If you go
:If you go
Where: 2355 Vanderbilt Beach Road, North Naples (northwest corner of Airport-Pulling and Vanderbilt Beach roads)
Hours: 4 to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday and Sunday; 4 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Prices: Appetizers $10-$18; entrees $22-$34
Information: 239-254-0050 or www.absinthenaples.com
Absinthe, the mysterious and once elusive green-colored, anise-flavored spirit, has been memorialized by Armand Alikaj as the name of his three-year-old North Naples restaurant.
Locally heralded for its ambience and cuisine, Absinthe restaurant is a member of Naples' Originals, a group of local, independent restaurants.
Similar to the dichotomy of yin and yang or light and darkness, the restaurant is a study in contrasts, both culinary and style.
Step into the trendy eatery from the heat of a sultry Southwest Florida afternoon and immediately your senses take a nosedive into a decidedly cool zone, reminiscent of any trendy South Beach, oceanside spot.
Green-tinged ceiling lighting is cleverly positioned to reflect the glow onto the elongated 20-foot avonite bar top and lime-colored Lucite bar stools.
A color palette of creams and whites are utilized for walls, plush leather banquettes and chairs and are offset by lighting where wall meets ceiling that subtly evolves into hues of purple and green, adding a hip chill to the ambience.
If imbibing a heady libation is the goal, take a seat at the full-service bar and order any one of six shooters ($7) or 14 or so smart cocktails ($12), from a silver rum mojito to two that include the mysterious liqueur absinthe, the restaurant's namesake.
Simple and health-conscious ingredients and uncomplicated preparation methods dictate Absinthe's kitchen, which incorporates fresh Southwest Florida produce and sea products.
"We think globally and procure ingredients from local vendors and from Immokalee for produce as well as those on the east cost for some of our fish," said Alikaj, a co-owner of the restaurant.
"I use many of my mother's recipes gleaned from the Mediterranean-style diet so appreciated by my customers." He says the restaurant also serves gluten-free dishes.
On a recent dining adventure, my vegetarian guest and I were treated to a special appetizer, a vegetable stack made with fresh mozzarella, tender slices of grilled eggplant and basil finished with basil-and-white truffle oil.
Other starters include smoked salmon, pei mussels, and beef carpaccio ($10-$18).
Between four salad course options ($8-$18), I selected the watermelon and feta salad ($14).
The exotic sweet, rosy red block of watermelon was piled with chunky feta cheese and topped with red onion, a chiffonade of mint and drizzled with balsamic caramel vinegar — my taste buds danced with joy.
My companion chose a heady Moroccan salad — a combination of orange segments, shaved fennel, black olives, mint and olive oil ($12).
My entree arrived, an artistically plated roasted half-duck perched atop a mound of creamy risotto. It was circled by a forest fruit glaze that gave just the right amount of sweetness to the perfectly cooked, crisp-skinned poultry.
The chef accommodated my guest by creating a generous linguine pasta dish made with an assortment of fresh sautéed vegetables, garlic and olive oil.
Other entrees ($22-$34) include three pasta dishes: linguine tossed with clam sauce and olive oil; chicken-stuffed tortellini with a cream sauce, peas and bacon; and fettuccine with lump crabmeat in a light tomato sauce.
Three seafood plates — the popular scallops wrapped in kataifi; a Greek pastry; Mediterranean Sea bass or salmon over ratatouille — share menu space with chicken, veal Milanese and a grilled hanger steak.
Pair your meal with sides ($6-$9) such as goat cheese polenta, or oven-roasted potatoes.
To finish our repast, we had the traditional Sicilian dessert, zeppoli (doughnuts fried with wildflower honey) and crèma catalane that was dizzying in its subtle, delicately sweet creaminess. One could also opt for sorbet or ice cream ($7).
For those looking for lighter dinner fare, small plates ($9-$12) are available but not ordinary. Mediterranean spiced sumac hummus and grilled flatbread or mixed, marinated olives are the perfect accompaniment to a glass of wine from the extensive wine list.
Sandwiches ($14-$16), such as the customer favorite, lamb burgers, a savory duo with grilled eggplant and goat cheese, are great picks for a hot summer night's dinner.
The grilled chicken wrap with pancetta and caramelized onions or the vegetable wrap with Boursin cheese ($14-$16) also were hits.
Happy hour is nightly from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the bar and tables with 50 percent off all cocktails and wines by the glass and bottles of wine up to $100. Early dining food specials include buy one entrée and get the second of equal or lesser price free.
Also, a veritable oasis for late night roamers, enjoy a special menu, cocktails, wine ($8-$15 glass; $32-$400 bottle), champagne ($8-$15 glass; $40-$350 bottle) and desserts.
Absinthe also does double duty as a special event venue available for all types of functions in an extraordinarily chic setting. A private dining room, secreted by wispy white curtains is also available for special meeting and social gatherings and accommodates 20 people.
The Albanian-born Alikaj born operates Absinthe with his wife, Rachel Sutton-Alikaj, and brother, Elton Alikaj.