Ever since reading about the group trip to Avec that Joan organized back in October, I've been looking forward to hitting Paul Kahn's new place. Now, after dining at Avec on Saturday, I can't wait to go back to experience what this place is truly capable of delivering.
For background, we held tickets for the holiday concert at Old St. Pat's, which started at 7:30, with doors opening at 7 p.m. Knowing that it probably wouldn't let out until past 9:30, we decided to take in an early dinner at Avec, which is only five blocks away.
We arrived at around 5:20 and were immediately seated. At that time, the crowd was primarily people dining in advance of theater/party/misc. destination, and the waiter even asked if we needed to leave at a specific time. Grateful that he asked, we told him 6:45, never thinking that we'd struggle to leave in less than 90 minutes...
We perused the menu, and I grabbed hold of the wine list. In addition to bottles, more than 30 selections are also offered in 250 ml servings, which is about a third of a bottle. Focusing on those selections, we opted to go with one red (La Fiorita, "Laurus") and one white (Domaine Russol, "Cuvee Raphaelle"). Well, that is until we attempted to order them. Nope, we were rebuffed on both, as they were out stock.
I asked the waiter for a few minutes, and he gave us more than a few. Ten minutes later I provided two alternate wines (Capezzana, "Braco Rale," Domaine de Grangeneuve, "Les Dames Blanches"), and joked that I hope he had them available. He did. Looking at our watch, which was approaching 5:40, we also put in our order.
As previously discussed, the menu is divided into:
-- small plates: 16 offerings from $5 olives selection to $13 braised beef short ribs,
-- large plates: 6 offerings from $13 pissaladiere and $14 'deluxe' focaccia to the acclaimed bourride for $20,
-- daily selection of salumi: $8 for one or $14 for an assortment
-- cheese: 15 offerings from Italy, Spain and France, with any three cheese selections for $12
By 5:55 the starters arrived, and we anxiously dove in. We started with the assortment of salumi, which arrived on a wood board covered with a sheet of butcher paper and five rows of five slices of the day's offering (lomo, spiced, spicy fennel, linguica, and sopressala), a jar of mustard and garnish. It was practically perfect, though the accompanying small, white loaf or bread lacked the required flavor. As for the salumi, the spicy fennel was tops on our list, and also our waiter's.
We also began with the bean crostini, which is pureed lima (?) bean on toasted crostinis topped with baby arugula, reggiano, lemon and a dash of extra virgin olive oil. With three slices to an order, it was nicely presented and the flavors were well balanced.
Plates were cleared by 6:15 and we anxiously awaited to receive our entrees, just as our neighboring party of four, who were seated after us, were then doing.
The seating arrangements at Avec is, well, 'communal' for lack of a better term. There are a series of five or six wood block tables, each seating eight lined up. There's bench seating on the side of the wall and short stools on the opposite side. The restaurant was designed by Thomas Schlesser, who received a James Beard award for restaurant design for the next door Blackbird. At Avec, the interior is panneled in all wood, similar to a sauna as some have remarked. Frankly, I enjoyed the atmosphere and found the design to be refreshing compared to the norm.
The hostess approached with a couple of diners. My wife moved out from the end of the bench to make room for a woman. From the time she got seated you knew we were in from trouble.
While there is room for all eight people at this table, some diners just can't get used to the idea of sitting amongst strangers. Allow me to introduce our new neighbor. After trying to flex her elbows to see how much room she had, she looked over her menu to her dining companion: "I just don't feel that we have privacy to talk," she squeaked. "Can you talk to the hostess to see if we can move to the bar?" We didn't argue. Once they were granted asylum, my wife and I agreed that it could have been a bit by David Sedaris.
At 6:20 the waiter came over, recognized that we weren't served our next course and asked if he could confirm our order. Not a good sign. We obliged, and he apologized for the delay being that he was working the room by himself. At that, his tardy colleague came racing into the restaurant, coat still on, and into the back. Exhibit A.
Finally. It's 6:30 and a server races tableside with our order. Again, another pair of great dishes, which all but make up for the rediculous pacing.
The duck confit was perfectly prepared, accompanied with roasted forelle pears, braised olives, braising greens and pancetta. As my wife doesn't seem to appreciate the confit preparation, that just left more for me.
The other dish was an wood oven roasted pork shoulder, which arrives in an attractive Staub mini French oven. The pork was incredibly tender and served with sofrito and green chilles. The super sized portion was impressive, and too much for us to finish.
We left near 6:50 and were on our way, only to arrive at the church a bit late for grabbing a prime seat downstairs.
Avec shows incredible promise and we look forward to the next visit. We just won't plan on any post-dining destinations, just in case.
615 W. Randolph
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