Saturday, October 15, 2011

avec - chicago, il
615 west randolph
chicago, il 60661

opening its doors in 2003, avec is a small restaurant/wine bar by chef/restaurateur paul kahan (blackbird, the publican, big star, the violet hour). the menu features small and large plates designed for sharing along with a nice selection of cheese and salumi. although no cocktails are offered, avec has a nice selection of european wine and beer available. the restaurant was unfortunately ravaged by a fire last fall and as such was not included in chicago's inaugural michelin guide, however many feel that avec will earn a star when the 2012 edition drops on november 16th.

avec is a place that has been on my radar for some time now, but eating there had never really made sense until this trip. with its small size (58 diners total), no reservations policy, communal table set up, and overwhelming popularity, working a meal at avec into one of our trips has been a difficult task for me as the wait times are rumored to often be several hours during normal diner hours. however, with a bruins/blackhawks game to attend at the united center, an early dinner at avec with the family seemed like an excellent plan.

arriving a minute or two before avec's opening time of 3:30 to find another small group waiting outside, we were met with unlocked doors and entered the restaurant. as i mentioned above, avec's set up is communal, with five eight person tables and a long 18 seat bar. the restaurants design was done by thomas schlesser, who also designed blackbird, and garnered a james beard award for both creations. the space is full of blonde wood and steel, and is unique to say the least. choosing to sit in window at the front of the restaurant, the family settled in a began browsing the menu.

with a request for a white wine that is not too sweet nor too dry, our server stated she would bring us one of her favorites, and returned with a bottle of domaine camp galhan 'le malivert'. a blend of sauvignon blanc, roussane, and chardonnay grapes, this was a nice wine with a fruity and somewhat floral nose and a palate that fulfilled our request. we ended up drinking two bottles total between the five of us.

after a short while, our first wave of dishes arrived. pictured above is the course i was most anticipating, chorizo stuffed medjool dates with smoked bacon and piquillo pepper tomato sauce. food network watchers may remember this dish when it was featured on the "in a bowl" episode of the best thing i ever ate. essentially these are dates stuffed with chorizo, wrapped in bacon, and served in a spicy tomato sauce. there is certainly a lot of hype surrounding this dish, and i can firmly say that it is well deserved, as the dates are a wonderful combination of spice and subtle sweetness that cannot be missed when dining at avec. our table even ordered a second round later in the meal.

the second of three dishes making up our first wave was the wood oven roasted market shishito peppers with pickled feta cheese. these were delivered with a warning from our server that one out of every ten shishito peppers is very hot, and to enjoy them with caution. well as my luck would have it, the second pepper i bit into was fiery, and had me sweating and wishing for some milk to cool my mouth. a bit of bread and the feta cheese helped a bit, but after that second pepper i was done with these as i wanted to actually be able to taste the rest of my food.

the final dish of round one was the warm hen of the woods and shiitake mushroom salad with apple, red quinoa, parmesan, dill and sherry vinaigrette. this offering was just ok, and did not thrill anyone at the table. at this point, we were one for three, but with the dates being amazing and several more proteins on the way my hopes were still very high.

arriving in our second wave with our server stating that this dish was like candy was the atlantic salmon with sweet corn, market tomatoes, lima beans, and mojo de ajo. easily trumping both the peppers and the mushroom salad, the salmon was moist, mild, and simply fell apart perfectly with zero effort.

our final small plate was the roasted squid, which was ordered as a substitute for the octopus as we were told they had run out (odd as we were there at opening?). this turned out to be a very nice dish however, with the perfectly tender squid going well with spice and creaminess of the san marzano tomatoes, guanciale, and fideo and fennel aioli

after the five small plates, our two large plates arrived. above is the roasted quails with bacon, pickled celery, pear veloute and apple kidney vinaigrette.

arrving with the quails, our second of the large plates was the wood oven roasted pork shoulder with roasted baby carrots, black rice and basil pistou. this was definitely a hit with the family, and was some of the most tender and juicy pork i have had.

moving on to dessert, i opted for the buckwheat crepes with ricotta filling, goat's milk caramel and berries. these were excellent, with the soft and fluffy crepes tasting great with the tart berries and sweet ricotta filling.

carrie's dessert was the white chocolate panna cotta with maple figs and walnut shortbread. i only tried a bite of the actual panna cotta, which was great in both texture and flavor.

with the time nearing 5:30 and the place at maximum capacity with people waiting to be seated, we made our way to the street and walked past blackbird (reminding me how i can't wait to go back there for dinner) on our way to the united center where the bruins would ultimately top the blackhawks in a shootout :-). while two dishes were a bit of a miss for me (and i should have known better about the peppers), seven out of nine isn't bad in my book. while i would sooner return to girl and the goat and am excited to try both longman and eagle and the bristol for mid level small plates, avec is a place i would like to visit again sometime in the future.

Avec on Urbanspoon

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