Food and Wine

Top Ten Restaurants 2010

Absinthe

1208 Wellington St. W., 613-761-1138, absinthecafe.ca

The dish: Ontario lamb three ways — braised shank in duck fat sablé; belly roulade stuffed with creamed kale and chanterelles; roasted rack with herb crust, carrot and caraway puree, and Malivoire reduction

In late August, I discovered a back-door entrance to Absinthe from its parking lot, whereupon I passed two wooden planters filled with micro-greens, fragrant basil, and fresh green onions basking in the sun. It’s what the staff affectionately call their “ghetto garden.” When my niçoise salad arrived, there were all those lovely leaves again, this time gently dressed and placed alongside sweet cherry tomatoes, boiled potatoes, green beans, hand-pitted olives, and a generous slab of lightly seared fish from The Whalesbone Sustainable Oyster and Fish Supply. For Absinthe, the personal connection to ingredients is everything. Its menu uses an elaborate system of symbols to pay homage to a small army of local farmers. At a glance, customers can see that eggs are from Bekings, tomatoes are from Rideau View, broccoli is from Rodney Knox, arugula from a guy named Spicoli (meet him, and you’ll know why) — and on it goes. Once you become acquainted with the provenance of each dish, there are wine-pairing suggestions to consider, be it for individual items or packaged as a three-course pairing. The appetizers, mids (soup or salad), and mains can also be ordered à la carte or combined into a table d’hôte. As decision-making goes, it can be a bit intense. So, too, is the cooking itself. Chef-owner Patrick Garland favours big, bold flavours. His food yells, Life is short, eat up! A walleye pogo has chipotle pop; smoky ribs are basted with sweetened heat. Even vegetarian ravioli have a wicked kick. And then, once you’re braced for the one-two punch, Garland reminds us that life can be as sweet and delicate as the perfect profiterole.

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