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Ringing in the Smoke-Free New Year with Absinthe and Parisian Punks

After drinking more than my weight in Champagne over the holidays (okay, that’s not that hard), I decided to give up drinking for 2008. I was doing great until I was invited to an absinthe tasting last weekend at a local punk bar, Le Cantada II. How could I resist?

It was my first outing this year, and as I walked past the bars, cafés and restaurant of the Oberkampf district, I couldn’t believe that it was actually true what I was seeing: all of the Parisians were smoking outside. Even though it’s cold and raining, the terraces are packed full. I arrived at Cantada II (13 rue Moret, 11th), where goths, punks, and other mohawked misfits were also smoking outside the door. Inside the wonderfully smoke-free bar, I immediately spotted my group, looking slightly out of place among the regulars.

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Adrian, Daniel, Louisa, Olivier et moi

Among the gang are a few familiar faces, including pastry chef and cookbook writer David Lebovitz (on a much needed break from finishing his latest manuscript), "Mister Wine Tasting" Olivier Magny, restaurant reviewer and palace hotel concierge Adrian Moore, and Spring owner and chef Daniel Rose. Our hosts for the evening are food journalist Louisa Chu (you’ve probably seen her hosting food shows on American TV) and our absinthe expert (and maker) Peter Schaf.

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Absintheur Peter (and his wife behind the dripper).

Not only does Cantada II have the largest selection of absinthes in France (each one has its own unique taste), it also has all of the cool accessories, including the water dripper, slatted spoons and the right glassware. Peter brought a few bottle from his own collection for us to try, including a 100-year-old bottle made before the absinthe prohibition (the ban was lifted in France in 1992, FYI). As the glass was passed around, I asked "Anyone here have a cold?" But David pointed out that the 70% alcohol content would probably kill any germs anyway. Of course, he and Olivier were drinking wine, sheesh!

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David, looking particularly wicked with those glowing devil horns.

After our tasting (it doesn’t take much!) a few people decided to try the bar’s "Medieval cuisine". I thought I’d have a peek before ordering myself. Well, it smelled good….

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Ye olde grub (some sort of game stew).

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Tried without the flash to see if it looked better…

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"Get a close-up photo," says Olivier. Yeah…

I ate up the street at Nono instead. 😉

 

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