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Péché

What first opened as a new home for absinthe has been reimagined as a comfortable and elegant dining destination

Reviewed by Claudia Alarcón, Fri., Sept. 10, 2010

Péché
Photo by John Anderson

408 W. Fourth, 495-9669
Monday-Friday, 4pm-2am; Saturday-Sunday, 5pm-2am
www.pecheaustin.com

Péché first opened as a new home for absinthe, the much-maligned spirit that had been banned in the U.S. since 1912 and was reapproved in 2007. The emphasis was a large selection of absinthe from around the world and craft cocktails in pre-Prohibition style. The space was reimagined as a comfortable yet elegant retro-European space, with couches and coffee tables interspersed in the dining room to create cozy hangouts that break up the long, narrow space. The food seemed to be a second thought, but fortunately, things have changed in that regard.

The cocktail menu is indeed incredible, featuring more than 50 different concoctions based on gin, whiskey, and rum, plus a couple with tequila and vodka for good measure, with many available at half-price for happy hour (along with some appetizers). We decided to pair our dinner with cocktails instead of wine, and our knowledgeable server was happy to give recommendations on both food and drinks. While we looked at the ample dinner menu, we sipped a refreshing Italian Sunset, made with gin, lemon, and Aperol, and a Sazerac, an excellent version of the New Orleans classic. The menu of nightly specials emphasizes local and artisanal products, with selections that change depending on what's available and fresh. We couldn't resist ordering the porchetta di testa special ($14), thin slices of roasted pig head stuffed with herbs and green olives, served cold with a salad of arugula, onions, Parmigiano Reggiano, and olive oil. To make sure we were getting enough pork, we ordered the daily charcuterie plate ($14): pork rillettes, chicken-liver mousse, and pork and harissa sausage. Owner Rob Pate came to greet us personally – as he did with every single patron – and talked passionately and knowledgeably about the food and cocktails. His management style is definitely hands-on, which I find impressive.

Next we sampled a couple of salads: tiny roasted Texas beets with Roaring Forties blue cheese crostini, spiced pistachios, and arugula ($12) and butter lettuce with cherry tomatoes, crisp lardons, and brown butter croutons tossed with chunks of lump crabin an herb vinaigrette ($14), both seasonal and inspired.

Round two of cocktails totally raised the bar: the Old Cuban with rum, mint, simple syrup, lime, and sparkling wine and the Corpse Reviver #2, a serious cocktail of gin, lemon, Cointreau, Lillet blanc, and absinthe created by Harry Craddock of the Savoy. Deciding on the entrées was excruciating, but we finally went for the seared duck breast with garlic spinach,roasted tomato, marchand de vin sauce,and french fries ($28). The duck was perfectly crisp on the outside and moist in the center, the accompanying vegetables light and well-balanced. The risotto special with roasted lamb loin, belly, and breast with butternut squash and arugula ($28) was just exquisite, in my book topped only by Vespaio's. No wonder: Chef Jason Dodge spent five years at the Italian eatery before taking over the kitchen at Péché.

For dessert we had the blue cheese cheesecake with fig sauce (my only complaint of the evening: I wanted a whole slice!); a Blood and Sand with Dewar's, cherry Heering, Vya sweet vermouth, and orange; and an absinthe served the traditional way.

We are so glad we rediscovered this Fourth Street gem and will make a point to visit soon and often.

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