Saturday, October 25, 2008

I can be with AVEC in Chicago...but damn that noise

I have dined next door numerous times at Blackbird, and on the previous night, we all tried to get into AVEC at 1130pm, its sister spot, but the place was so heaving we could barely get in the door. So we headed next door to Blackbird for an appetizer (my mussel soup was delish, as was the cheese plate, but my hosts were not too impressed with the Pork Belly appetizer) and dessert.

Knowing full well that AVEC does not take reservations, I returned the next day at 5pm for dinner before the opera, to find the place a bout 1/2 full. It is small to begin with; a long narrow stainless steel tapas bar on the left seats just over a dozen or so on very hard uncomfortable tall wooden stools. Along the right wall are tables and the same shorter stools. This must be an attempt to keep the crowds moving at AVEC ( The tables, floors, walls and cielings are all made of the same light wood making for a noisy experience, and then there is the blaring music; I am glad I was alone and did not need to converse!

At first, the bar server was friendly and helpful, but by the time of my departure at 7pm, the place was heaving with lines of 20+ outside and I could barely get my check. Avec is fine if you go off-peak and don't mind relaxed service, but it's the food that stars here. Plates are listed as small and large, which is already a problem, as the small plates are really about TWICE the size of a normal small tapas plate. I goofed when I ordered three of these, but adored every single mouth-watering bite of each:

CRUSHED TOMATO & Olive Oil Braised OCTOPUS with Baby SPINACH and ONION Salad with PANCETTA Vinaigrette was a huge plate of at least 5 large pieces of tender mollusk and tons of lightly sauteed spinach and some onions; the sauce of tomato was divine. I enjoyed a LUIS PATO white from Portugal called MARIA GOMES (the varietal) which is very full bodied and reminded me or chardonnay.

Next was the "La Quercia" PROSCIUTTO Late with Lemon, Slivered ALmonds and Marinated MANCHEGO all sprinkled generously with fresh pepper. A huge warm boule (French loaf) came with this, but I tried to avoid eating most of it. A CASTILLO de FUENDELAJON Campo de Borja from Crianza was made from old vine granacha and tempranillo making for a smooth yet robust taste.

My final plate was the ROAST PHEASANT SAUSAGE (why my eye hit first on the menu) with LENTILS, BRUSSEL SPROUTS and Candied Bacon served "agridolce: or sweet and sour style. The sausage was huge and the plate had everything loaded on including potatoes and the excellent al dente sprouts, but I could not force myself to finish, so I asked for some coffee and headed to the opera.