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Food Matters: Tenneyson absinthe, El Alma Café y Cantina opens, Hsu gets nod for design of Rainey Street bar

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Absinthe draws inspiration from gin

Absinthe is a spirit shrouded in a veil of mainstream misconceptions.

From the romanticized absinthe-induced murders and mayhem of the 1800s to a modern market saturated with faux impostors that promise drinkers hallucinogenic effects, differentiating truth from fiction and quality from quantity presents a difficult task.

Graham Wasilition, a young Austin entrepreneur, recently took on the elusive spirit, creating a new product that pays homage to absinthe's past while updating its tired image. Tenneyson, a Swiss style (white) absinthe produced in France and distributed in Austin debuted on the Texas market earlier this year, and it has been turning heads ever since.

To develop a historically accurate recipe, Wasilition sought guidance from David Nathan-Maister, the internationally known absinthe producer and author of "The Absinthe Encyclopedia." The two joined forces and chose to distill at the Emile Pernot distillery in Pontarlier, France, one of the two absinthe distilleries from the Belle Epoque era that survived prohibition.

The result is a departure from tradition. First, the bold and bitter in-your-face anise (licorice flavor) and fennel qualities that most brands choose to amplify is present but subdued. This allows other ingredients such as juniper berries and citrus peel, which are not standard components of absinthe recipes, to shine through.

The incorporation of juniper-berry and citrus notes draws a natural comparison to the juniper berry-based spirit gin. Nathan-Maister and Wasilition chose to take advantage of the similarities between gin and absinthe and boost the overlapping flavors (such as coriander and angelica) to create a final spirit that would appeal to both sets of drinkers.

The Tenneyson team wants you to think outside the box. "Absinthe can be used in a myriad of different ways," as Wasilition explains. For example, I have tried Tenneyson with Tonic water at Péché. The effervescence breathes life into the absinthe, and the slight quinine flavor of the tonic cuts through the sweetness, bringing a satisfying balance to the glass. At the Tigress Pub, you'll find a surprisingly complementary combination of Tenneyson and root beer, and at the Tavern you can opt for Tenneyson in their "absinthe mojito" the Cat's Pajamas.

For more about Tenneyson and absinthe, check out the interview with owner Graham Wasilition by video journalist Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon (shot at our local absinthe well, Péché) at .

- Emma Janzen

El Alma Café y Cantina features a name familiar to Austin foodies

Replacing Mexican restaurant El Chile, El Alma Café y Cantina opened its doors at the corner of Barton Springs and Dawson roads on July 7. It is the newest addition to the El Chile Restaurant Group, which also includes the Manor Road location of El Chile Café y Cantina, El Chilito Tacos y Café and the Red House Pizzeria. After a brief stint in catering and 16 years at fine dining restaurant Jeffrey's, Chef Alma Alcocer joins the El Chile team to make the restaurant her own.

"I'm most excited to have Alma working with me," said Carlos Rivero, who owns all four of El Chile's restaurants and worked with Alcocer at Jeffrey's. "I decided to dedicate one of our spaces to her and her menu because I love her food."

Alcocer is originally from Mexico City and studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris before coming to Austin in 1989.

"The concept is for (Alcocer) to provide her interpretation of Mexican food as she either grew up eating it or as entrées that she would make in her own household," said Maribel Rivero, the restaurant group's marketing director.

El Alma serves both lunch and dinner, and its menu showcases a variety of spices and flavors, including jicama, pineapple and mango. It also serves a weekend brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Owner Rivero recommends the chile relleno with shrimp and chipotle tomato sauce. El Alma Café y Cantina, 1025 Barton Springs Road (restaurant and public parking available), 609-8923.

- Michelle Cerulli

Hsu gets nod for design of Rainey Street bar

• Austin architect Michael Hsu recently won the AIA Los Angeles Restaurant Design Award for best lounge/nightclub for Icenhauer's cocktail bar at 83 Rainey Street. The annual design competition honors excellence in restaurant design, and the winners were announced at the AIA Los Angeles Design Conference held late last month. The cocktail bar is located in a traditional "hip and gable" house built in 1893 that remained a family residence until 2009. Hsu's firm, MHOA, and Franklin-Alan Construction renovated the dilapidated house in 2010, maintaining the original gable roof and the front rooms' original wood interior siding.

• The Texas Department of Agriculture is hosting its fourth annual Go Texan Restaurant Roundup starting Monday . Hundreds of restaurants around the state have created special menu items that include Texas-grown ingredients and wine. A portion of proceeds will benefit local food banks.

• La Sombra anniversary party on July 28 at 7 p.m. coincides with Peruvian Independence Day. Pisco Porton specials all evening long and late-night snacks from Chef Julio-Cesar Florez. Regular dinner service will be available until 10 p.m.

• Larry Butler of Boggy Creek Farm says his famous smoke-dried Roma tomatoes are now available for sale at the Wednesday and Saturday farmstand at the farm, 3414 Lyons Road, and online via mail-order at The tomatoes, which are not salted and are sold in 2 ounce bags, cost $8.95.

• Need a snack to go with your art cinema? Cinema East is hosting four more Sunday night movies at the French Legation, 802 San Marcos St., and at each screening (they take place every other Sunday with the next screening this weekend), you'll find a mini HOPE Farmers Market, with several vendors selling food including pate, tamales, grilled pizza and kombucha.

- M.C., E.J., A.B.

Openings, closings and coming soon

• Open: Mai Thai Austin, a Thai restaurant serving lunch and dinner downtown at 207 San Jacinto Blvd. 482-8244, .

• Open: Sauced, a pizza shop at the Highland Mall serving hand-tossed artisan pizzas with sauce made from Johnson's Backyard Garden's tomatoes and housemade sausages. 323-9003, .

• Open: Meltzer Uptown Pub, a pub at 7522 N. Interstate 35, featuring a large selection of draft and bottled beer, cocktails and live music. 420-2333, .

• Open: Boss Hogs Kitchen, a food trailer at 1120 W. Fifth St. serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, features pulled pork and smoked turkey cooked in "La Caja China," a big metal roasting box. 698-9818, .

• Open: Lavaca Teppan, which opened July 1, offers traditional Japanese cuisine, including stir-fry meats and vegetables and iron-griddled chicken and rice. Serving lunch and dinner, 1712 Lavaca St., 520-8630, .

• Open: Turquoise Grill, a Turkish and Mediterranean restaurant at 2000 S. Interstate 35 in Round Rock, with locations in Houston and San Antonio. 248-8070, .

• Open: Rockin Rolls, a food trailer at East Sixth and Waller streets, bakes gourmet rolls daily and stuffs them with such offerings as sautéed Italian sausage, peppers and marinara sauce (called the "Eddie Vedder"). All menu items are named after famous rockers. Dinner to late-night, .

• Opening in August: Roll On Sushi Diner, set to open Aug. 5, will feature a horseshoe-shaped counter where customers can sit and watch their sushi rolls being prepared. Serving traditional rolls and "Austin Fusion" rolls, including the "Cholesta Roll" (chicken fried steak-inspired sushi) and "The Count" (a Monte Cristo sandwich in a roll). Open for lunch and dinner, seven days a week. 5350 Burnet Road (in the AMLI building). 458-5350, .

• Open: Garden at the Monument, a biergarten open at 5 p.m. daily featuring veggie fries, burgers, chicken tenders and live music adjacent to the Monument Cafe at 500 S. Austin Ave. in Georgetown. (512) 930-9586, .

- Michelle Cerulli, Addie Broyles