615 W. Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661
We did everything right to avoid the crowds.
Freezing-cold night? Check. Middle of the week? Yep. Waited at least four weeks to check out one of the city’s most highly anticipated re-openings? Yuh huh. Still, as my party of three waited in a sea of weeknight warriors—crammed against the floor-to-ceiling glass doors shut tight for the winter, jostled about by a flurry of busboys and servers, shouting to chat above the din—it felt like we had come at a horrible time.
But then again, this is avec we’re talking about, the award-winning, beloved-by-all, can-do-no-wrong darling of Chicago’s dining community. This is what it was like before the fire in August that closed it down. This is what was anticipated when it officially, finally reopened on Halloween weekend. So it comes as no surprise that this is what would await us on a frigid Wednesday night. Of course the crowds haven’t missed a beat—and luckily, neither has the kitchen.
The focaccia with taleggio cheese is still as aromatic as in our drool-fueled dreams, all delicately redolent of truffle oil. Its size and chewy (with just the right amount of crunch around the edges) consistency remain the same. The only small difference we noticed was that they seemed to have skimped ever-so-slightly on the taleggio; it didn’t ooze out when we bit down as we remembered it had in the past. And the hanger steak—well, the plating was different, as was the salsa (a roasted shallot and brussel sprout salsa with a pleasant tart kick)—but the medium-rare prep was done to perfection with the Wagyu practically melting upon touchdown. The selection of three cheeses—the custom classic—now comes with pickled watermelon rinds (!) and quince paste in addition to the usual crazy-good grape-and-marcona-almond-parsley salad.
Because we’re not completely nostalgic aveceros, we bypassed the bacon-wrapped, chorizo-stuffed dates and instead went for the lighter day’s special, a kale salad tossed with garlic and some kind of magic tangy sauce that foiled the green’s bitterness. But as nice as the kale was on the palate, it was just as nice on the eyes: the rumpled leaves a deep, nori-hued green with specks of garlic in their folds, stir-fried to the most perfect point and so pretty we almost didn’t want to eat it.
So, is it the same avec? Yes and no. We did mostly try classics to be able to make a better comparisons to the avec of our memories, and these dishes continue to rock on as solid comfort foods. Next time—and there will be a next time—we promise to try only new plates to see whether the kitchen’s famed creativity and seasonality shines through in its new dishes. We suspect it will, just as we suspect we’ll be waiting for a table for over an hour.