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Anyone eaten at Avec - Chicago?


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i dreamed about their deluxe black truffle focaccia for weeks after the first time i had it, but it wasn't quite as good on my last visit (about 3 weeks ago)

if the octopus is still on the menu, have it, i think that's one of the best dishes in chicago at the moment. the stuffed dates are also very good (but not sure they are wood-ovened) salads tend to be very good here too.

the main thing i would avoid is the brandade.

i know nothing about wine so can't help you there very much.

have a good time! it's one of my favourite places in chicago.

Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

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Haven't had any of the wood-burning items, but last time I was there, we had a special that was a warm potato salad with garlic aioli and chorizo. Also, the rabbit crostini was excellent.

As far as the wines go, the list is mostly of fairly small producers that I had never heard of. I'm not sure what we had, but the bartender/waiter made some great selections after asking us what we liked. The 1/3 bottle servings made it fun, as you could try a variety of different things...

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Can't speak to the food, but I can address the wines.

The average wine drinker will recognize the names of three producers, if he or she is lucky. The list is that obscure. That doesn't make it a bad thing, though. You can put yourself in the hands of a server or bartender, but I would suggest you give them some help by telling them what types of wines you typically prefer. The owner should also be there, fellow with short dark hair and a darker complexion. Ask him what he recommends. And you should be allowd a small taste of anything before committing to a purchase.

If you get the 1/3 bottle option, your wine will come to you in a cruet. If there is more than one of you, this is a good option in case your prefer someone else's wine to the one you ordered and vice versa (a very real possibility given most likely don't know what they are ordering).

The lighting is what I found strange. Unless it has changed, the tables are under some sort of strange dim fluorescent lighting. I can't think that makes the food appear attractive.

Of course, if your experience is less than you hoped for, Blackbird is right next door.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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Any experience-related info would be appreciated on either the wood-burning oven side of the menu or the wines - I'm going tonight.

...so, how was it? :smile:

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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I agree with Brad about the lighting. Sit at the tables and you get odd fluorescent lighting, at the bar is warmer halogen lighting. If you go early enough to get to a play, you might be ok. The times I've gone there early (before 7:30), I haven't needed to wait. By the time I've left, there's been a line.

They cure their own salumi, if you like that (which I do). I've not been disappointed by their wines or their food so far.

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So, I only have this one visit, but my view is that this is a really special place that has the potential of spawning/reinvigorating a couple novel movements in a few other cities. My background: I'm quiet on eGullet - a v. infrequent poster - but I do split my time each year between NYC and San Francisco and eat out often in a lot of US and worldwide cities (lucky business traveler) as well as make food with friends a lot (I used to work in Postrio's and Zuni Cafe's kitchens and some artisinal bakeries, too, so that experience is built in here). In this wonderful city I've been to Trotter's and Bayless's and Trio and Tru and a lot of other spots, but I might have enjoyed Avec as much or more as any of them.

When I arrived with my friend (he had been twice before) we were only offered bar seats, which was fine - 7:45pm on a Tuesday and that's all that was available. It's true that the fluorescent lights above the long-ish semi-communal tables were just weird - and I can only imagine they'd be downright annoying if above you - but that can be fairly easily/inexpensively corrected. The 360 degrees of untreated cedar paneling helped soften the lighting and the noise, which was pretty loud with happy folks enjoying their experience. This place without the warm wood cocoon could only offer a lesser experience, but the bulbs above the tables do need to be changed.

Thanks to the recommendations I received here (thanks again, all, part. tarka!), we tried everything suggested and more. A few outstanding characteristics of all the dishes we had: First, there are claims that these are rustic, peasant dishes, but the subtle refinement in planning and obvious skill in putting them together really makes them about as good as they can be. This is not to be underappreciated - I bet there's a lot more thinking behind every dish and the overall service experience than most people would customarily know. Everything we had just loved the wine our server paired with it. Second - the small dishes are not that small. Third - the prices are just great - most of the small dishes are under $10.

Their house-cured olives are perfect, and bread is an individual ciabatta warmed in the wood-burning oven. I'd be happy with this combination - and one of the Spanish whites - alone for an hour or two while I chatted with my dining mate.

The chorizo-stuffed medjool dates are wrapped in thin, crispy bacon (you get four large ones) and sit in a pool of perfectly creamy red pepper sauce. This dish is really excellent - a little spice in the chorizo, sweet density of the dates, and salty crispiness in the bacon wrapper.

The homemade salumi comes on a paper-covered wood block - there were five different kinds of sausages, thinly-sliced cured pork, and pistachio-heavy mortadella - about five thin slices of each type. Cornichons and caperberries are piled on the side, along with a spicy homemade red-wine mustard in a little porcelain crock. Just excellent. I think it was $11 - insanely perfect. When I worked in Postrio's charcuterie, making stuff for Spago and the other restaurants, I'd honestly dream of doing just this thing - make the delicate dishes look rough and make the rough dishes look pretty.

The pea-shoot crostini (with a dressed bitter green and lots of parm shavings on top) was also excellent - nice, clean taste - three big slabs of (lightly toasted! this is the kind of thinking I'm referring to here) bread for the pea-shoot puree.

The octopus was excellent, also. The cast-iron wood-fired dish had four small-ish sets of legs - all eight legs together! - where the body diameter would have been about three inches (so not that small, really) - very tender, thumb-thick legs with a wonderful inky taste, in a tomato-shallot-other-stuff sauce. Can't be made any better, I don't think.

The focaccia was also as good as it could be: About six-by-nine inches, thin and crispy, sliced in half and loaded with a calculated amount of warm taleggio cheese and truffle oil. This is good wine-drinking food. Excellent wine-drinking food.

We had a few more just-as-rocking dishes, but I don't see why I wouldn't want to get these five or six little plates every time I went back. We also finished with a cheese plate - our server chose them based on our request (start with a funky goat or sheep, and get some stinky, nasty stuff too, please). She had some Garrotxa and a semi-soft Spanish sheep's milk - Torta-del-Casar - and something like an Epoisses (Trou de Cru?) at the end of the line. The Casar and Trou weren't on the menu.

Wine - as mentioned by earlier posters, there are a lot of unknown estates. I chose the only Albarino to start, but then we put ourselves in our server's hands for the rest of the meal. She nailed everything, this very casual, funny, totally-unpretentious-and-how-does-she-know-so-much-about-wine server. What was great - really unique and wonderful - was the 250ml cruets. Most were priced around $10-$12, which was really excellent. She also had a few wines not on the list - including the French Bordeaux and the 20 yr tawny port she sat next to the cheese.

I need to wrap this up, but here are the two things I found so great and that I think have the potential to change the way a lot of aspiring restaurants need to recalibrate themselves: 1. Laid-back "enjoy yourselves, but check this out" style of knowledge on the part of everyone walking the restaurant floor (our busboy, overhearing us talking about the chorizo-stuffed dates: "those are pretty solid, huh?, like if they didn't get the bacon so crispy it wouldn't be as good, right?"). Where else do you get this, especially when the food's a rocket? 2. The inexpensive and really good wines, all well-known by your server, decanted from the bottle in front of you into the 1/3 bottle cruets. This is a killer. Just outstanding. It's something that's still new to most people, it works, it makes you feel special, it allows you to try more variety and learn something. It's just excellent.

On paper, this place is maybe Casa Mono in NY or Cesar in Berkeley - except neither is nearly as good. At Avec you get to have a relaxed, really enjoyable meal with some great new wine and you get to observe the staff all having a lot of fun giving it to you. Our total tab for eight plates and five wines including the port was $140 before tip - I tip too much normally, but very happily on this night, and it was still around $175. On a daily basis, we'd order less food and wine, of course. Chicagolanders - you are lucky people!

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You're so right about the Casa Mono connection! Although I enjoyed my visit and thought the piquillo stuffed with oxtail excellent and the sweetbreads...oh my god. Have you tried 'Inoteca on Rivington? I think you might it like it next time you are in New York. I have yet to find anywhere like these places in London....*sighs*

Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

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I agree totally with what was said about the waitstaff, they are very good, curtious, and unpretentious. I went for a bit of a night cap, so we only tried two dishes, the foccacia (after hearing so much on here I had to try it) and a special that night, the raviolini. The focaccia was a good size and was equal to the praise it has received here. The raviolini were very good and served as a good snack. It was a great experience, but one thing that left me a little disappointed was that it doesn't offer "taster" glasses. With so many wines, most being ones we've never heard of before, it would be great to be able to sample a number of different wines when you come with a smaller party. Perhaps this is not possible, but just a thought. It was on this basis that my dining companion decided she preferred the decidedly less hip, Bin 36. Oh well, I tried...

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I am also a pretty infrequent poster, but had to chime in on Avec. Upon opening it quickly became my and my husband's favorite restaurant for non-special-occasion dinners. I think we were there once every 3 weeks for a good 6 month stretch. You can vary your dining experience from a bit of wine and a couple of snacks to a way-tooooo-big dinner so easily. In addition, the service is always great whether we're spending a lot or not.

We are big fans of the stuffed dates as well... In fact, the only dish we've ever been disappointed with is the sausage with poached egg. I would also reccommend the bourride now that it's starting to get chilly again.

As far as comparasons go -- we love it because it reminds us of Lupa in NYC. We really missed having a place like that here in Chicago.... until Avec.

And the wine list -- I really enjoy not recognizing much on the menu. It is really fun to know that you can try something new. I think this working well is dependent on the unpretentious staff though.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I was at the University Club where Chef Tony Bourdain has just spoke.

The question was asked where had he dined in Chicago last night, he mentioned AVEC.

As I’m heading out of the Loop on Randolph, what do I pass but AVEC and there is a parking spot 20’ from the restaurant. Fate for sure, so I park.

The restaurant is small, communal style seating. Looks like a large sauna room, all wood with no art. Rear wall of restaurant is composed of the bottoms of green wine bottles.

Seating for about 50 people.

Seating is available at the bar, it is busy this Wednesday night, only a few bar chairs left.

Started out with a special of Heirloom tomatoes & burata cheese. Seeing as this is the last hurrah for tomatoes I chose this dish. Tomatoes were sweet and delicious, burata cheese is like a mozzarella but slightly stronger tasting, and creamy in the center, sortof like a brie. Great dish.

Next were the chorizo stuffed medjool dates wrapped with smoked bacon in a piquillo pepper sauce. AWESOME! Sauce was not needed but was delicious as I sopped it up with my just baked bread.

The wood oven roasted port shoulder with green chili sofrito was the main entrée. Pork was so flavorful and tender. Served with sugared pickled garlic. A good dish.

avec has many cheeses to choose from, including some raw milk cheeses. Enjoyed the cow’s milk gorgonzola, raw cow’s milk mahon semi curado and the raw sheeps milk farmstand idiazabal. Gorganzola was my fave but all were good.

Had a Portugese red, Vinha da Palestra.

It appeared that avec has its own cured meats, the guy next to me had a plate that reminded me of Salumi in Seattle.

avec

615 W Randolph

Chicago

312.377.2002

http://www.avecrestaurant.com

Open daily at 3:30pm till 1am on Fri & Sat, till midnight Mon-Thurs, & till 10pm on Sun

"I did absolutely nothing and it was everything I thought it could be"
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We checked out Avec before the Tony event on Tuesday night. We sat at the bar and tried those dates which were out of this world--maybe even better than Meson Sabika's take on them. Also had the spicy meatballs with chick peas, rapini and spanish rice...also very good, as were the martinis. My only gripe is that service was somewhat slow. It took nearly a full half hour for the apps to arrive and then we kind of had to "wolf" them as the event was starting. But the restaurant had just opened, so maybe that had something to do with it. I look forward to going back and trying it again.

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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Ron, did you find the atmosphere uncomfortable?  I've heard about those communal tables.  And the place looks tiny.  Was there a full house when you were there early?

It wasn't the atmosphere I found uncomfortable, it was the furniture :biggrin:

Seriously, the bar stools, while beautiful, were extraordinarily uncomfortable. The sides of the stools were closed (made from solid planks) so that you could only hang your feet straight ahead. This required me to either keep my legs very close together (can you say "nutcracker?"...I knew that you could :wink:) or let my feet dangle. But it just wasn't busy enough at the hour we were there to speak about the overall capacity/comfort issues of space. It is relatively small, however. As for communal tables, I'm generally not a fan, but I'm willing to accept a space for what it is and at least give it a shot...assuming that physical comfort issues are not in play.

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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We checked out Avec before the Tony event on Tuesday night.  We sat at the bar and tried those dates which were out of this world--maybe even better than Meson Sabika's take on them.  Also had the spicy meatballs with chick peas, rapini and spanish rice...also very good, as were the martinis.  My only gripe is that service was somewhat slow.  It took nearly a full half hour for the apps to arrive and then we kind of had to "wolf" them as the event was starting.  But the restaurant had just opened, so maybe that had something to do with it.  I look forward to going back and trying it again.

=R=

Orzo is supporting those meatballs, not Spanish rice. :wink:

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Orzo is supporting those meatballs, not Spanish rice. :wink:

Maybe so, but I took that text, verbatim, off their menu (although I may have erred, don't have it with me). I guess it (or I) needs a bit of updating :wink:

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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Or maybe I need updating!  :hmmm:

LOL! Bottom line is that it was delicious--and it certainly looked like orzo. I'll check my copy of the menu when I get home. It was after 2 am (and a few cocktails) when I originally posted that, so all bets are off :wacko:

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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Everyone seems to love those chorizo stuffed dates! If you can, try them with a glass of the brachetto, somewhat sweet, lavendery and rosy -- it goes perfectly even though you'd think it shouldn't match.

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Ok,

I've checked the menu and the dish is described as having spanish rice. Again, it very well could have been orzo but we didn't want to miss the start of the Bourdain event, so we basically wolfed it and fled next door to Blackbird without examining the dish very closely.

In these cases, I generally defer to the menu and that's why I take them with me whenever possible.

Meanwhile, my wife and I are simply drooling as we're reading the Avec menu now. I really can't wait to get back there and give it a serious sampling. :smile:

kivligan, are you associated with the restaurant?

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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Ok,

I've checked the menu and the dish is described as having spanish rice.  Again, it very well could have been orzo but we didn't want to miss the start of the Bourdain event, so we basically wolfed it and fled next door to Blackbird without examining the dish very closely.

In these cases, I generally defer to the menu and that's why I take them with me whenever possible.

Meanwhile, my wife and I are simply drooling as we're reading the Avec menu now.  I really can't wait to get back there and give it a serious sampling. :smile:

kivligan, are you associated with the restaurant?

=R=

I'd go with what the menu says rather than my somewhat distant memory! Maybe they changed it since I had that dish, which was a while ago.

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