The Fashion Diaries

A blog of travel food and style inspiration


Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder

In 2007, the longstanding ban on absinthe in the United States was lifted. Still, there aren’t many places in Rochester where you can experience absinthe in all its glory—during l’heure vert (“the green hour”) and complete with fountain, ice water, sugar cubes, and slotted spoons.

Thankfully Rochester has ROUX, a bistro-style restaurant specializing in French food, craft cocktails, and yes, absinthe. Located on trendy Park Avenue, ROUX opened in February, replacing Cafe Cibon. To those lamenting the latter’s absence, rest assured: Robin Bannister, Cibon’s proprietor since 2004, owns the new restaurant.

The big difference? She’s handed the reins over to her daughters, Ashley Swan-Abramson and Paulina Swan. “We had been adding French items to Cibon’s menu for some time,” explains Bannister. “After ten years, it felt like the right time for a revamp.” 

Bannister’s daughters took the lead, from deciding on the new name and menu, to selecting the interior decor and marketing outlets. Having grown up alongside their restaurateur mother, Ashley and Paulina embraced the challenge of evolving the family business.

French food seemed the obvious choice to older sister—and avowed Francophile—Ashley. A graduate from the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan, she “always admired the French and the way they live for simple, delicious food.” She also recognized a dearth of French restaurants in the Rochester area. “I knew that if we didn’t do it, someone else would.”

As head chef, Ashley decided the menu would feature fresh and, whenever possible, locally sourced ingredients. Specific menu items changes seasonally, but certain dishes remain year-round. These include the escargot, pommes frites (house-cut every day), steak frites, and bouillabaisse, a traditional Provençal fish stew.

The food at ROUX is made from scratch. Care and thoughtfulness characterize every dish. The country pork terrine—handsomely plated—is accompanied by house-ground spicy mustard, pickled red onion, and cornichon (the French word for gherkin). The sautéed asparagus (satisfyingly crisp) with capers and lemon are served alongside a perfectly poached organic egg.

Ashley also works to offer vegetarian options. Her tartine, a French open-faced sandwich, features hearty bread currently topped with an avocado and pink peppercorn spread. The beet salad, meanwhile, is rich in both color and flavor. 

All of the desserts are made in-house, and guests shouldn’t be surprised when something sweet arrives at their table as a treat from the chef.

With Ashley in the kitchen, younger sister Paulina has found her niche as barkeep and resident mixologist. “I try to make my cocktails and her food go hand in hand,” she says. “If Ashley’s using certain herbs or flavors in her dishes, then I’ll do my best to use those same ingredients in the drinks.” One of Paulina’s latest concoctions even incorporates her sister’s homemade raspberry jam.

The cocktails are as refreshing as the food is fresh. The Brasserie, for example, showcases gin, grapefruit, mint, and Blanche de Chambly, a Belgian-style white ale from Quebec. Paulina also recommends Give Me Shelter, comprising apple brandy, lemon, scorched rosemary, and a Bordeaux float.

Plus, there’s the absinthe. 

ROUX offers seven different brands, each with its own virtues. “It’s a new age for absinthe,” explains Paulina. “Rather than just anise, there’s more subtly and complexity with the herbaceous and citrus flavors.” Not sure what you’d like? Let her expertise guide you.

So what’s next for ROUX? The sisters anticipate hosting periodic private, reservation-only dinners pairing special foods and wines (the first such event is slated for sometime in May and will feature rosé wines). They’re also planning a prix fixe Mother’s Day brunch and a Bastille Day celebration.

Ultimately, family and business are intertwined for the ladies of ROUX. Even the restaurant’s name—the French word for the substance created by cooking flour and fat together, often used in classical French cooking—is a play on Bannister’s nickname for her daughter as a child. “She used to call me ‘Roo,’” Ashley says, “as in ‘kangaroo,’ because I love being around my family and I never wanted to leave the pouch.”

The family that works together also eats together. “We often dine in this restaurant,” says Bannister. “We know how fresh and high-quality the ingredients are, and you can trust Ashley and Paulina to take as much care preparing their customers’ meals as they do ours.” 

Vive la France à Rochester!

ROUX | 688 Park Avenue | Rochester, NY 14607
585-461-2960 |