Juliana, they started the restaurant in August. It has an open design and you can see right into the kitchen. We went on a Wednesday and the place was never full but had people coming and going. We stayed for about three hours and didn’t feel rushed. Cory and Juliana each had a person helping them in their respective domains.
The floor is a raised white matte tile, with smaller black diamond shaped tiles between every four. This was repeated in the bathroom where one friend reported that the design worked well. The bistro had dark, straight-lined chairs and tables. Each table had a small flower bowl with a daisy floating in it. The walls are white with a few gilt framed mirros and posters. A simple elegant interior. There is a dark countered bar with a lovely water decanter used for absinthe. And of course, I had to have one (and I love absinthe). I asked if it was an original or a reproduction. Juliana said they had tried to find antiques but even broken ones were $2,000. The place also sports four impressive chandeliers.
The service was the right amount of attentive, and Juliana was very cordial. The menu features three appetizers, three main course and three desserts. You can mix and match with a fixed menu price of $35 for three courses or $28 for two, or order al a carte. With a small venue and giving attention to each dish, this is a wise choice and means everything is prepared fresh. The menu changes frequently.
For the appetizer, two of us had the tuna tartare with salad. The online menu says seaweed but ousr was a medley of greens. They will change the side dishes and their kitchen warrants. This tartare was amazing and a good sized portion about 3 inches square. My other friend had the soup of the day, which was carrot and cumin and he said it was very good. For dinner, two of us chose the pan-seared scallops with beurre blanc, sauteed spinach and potato puree. You might think that a potato puree is like mashed potatoes and I would have thought so too but I can say that these were the smoothest and tastiest potatoes I’ve ever had. The proportion was generous and I even gave the last two forkfuls to my friend because they were too good to be wasted. One might consider three scallops to be meager but these were good sized and perfectly seared. Considering what they cost (I made cioppino a few weeks ago and scallops are expensive) this turned out to be just the right amount, set with the spinach. The flavors were so well blended that you could taste each aspect individually and married together.
One friend ordered the duck leg confit with the same sides. He declared after he finished the he usually doesn’t like duck. I said, well why did you order it? He thought he’d try it again and he declared it excellent as well. For drinks, one of us doesn’t drink and he stuck with water, my other friend chose beer and I had a couple of glasses of wine after the absinthe. The menu specializes in French wines of course. This is probably the country whose wines I’m least familiar with. I asked Juliana what the La Vielle Ferme Ventoux was like and she described it so well that when I tasted it, it matched her description. This told me she knew her wines.
For dessert, two of us ordered the molten chocolate lava cake with house made vanilla bean ice cream, and I had the classic French vanilla creme brulee. My brulee looked huge but this dish was shallow so there was a large surface of crackle, which made each spoonful a smooth taste of creamy and crunchy. I tasted the lava cake and it had that bittersweet flavor of dark chocolate paired with the sweetness of the ice cream. They warned us at the beginning that they needed extra time to bake the cakes so they were fresh and hot, with oozing centers.
We stayed after eating and had another drink. Not one of us felt like we needed any more to eat. In fact I couldn’t finish the brulee. There wasn’t any portion of the evening that we didn’t enjoy. All three of us declared each dish as excellent. Juliana said their weekends have been very busy but the weekdays have not yet been full. I can say that this is the best food I’ve had on the Drive, or in any other parts of the city, in a long time and the Absinthe Bistro rates up there with the other five-star restaurants. I suggest not waiting to taste the wonders in this bistro because once everyone knows about it reservations will fill up fast. Congratulations to the Pearson on having a perfect blend.