Located in the West Loop, Avec is a popular spot, one that doesn’t take reservations. For that reason, we thought dropping in later in the night would improve our chances for getting a table for Keith, his friend Dave and myself; we only had to wait about fifteen minutes.
Avec’s menu promotes family-style eating; rather than the traditional appetizer and entrée offerings, the menu is divided into small and large plates. Two small plates, we were told, equal the size of a large, so we decided on two of each size.
We started with chorizo-stuffed medjool dates alongside smoked bacon and piquillo pepper-tomato sauce ($9.00); the small earthenware dish it was served in might have been from a tagine, which is fitting as both date and dish are North African. Its sauce was smoky and sweet, thanks to the roasted peppers; in the end it delivered a sizable hot kick — well, it felt like that to me, spicy sissy that I admittedly am.
Our second small plate was a frisée salad with pan-fried frogs’ legs, prosciutto and fried fennel, all of which were drizzled with a paprika aiöli ($11.00). I chose this not only because I love frisée, but also because I’ve never had frogs’ legs before, believe it or not. The legs had been fried to a nice crispiness, and the meat had a subtle fishy flavor that I found really appealing. Also, it did not taste like chicken. If anything, there was a chicken-like texture to the meat, but if anything the legs reminded me more of fish than of anything else. As a whole, the salad was incredibly fresh and light — a nice way to start a meal.
Though I enjoyed the small plates, the two large plates we ordered were even more of a hit for me. First up was bucatini pasta with housemade Italian sausage, neck sauce, tomato, fresh herbs and Reggiano cheese ($16.00). Even if the rich chunks of meat hadn’t been as appetizing as they were, my favorite part of this still would have been the nutty, chewy noodles. I could have eaten a plate of these alone; by “alone” I mean both “without any accompaniments,” and “without sharing.” Dave and Keith are lucky that my sense of propriety prevailed, as I could have easily grabbed the bowl to my chest and charged for the door.
We followed up the pasta with a flatbread scattered with yet another sausage; this one was a housemade merguez sausage, and its partners on the pizza were white anchovies, feta, roasted garlic purée, chili flakes and fried orange chips ($15.00). I loved the combination of the citrusy orange, the hot chili and the sweet garlic — it was an exciting mixture of flavors. The sausage here had a complexity to it as well, and its denseness gave the lighter elements of the flatbread a nice weight.
Now, while I relished my meal, I’ve got to say the following about Avec: if you don’t like people, don’t eat here. In a way, the restaurant’s layout is like its menu: it is set up to encourage communal dining. Most patrons are seated at long wooden tables, either on stools or benches; each table seats about eight, so if your party is on the smaller side, chances are you’ll be sharing the table with two or more groups. We ended up sitting at a very popular table… meaning we had to get up about three times during the course of our meal to let other diners in and out. And while you won’t have to worry about anyone trying to eat off your plate, per se, the quarters can be close; Keith did comment at one point that he thought his neighbor would accidentally drink out of his water glass. It didn’t happen, but it’s easy to see how it might.
615 West Randolph Street
Chicago, Illinois 60661