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First visit to Avila

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First visit to Avila

MC Slim JB | May 22, 2006 11:48 PM

New-new place at Stuart St and Charles St South. From the folks behind Davio's Back Bay, and despite some moves to distinguish itself, virtually a clone: a big island bar as you enter, an open kitchen with some seats facing it, a big dining room, a lot of private dining spaces.

The menu offers small plates, appetizers and entrees with a broad theme (New Italian at Davio's, more pan-Mediterranean here, with Greek, Portuguese, and Spanish accents), and a lot of traditional wood-grilled items for the steak/chophouse crowd.

Better bartending than at Davio's. A broad bar menu, including some small plates not available on the dining room menu. I didn't try the signature bar item, "cheesesteak spring rolls", but they got a rave from a friend.

In the dining room, a fine breadbasket to start. I particularly liked a thin focaccia with a lot of roast garlic and salt. An amuse of hot potato soup was a lovely mouthful, with a Cap'n Crunch-like crouton.

A huge improvement over Davio's is a wine list with much more geographic breadth than usual for this kind of high-end place. A number of value-priced, unusual Greek, Portugese, and Spanish wines, in keeping with the menu's more interesting fillips.

Good starters: clams with chorizo in an excellent broth. A spectacular lemon/chicken broth soup with a lot of fresh thyme, a quail egg, and rice. A terrific garlicky snail dish: three big, chewy specimens.

An entree of short ribs boasted an absurdly oversized portion: one of three huge chunks would have made a sensible dinner. The underlying creamed corn and fresh favas -- a labor of love best left to the pros -- made this dish. Got a taste of a very nice veal shank, also in the oversized portion that seems to be the rule for entrees here.

The pasta in an entree of linguine with crab came out terribly underdone, obvious at a glance that it was too stiff to eat. Fixed, but with a big delay.

Desserts were a mixed bag. Churros were awful, with a so-so chocolate sauce. Better not to do this at all if you aren't going to do some deep-friying to order. Stale-assed, Dunkin' Donuts-quality fried dough is an insult. A chocolate cake was much better. Espresso was bad, watery and burnt-tasting.

While this sounds pretty painful, we actually enjoyed it; my crew understood that we were hitting the shakedown cruise window. Most dishes were competently prepared. We loved the wine list, which for once didn't require shelling out $70-80 for decent, interesting, food-worthy bottles. That in itself makes us want to come back. The sommelier was not overbearing. Service was mostly pretty smooth.

I saw a few things I'd like to go back and try: a pasta dish with baby octopus, salt cod fritters, a number of interesting seafood dishes. Think of this as Davio's Back Bay with a determination to do a few Greek and Portuguese and Spanish dishes right, including the small plates, and you have the idea. Entrees seemed expensive, in the $25-35 range, with the chophouse stuff more in the $30-40 range. My next visit or two will likely focus on small plates.

A promising if rather pricey addition to the mostly benighted Park Square/Theater District restaurant cluster. At least it's only part of a very small chain.

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