May 13, 2008
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While in Chicago, we had a lovely dinner at Avec. It's an unusual restaurant, but I think it's not going to be unusual much longer.

Avec is squeezed into a long, narrow space. It's an adjunct to Blackbird, a more conventional (but much lauded) restaurant. This happens all the time in Europe, where you can find great kitchens that have a few extra, informal tables in a space next door. But Blackbird is already long and narrow, so Avec has to cope with a space big enough for a very long bar and one long row of communal tables.

No reservations; you get seated when there's space. Informal (but attentive) service. Serious food.

We had a fine plate of charcuterie, followed by a lovely homemade duck sausage with roasted mushrooms, pickled onion, and tasty, flavorful spheres of what I thought were pasta (or tapioca) but were actually giant couscous.

And then we had chorizo-stuffed dates, wrapped in very thin slices of bacon and sauced with piquillo peppers and tomatoes, These were seriously good! It's not overly elaborate; you need the smoky bacon to balance the date, you need the date to offset the spicy chorizo, and the sauce helps heighten everything. So no wasted moves, but it makes a very tasty plate.

And then we had a piece of pork shoulder, brought to the table in its own little Staub coccotte, braised with stock, dried apricot, slab bacon, and apricot mustard. Brilliant!

Finishing up with cheeses was, so to speak, icing on the cake.

I see several interesting trends converging here:

Some old Boston restaurants had long communal tables. Legal Seafoods, when it was a neighborhood dive, did this. So did Durgin Park before it was purely touristic; maybe they still do. But Australian restaurants seem to do this a lot. And while Paris bistros give you your own table, a crowded bistro gets pretty communal. This might not be quite the thing for the proverbial Big Night Out, but it can also be good fun. (I expect it only works for restaurants too expensive for small children to be very common.)

Late at night, my sister went outside her hotel for a smoke and struck up a conversation with another guest, whom she describes as immense, young, and very good looking. After a bit, he looked at her and said,

I bet you have no idea who I am!

And she didn't. OK, this is my sister, the girl who was told in a restaurant that they needed her table and replied with some irritation. "And who the hell are you?"

"I'm Bill Gates," he explained.

"And who is Bill Gates?" So Jan wound up having dessert with BillG@microsoft.

Jan asked the atheletic fellow who he was, but he told her that he likes it when people don't know. And so we don't.