Phil Vettel reviews Avec

CHICAGO — Strange but true, to me at least, is that Avec turned 15 late last year. The 50-seat, wood-enclosed space holds only 50 people, and those lucky 50 are treated to Mediterranean small and large plates by chef Perry Hendrix, who has been chef for nearly six years.

Some dishes have been on the menu since Day One, such as the deluxe focaccia, which, stuffed with taleggio and ricotta cheeses and truffle oil, functions as a kind of non-pizza pizza. Another 15-year fave are the fist-sized, chorizo-stuffed, bacon-wrapped medjool dates; if these beauties ever were cut from the menu, there would be fighting in the streets.

That said, I really like some of the newer dishes. The charred carrots, for example, are a vegetable-lover’s dream, served in a tangle with black-garlic harissa, whipped feta cheese and crispy rice. Seared sturgeon is listed as a small plate, enhanced by an improbable combination of roasted-onion yogurt, kohlrabi and grapefruit. Sliced steak with blue-cheese butter, black-charred pumpkin and sage salsa verde, is another so-called small plate that satisfies in a big way.

My favorite dish is the pork shoulder, and that IS a biggie. Arriving in a cast-iron pot, this Portuguese-inspired dish offers a big chunk of slow-cooked pork along with steamed clams, braised collard greens, rich morcilla sausage and fermented piri-piri chilies – not an abundance of spice, but enough. The flavor from the pot is intoxicating, and it’s a perfect cold-weather dish.

Desserts include posset cream, which is similar to panna cotta; this version is made with buttermilk and orange, and served with candied pistachios and citrus marmalade. Or you can skip the sweets and get a cheese plate; there are eight varieties available, at $5 dollars each, and for another $6 dollars, you can add accompaniments package that includes wildflower honeycomb, quince paste and fruit compote.

I give Avec, 615 West Randolph Street, three stars. Originally conceived as a wine bar, Avec has grown into one of the cutest, and most reliable, dining destinations in town.

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