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Restaurants & Bars 9

dinner at 'avec'(long!)

joan | Oct 2, 200301:23 PM

wow; 'avec'(which means 'with' in english) only opened last friday, but the place and the food were really rocking last night. this is chef/owner paul kahan's companion restaurant to blackbird, next door. the raison d'etre is house cured salumi(charcuterie, sausages) with intriguing cheese plates and other small and large dishes.
there were 8 of us(7 chowhounds and 1 spouse-the missing 9th chowhound should recognize that it does not generate good will to rsvp and not show up) and i think i can speak for all of us is saying much of the food was impressive and we had a really terrific time.(i hope they'll all speak for themselves in other posts). the wines also impressed, as we brought them ourselves.
(an advantage to being a chowhound rather than a 'foodie' is you try to impress with quality not price, which we did). poor erik m. travelled all over the northside looking for RST's recommended wine and it was well worth it.the liquor license will kick in any day and the wine list is large and intended to reflect peasant style wines from italy, france, spain and to cut cost(and its easy to spend a lot of money here) go soon and bring your own.
our waiter, randy, was one of the highlights of the evening. he was genuinely delighted to serve a group of people who he quickly recognized were knowledgeable about food and wine and his input was invaluable.
here's what we ate: the daily assortment of salumi($14), including the fabulous 'lomo'(thin slices of pork loin aged for 3months),a fennel salami and 2 others i cant identify. all were fantastic. accompanying everything were small round loaves of white bread from their wood burning oven. i liked it,some didnt, tho its sourdough taste wasnt as pronounced as it could have been and no bread should be served straight from the oven as this was.(i forgive them, hopefully they'll figure out how to crank it out in a a timely manner so it can cool slightly). house marinated olives:($4); simple chunks of roasted beets(we think, just olive oil,salt and pepper)-loved it. then we had the 3 cheese assortment($12). (btw, we ordered 2 of everything.) randy urged us to included buchette, a very soft,chalk white chevre from provence which was outstanding. when the chef came by, he pretended anger at randy for recommending it as he says he's practically giving it away because its so expensive; its in limited supply and he wants it for himself! we also had fiore sardo(a smoky romano type italian sheeps milk) which i didnt care for as i dont like romano, and paul's recommendation, special manchego(spanish sheeps milk)with rosemary stored in the traditional way in olive oil. while i usually love manchego, i didnt think this was anything special. no matter, experimenting is what this place is about. avec has cheeses that simply arent available retail.
with the milder cheeses we were urged to drink the whites. the fiore went best with the stronger reds.
here's our wine list-i cant speak authoritatively about them, i hope others will: RST's choice, domaine wachau/gruner veltliner/smaragd-2001; LIRAC,2001, les caves de la coloube a beaune france; byron,1999 chardonnay cuvee/emile willin vin d'alsace; here my notes and memory fail me-i brought an enormous bottle of gewurztraminer but i forget its details and last, but not least, a bargain basement priced, but very delicious cabernat reserva that d.dickson hand carried home from santiago,chile.
onward- from the small plate collection we had one of my favorite dishes ever-puree of fresh lima beans with wild arugula,reggiano parmignano,lemon and olive oil on crostini.(sometimes paul uses fava beans, equally good)-this was messy with the tiny jagged spears of arugula and the shavings of cheese piled on the beans, but an outstandiing example of simple fresh ingredients used wisely.; whipped brandade-both MAG and i, who are familiar with this dish found it a little bland, not salty/fishy enough. this is a puree of salt cod,cream,potatoes, garlic. marie(d.dickson's wife) scared the busboy when he tried to clear it away because she needed to eat every last drop.
then, from the short list of large plates(which included bourride, a fish stew with saffron; a huge focaccia stuffed with taleggio; shaved jamon serrano with charente melon salad), we wisely chose the individual cast iron casserole of wood oven roasted pork shoulder with sofrito and green chiles($17). we all loved this, i think. the meat shredded nicely with a fork from long slow cooking. i would suggest more juice and more chiles if asked, but it was a wonderful dish.
luckily, we stopped randy before he put in our order for chorizo/mussel stew ($8) and we totally forgot we wanted to order pan fried sardines($10), as we were full, or almost. being a pastry chef and MAG being a great baker, we insisted on trying the olive oil cake with roasted figs and orange compote, and luckily david requested rice pudding. the cake was disappointing. it should be a single layer, yellow, very moist. this seemed to have been overmixed, a little dry and lacking maybe a soaking in some liqueur.but the pudding rocked. it had been bruleed-so a crunchy top coat, and a rich pudding.
we thought we were done, joel repeatedly making the slashing sign across his throat signifying 'that's it, no more'.....but randy, insisted we try the blue cheese assortment with the my gewurtz which he had stolen away and re-chilled earlier. it was really instructive to see how the cheeses played off the wine. none of us realized we were drinking the gewurtz until randy identifiedit-it tasted much sweeter than it had at the beginning of the meal with the salumi.(thanks randy).
the evening was marred, IMO, only by the intentionally noisy room, which looks like the inside of a sauna(all hard wood wall, concrete floor). why do some people need to shout to feel they are having fun?

this feast set us back $28 each. i cant wait to go back and try the focaccia and sardines.

avec, 615 w. randolph, (312)377-2002

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