Nov 16, 2010

Avec: Chicago's Meatpacking Delight

If you could grade restaurants on flavors per square foot, then Avec gets my vote. - hands down! This 1,500 square foot destination is another collaboration between Blackbird restauranteur Donnie Madia, Chef Paul Kahan and designer Thomas Schlesser. So far, this gourmet triumvirate has carefully managed their establishments growth to sheer
perfection. My experience at Blackbird was exceptional and Publican is a pork lovers haven.

Schlesser's inspiration is reflected in the cedar walls and ceiling that molds this rectangular wooden box into a tightly wrapped Danish modern masterpiece. Schlesser adds a subtle contrast by using red oak for the sitting and hickory for the floor. A 48-ft stainless-steel bar hugs the mini open kitchen which dishes out one tantalizing plate after another.

Avec, is first and foremost, a wine bar. But chef Koren Grievson's food is unmistakably delicious beyond explanation. She manages to transport each diner to the farmhouses of southern France and tiny fishing villages of Portugal and Spain's Costa Del Sol. Her upbringing in South Africa, Brazil, Angola and England may have influenced her triumph in coalescing the best of the mediterranean with hints of South America.

On this visit, my oldest daughter, Margaux, and I were on a college tour of Northwestern University in the Chicago northern suburb of Evanston. These daddy-daughter trips are becoming more precious as her independence from her parents grasp nears reality. Margaux, through her travels, has developed quite a discriminating palate for a sixteen year-old. And I couldn't have found a more perfect setting for our date than the vibrant coziness of Avec in the meatpacking district of the windy city.

My eyes didn't take long to gravitate to the snails on the menu. A weakness I have for these savory little creatures. While I favor the traditional butter and garlic infused delicacy from French bistros, Avec's chanterelle and fennel laced version is definitely worth the deviation. Margaux decided that the wagyu is a must for us to also share given her memories of our Australian wagyu barbecue at my sister's home in Hong Kong. While our $50 per pound wagyu in Hong Kong deserves memorable accolades, Avec's brussels sprouts salsa verde adds a refreshing tingle to this carnivore's bliss.

However, the star of the evening was the chorizo-stuffed medjool dates. WOW! WOW! WOW! Our server convinced us that this dish was worthy of its most popular billing and she was absolutely correct. My first bite into the bacon-wrapped, steaming hot, chorizo-stuffed date produced a wonderful sensation of spice and aroma. The chorizo reminded me so much of eating the best Filipino longaniza, though this version is a bit more sophisticated with its layers of flavors. The piquillo sauce adds a whole different layer of spice and tanginess to the dish - a definite exclamation point to perhaps one of the best dishes I have encountered in my culinary journeys.

615 W. Randolph
Chicago, Il. 60661
616.377.2002 (no reservations taken)
Chorizo-Stuffed Medjool Dates with Smoked Bacon and Piquillo Pepper-Tomato Sauce ($9)
Burgundy Snail Agridolce with Fennel, Cabbage, Chanterelles and Bacon Breadcrumbs ($10)
Marinated Wagyu Coulotte with Roasted Shallots and Brussels Sprouts Salsa Verde ($13)

The lively bar seating

Five communal tables line up one side of the cedar-wrapped restaurant


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