Absinthe Wine Bar opened in late January in the East Village, on a stretch of First Avenue that has become a dining Mecca over the last few years. It isn’t as splashy as some of its neighborhood peers, but we loved the quiet, civilized atmosphere, and the food is very good indeed, especially given the low price point.
Chef Nelson German’s cuisine is French–Mediterranean, with couscous and chickpeas figuring in several dishes, along with many French bistro standards. Snack plates are $3 apiece, appetizers $7–9 and entrées $11–16. Wines by the glass are $7–15, and most wines by the bottle are between $25–55.
The décor is described as “a synthesis of vintage Paris and contemporary New York, with a stop in Tunisia on the way.” A mural of Toulouse-Lautrec paintings and Tunisian fabrics dominate the small dining room. The space seats 50 between the tables and the bar, and there will be an outdoor garden when the whether gets warmer.
“Absinthe Wine Bar” was probably not the best choice for a name. Although Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec invented an absinthe-based cocktail called the Earthquake (or Tremblement de Terre), neither it, nor indeed any Absinthe at all is served here. It is, at least, a wine bar, though with a more ambitious menu than you’ll find at many places of that description.
Management should try to find a way to make their narrow storefront (a former deli) more conspicuous. If you were not looking for Absinthe Wine Bar, you could easily walk right by without realizing it is is there.
We started with a couple of snacks (both $3). Tomato Basil Croutons (above left) had a bright, lively flavor; I would have called them crostini. Crispy chick peas (above right) could become addictive.
We loved both appetizers. Absinthe Shrimp “Flambée” ($9; above left) was a simple pleasure, with fennel, garlic, white wine, and sweet butter. Here too, perhaps another name would be better. With “flambée” in the title, we expected something flashy, perhaps at tableside, but the flame stayed in the kitchen. Spinach Meatballs ($7; above right) were much heartier, but just as effective.
Both entrées were generous portions at $16. Chargrilled Steak (above left) would have been ample on its own, but it also came with short rib confit. The fries were perfect, but the steak was a bit tough. We didn’t expect dry aged prime, but it occurred to us that perhaps the kitchen would be better off serving hanger or skirt steak at this price.
We found no fault at all with a Trio of Lamb (above right), which came with two juicy chops, shoulder confit, and two spicy merguez sausages. Most restaurants would charge $10 more for this dish, and even then it would be a bargain.
In the interest of full disclosure, we dined here at a publicist’s invitation and did not pay for our meal. I can safely say that we are always happy to enjoy solid, inexpensive comfort food in a quiet, charming atmosphere. And that is exactly what Absinthe Wine Bar has to offer.
Absinthe Wine Bar (111 First Avenue between 6th/7th Streets, East Village)