With the success of Blackbird under his belt, Paul Kahan‘s second venture (a whole 20 feet away) is a little more casual than the Michelin rated restaurant. avec, meaning “with” in French, is a step down in dress code, but definitely maintains a high standard of cuisine. But who are we kidding, it’s Paul Kahan. Actually, at the reigns of the kitchen is James Beard Award winning Chef Koren Grieveson, who took home the crown for Best Chef: Great Lakes in 2009 AND 2010. Impressive, right?
Chef Grieveson’s palate is refined, and has been perfected during her stint as Sous Chef under Kahan at Blackbird. avec is definitely her baby, as elements of Mediterranean cuisine shine bright in a number of dishes. Being our first time, we weren’t quite sure how to approach Chef Grieveson’s offerings. Our server talked us through the menu, and suggested that we share plates. But with a restaurant name that means “with,” you should just assume so. Plates come in smalls and larges, with smalls compared to a normal-sized appetizer, and larges just smaller than typical entrees. If you’re not extremely hungry, I’d say two smalls and a large per couple would be fine.
Our meal started with a popular fruit that has made it’s way to restaurants across the land. Dates (the food, not the person you’re with) come out in a foursome, and boy is it a party in your mouth..as in flavors. Wrapped in bacon, stuffed with chorizo (yes, bacon and chorizo), and lying on a bed of piquillo pepper-tomato sauce, these delectable palms are both sweet and salty, with the latter coming from the bacon, with a itty-bitty kick from the chorizo and piquillo pepper. Absolute perfection. You’re thinking “it’s wrapped in bacon..how bad could it be?” My friends, these bad boys are arguably the best dates that I’ve ever eaten. Period.
The crispy whitefish is definitely a change of pace from the popular dates. Served atop a pistachio puree, the whitefish is complemented by beets and citrus. A generously portioned small plate, it somehow manages to feel heavier than it actually is. Could it be the beets, citrus? Eh, maybe. But in all honesty, I’m not too concerned with how or why a fish dish made me feel so full. Texturally, this dish is fantastic. You get crunchy, creamy, and tenderness all in a single bit.
Our lone large dish was the pork shoulder. Was I disappointed we only ordered one large dish? Yes…until it came out. Easily capable of feeding two, this wood-oven roasted monstrosity had to be cooked for hours; it’s just so tender. Served in a cast iron pot filled with beans, carrots, ham hock, and a mean salsa verde, this little piggy will send you all the way home…completely satiated. On the bright side, ordering the pork shoulder leaves many opportunities to try other things on the menu for next time(s). But really, I wouldn’t mind ordering this again..and again..and again.
While avec encourages patrons to share plates, they also bring back another shared concept: shared tables. Lined up with a few communal tables, avec is definitely a tight squeeze, particularly after meals. Get used to other people listening in on your conversations, because it’s mighty intimate with strangers. The design comes from James Beard Award-winning designer Thomas Schlesser, who received the JBA in 2005 for Outstanding Restaurant Design. You might know Schlesser’s name because he is the architect and designer behind Kahan’s other restaurants as well. avec is simplistically stunning, with wood panels engulfing the entire interior, spilling out onto the street as well. Empty bottles fill the posterior wall of avec, adding a splash of color to the hot box.
At the end of the day, though, Bryce Caron puts on a show, and is the mastermind behind the post-dinner treats at both Blackbird and avec. On this particular food adventure, we opted to return to the original Kahan spot, but rest assure that Caron know’s what he’s doing, and you won’t be disappointed.
Be sure to dine here avec good company…and avec an empty stomach. Bad pun. Oh well.