Chicago is a beautiful town full of old and new. I love the architecture, the river, and the vibrant restaurant scene. I’m on business here and hit up the absolutely delicious Avec restaurant. Avec means “with” in French. True to the name, the place is set up so that tables are shared and you might squeeze in between a couple of diners like my friend and I did. It can make chatting across the table a challenge…BUT it can also lead to very interesting conversation. We met a delightful couple from New York (now residing in Florida) who were checking Chicago off of their bucket list. They were interesting and chatty and we never would have met them except for the intimate seating arrangements.
The restaurant is very small – like a long hallway with a bar and galley kitchen on one side and tables all along the other side. It’s essentially one long walkway from the front of the restaurant to the rear. They don’t take reservations, but we didn’t have to wait on a Sunday night. Oh, and the door is a bit hidden, so it can take a minute to find your way in…unless you’re much more clever than me, which is totally possible.
This place has great reviews on line and I can attest to the reason. The food was fresh, with complex flavors and composition, and super tasty and not too pricey. They have “small” and “large” plates and my friend and I shared four small plates, as recommended by the waiter. I would say that if you’re not really hungry, you could definitely share three and be just fine. Here’s the run down of what we ate:
Brussels sprout panzanella (bread salad) with pickled raisins, calabrian chile, and fiore sardo cheese – this was a great starter, since it was a salad, right? The flavor of the sprouts was pretty mild, but you could definitely tell you were eating Brussels sprouts. The cheese made it a bit too salty for me, but it was still a tasty dish that I would order again. Bonus: Brussels sprouts are part of the cruciferous vegetable family known for helping fight cancer!
Chicken liver crostini with rhubarb mostarda, parsley, mint and red onion – super rich, lip-smacking goodness. The mostarda (which was the star in my opinion) and fresh herbs really helped cut through the fat, but my pal and I agreed that this was a very heavy dish that we might not order again. It was really tasty, but the bread was heavily buttered, and the chicken liver spread was very rich…perhaps a smaller portion would have made more sense.
Charred octopus with white beans, endive, mint, orange, hazelnut and preserved lemon – I could hardly believe how filling and delicious this dish was. It could have been an entree for one all by itself. The whole dish had this amazingly delicate, but complex flavor with the mingling of the fresh and the hearty. If you go to Avec, this is a good choice.
Roasted salmon with sumac, frisee, radish and roasted beet-walnut muhammara (a spread) – the fish was perfectly cooked with an amazing caramelized sweetness. I want this recipe! Do not miss out on this dish when you go to Avec.
Even though the meal was sensationally filling, we had to try the desserts! Fortunately, they were small portions and we were able to squeeze in just a little more…we enjoyed Cardamom Ice Cream and Tiramisu (one of my top 3 all time desserts!) – with sambuca soaked lady fingers and fresh whipped mascarpone – ridiculous. Like the small plates, the desserts are just enough to meet that sweet craving, without overdoing it!
One of the great things about Chicago and cities like it…all the walking! I took nearly 19,000 steps today (according to Fitbit), which helps make room for this kind of indulgent meal.