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Avec (revisited) | Chicago| May ’13 | “the joy of small plates”

25 Dec

Address: 615 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL, 60661

Telephone: (312) 377-2002

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One from the vaults. (in preparation for end-of-year belly-gazing lists of my favorite restaurants and my favorite dishes) The best meal I had in Chicago in 2013. While I lived in Chicago in the summer of 2012, Avec was one of my go-to places for casual “fine-dining”. I found the Mediterranean influenced dishes an absolute delight, and I am surprised that it still remains only on the Bib Gourmand list on the Michelin Guide. It deserves a star. The restaurant is exceedingly casual and also doesn’t take reservations, which may be why.

Avec was opened by Paul Kahan in 2003, to partner his existing restaurant Blackbird (next door, and also one of my favorites in Chicago). The opening of the restaurant is exceedingly cramped (one enters by a side door, like Blackbird), leaving little space to manoeuvre between reception and entrance. The place is perpetually crowded, and while waiting outside in the summer is acceptable, in Chicago winter it must become uncomfortable.

My first brief review on this blog was in the last month of Koren Grieveson’s stint as head chef of Avec, who is not currently cooking. The kitchen is now under Chef Erling Wu-Bower. I ate at Avec twice in two days, and had sterling meals both times.

As I’m currently on holiday, and away from my copies of the menu, I will describe dishes impressionistically.

Rating: 16/20

Memory: Wood-fired Squid Amatriciana, alcoholic cherries and Spumoni, the combination of dark chocolate and bergamot, always perfect trout.

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2013-05-23 08.12.57

The Famous Avec Stuffed Dates (4.25/5)

I’m still not the biggest fan of these, though I’ve had them numerous times with different people, who rave about them. I think the bacon wrappings outside are too hard and cardboard-like in texture. One improvement I can think of is using the belly-fat of pork, often used in Chinese cooking for dong-bo-rou, cut it into thin-slices, and use that as wrapping instead. To achieve the crunchy texture, carefully blowtorch the fat. That would be how I would improve on these dates.

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Pea Puree Dish (4.5/5)

Very fresh, verdant tasting pea puree. Delicious

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Some Fish (4/5)

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Trout (5/5)

Avec is absolutely killer at Mediterranean seafood. What I remember: perfectly roasted trout, flaky savory skin, juicy inside.

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Wood-fired Squid Amatriciana (5/5)

My favorite dish this time round. A delicious baked-glaze, like a mac-and-cheese, on top of amatriciana that contained pork cheeks (guanciale?) and squid.

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Beet Salad (4/5)

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Whole Roasted Fish (4.5/5)

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Pork Shoulder (3.5/5)

I’ve always found the pork shoulder at Avec to be a bit dry to my tastes. Needs more time in the stew.

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Chocolate Crisps (4.5/5)

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Daily special: Bergamot-Dark-Chocolate Ice Cream (5/5)

mmmm. What an inspired pairing.

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Spumoni (5/5)

Oh, those alcoholic cherries, with the pressed layers of ice cream. I could eat twenty of those dark, intense alcoholic cherries,no problem.

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If on a Chicago summer night a traveller…

Avec | Chicago | Summer ’12

1 Jul

Avec | Chicago | Menu

Avec’s been around for more than 7 years, and it has a disarmingly informal feel, even as one of the city’s top restaurants. I had the pleasure of stepping inside on a Wednesday dinner (the Mediterranean restaurant doesn’t take recommendations)

burrata with fresh tarragon and pickled trio of ramps, golden beets and rhubarb (4.25/5)
Burrata had an outer wall of solid mozzarella goodness, and an inner molten core of liquid mozzarella. Pickled vegetables formed a sour counterpoint to the burrata. Good dish.

from wikipedia:
Burrata is a fresh Italian cheese, made from mozzarella and cream. The outer shell is solid mozzarella while the inside contains both mozzarella and cream, giving it an unusual, soft texture. It is also defined by some sources as an outer shell of mozzarella filled with butter or a mixture of butter and sugar. It is usually served fresh, at room temperature. The name “burrata” means “buttered” in Italian.

chorizo-stuffed medjool dates with smoked bacon and piquillo pepper-tomato sauce (4/5)
on yelp, chorizo-stuffed dates was often mentioned as avec’s speciality. the inside of the dates was incredibly meaty, with smoked bacon and a large helping of chorizo. THe tomato sauce was very good for dipping.

whipped brandade with garlic bread and chives (3.5/5)
brandade was a good whipping of fish and olive oil, and this paired well with garlic bread. I was also recommended to eat this with apples.

from wikipedia:
Brandade is an emulsion of salt cod and olive oil eaten in winter with bread or potatoes. In French it is sometimes called Brandade de Morue and in Spanish it can be called Brandada de bacalao (‘morue’ being the French name for salt cod and bacalao the Spanish one).

roasted whitefish with lentils, spanish chorizo, endive and shallot (4.75/5)
Whitefish was perfectly browned on one side without being overcooked. The scraped lines on its browned side made it look endearingly like toast. Perfectly textured, and served on a delicious mix of lentils, spanish chorizo, endive and shallot – which tasted and looked a bit like cassoulet

http://chicago.eater.com/archives/2011/10/13/avecs-koren-grieveson-comes-out-of-the-kitchen.php
http://avecrestaurant.com/menus/3-dinner-menu