I caught up with a number of friends for dinner the first night I spent in Chicago and they recommended the restaurant Avec. They recommended getting there early (6pm) that worked for me as I was still recovering from the flight and wouldn’t really last to a very late dinner. It’s a good thing too because like many popular restaurants in the town, they had a first come first seated basis.
The front door to the restaurant is rather discrete. Upon walking in, it feels like you’re entering a huge communal sauna where the entire room is wood-panelled including the tables and the major counter top. Putting my name down for the group of four, I sat at the counter and sipped on a glass of red wine from spain until the others arrived. I asked about getting something local (i.e. American) but they said that this was a mediterranean restaurant and thus only offered wine from France, Italy and Spain. Strange.
The others soon arrived and we were shown to our table that we split with another group sitting at the end of the large table side. A lot of the dishes had been designed for sharing and even though we ordered a number of large dishes, we still opted to split them as a group to try to savour and experience all that Avec had to offer. It worked for me. Our waiter came to recommend a number of dishes including a number of daily specials on the board.
We went for these chinese greens that were served with some toasted quinoa and had a great earthy nutty feel to them. It had a great mouth feel and gladly had not been overcooked.
Next up were the apparently famous chorizo-stuffed medjool dates with smoked bacon and piquillo pepper-tomato sauce. Our waiter pushed us really hard to order more than just one of these dishes, but we only really wanted to try one each. Of course the date, meaty flavours mixed with the spicy tomato sauce worked really well but I remember this being particularly overseasoned and needing to reach for more water to quench the thirst.
We then tried the marinated hanger steak with lemon marscapone leeks, escarole and charred onion vinaigrette that turned out to be a perfectly cooked, slightly smoky piece of steak that disappeared rather quickly.
We also tried the crispy duck with toasted fregula and couscous, mustard greens, squash and egg yolk that reminded me of a Chinese style duck blended with mediterranean flavours. I really enjoyed the choice of the large cous couse here, and the egg yolk bursting to add a richness to this dish. The crispy duck added texture to the dish and, at the same time, was too overcooked to enjoy any of the duck flavour.
Ajit recommended ordering the “deluxe” focaccia with taleggio cheese, ricotta, truffle oil and fresh herbs. This bread, slightly slimmer than what one would expect from a Foccacia was filled with a creamy filling all full of great umami. Once again the only disappointment was how they went a bit heavy on the salting of the bread that was perfectly fine with out it.
Typically unable to resist desserts, my friends ordered some dessert wines and I opted for the hazelnut crumb cake with fennel creme fraiche, candied hazelnuts and butterscotch, a rich cake including a sweet sauce very well balanced out by the choice of a creme fraiche instead of whipped cream.
Overall a pretty good dining experience though not as perfect as I’d hoped after hearing all the reviews. I’d still definitely go back and try a few of the other dishes as I think the flavour combinations were pretty inventive and not what you would find in many other kitchens.
Name: Avec Restaurant
Found at: 615 W Randolph, Chicago, IL 60661