I recently had two dinners in Chicago that highlighted two ends of the dining spectrum for me. They were both good and were such a great way for me to really appreciate and analyze two trends in dining and realize that I think maybe my favorite cuisine falls somewhere in between. But these were both meals that were true dining experiences—the kinds that won’t easily be forgotten.
Our first dinner was at Avec. If you haven’t heard of Avec, it is a very casual, small place specializing in what I would call rustic, homey food with little twists. The restaurant is made up of a long bar along one side where you can eat and watch the food being prepared, and a long banquette of about 5 tables on the other side that seat 8-10 people, depending on how much they cram you in. So it is pretty communal feeling. Everything in there is wood—the benches, the chairs, the tables, the walls. Again, keeping with the rustic but with a twist theme in my mind.
Their menu consists of small and larger plates (think fairly generous tapas). The one dish that seriously, everyone I have ever known who has been there has told me to get, is the chorizo stuffed dates. It is one of their signature dishes that is always on the menu. So, they are dates stuffed with quite spicy chorizo, wrapped in bacon and served in a thick, somewhat spicy tomato sauce. So they are good, and very, very hearty. I mean, seriously, that is a lot of slow cooked stuff. So I am just going to say it, they weren’t my favorite. There wasn’t anything wrong with them other than they just overwhelmed me with their pure spicy/sweet meatiness (sweet from the dates). Hubby quite enjoyed them though. And luckily, at the last minute our server told us we could get a half order (which is 2) which is what we did. Honestly, I couldn’t have eaten more than one.
The next two dishes they brought were the focaccia with Taleggio, Ricotta, herbs and truffle oil ($15) and the Brussels sprouts salad ($10). Now they brought the focaccia first, but as we were about half way through it (ok, this is one you really need to share with like 4 people although we managed to eat pretty much all of it), they brought the Brussels Sprout salad. I really enjoyed this—it was shaved leaves of the sprouts, with shaved fennel, parmesan, shaved red onion and a brown butter orange vinaigrette. This was just what I needed, just in time. I was craving something that was not just purely rich and, as I said, rustic. Even the bread, while tasty, didn’t have the sort of stinkiness I was hoping for from the Taleggio. But some of the salad mounded on the bread? Perfect. I would recommend if you get these 2 things, request them to be brought together.
The last savory dish we had was the pork shoulder with carrots, black rice, and basil pistou ($21), and served in broth. Now, I really liked this one—it was soooo tender and the black rice gave it a little slightly crunchy texture, and the herby topping the freshness I always crave. But this thing was huge. Hubby was in pain because he wanted to eat it all because it was so good, but we were getting so full—and I really wanted to try a sweet. But seriously, this was one of the “larger” plates and it could have easily fed 4 people, if not more, particularly when you are wanting to try a lot of things.
So this place is small, heaving with people, and food is just coming out right and left all over the place. It is boisterous, and although the service was quite good, it was certainly a very homey casual, slightly crazy feel. The food is mainly very local, and seasonal and well, hearty…rustic. So the next night, you could not have gotten a more different meal than the one we had---I will post the review of the second night in the very near future….
615 West Randolph
Chicago, IL 60661