First of all, I've been traveling to Chicago for the past five years.The first time was when I had first started my job at The French Culinary and I set up a stage for myself at Charlie Trotter's and at Trio, when Grant Achatz was just starting to be recognized as one of the most singularly talented and innovative chefs in the country. I ate at both restaurants, I ate at NoMi. I had my absolute favorite meal of all time at Trio, two days after I had trailed in the kitchen. On subsequent visits, I've eaten at Moto, Alinea, Green Zebra, Topolobampo, and Schwa, to name a few. But the one restaurant I return to time and time again, sometimes eating there twice in one week while I was staying in Chicago and the food I miss the most while I am here in NY? Avec. I was super excited to meet Koren. I babbled on to her like a crazed drooling fan about the pizza I had had on my first visit to Avec: Sardines with Caramelized Fennel and Shaved Lardo. It was absurdly delicious and I am praying she puts it back on the menu someday.
ANYWAYS, my whole point was to congratulate Chef Koren on being named one of Food & Wine's Top 10 Best New Chefs of 2008. She certainly deserves it as the brandade at Balthazar is scrumptious but the brandade at Avec blows it out of the water. And those chorizo stuffed dates ... I'm making Homer Simpson sounds.
We had a great selection of beers. I love beer and food pairing, and more attention and respect is being given to beer these days as craft breweries have sprung up worldwide, and even the mass produced lighter style lagers are improved in quality and taste, though I wouldn't be caught dead drinking certain light beers. For all you NYers, head over to the Blind Tiger where my friend Louise is a bartender and the head chef. They have a tremendous beer selection, always with several unique cask beers and even a gravity keg. She's occasionally put my billionaire's bacon on the menu as a special (it never lasts very long ... the bacon, I mean.)
Anyways, I tasted all of the dishes, here's my rundown: Richard's Grilled Tuna with Pickled Vegetables was good, and the flavors reminded me of Vietnamese Bahn Mi. Very tasty and surprisingly the bread did not overpower the tuna. The trout and fruit were kind of weird and gross for me. It needed a savory element -- it was just fish and fruitiness.
Dale's pork five minutes before plating was pretty raw in the middle though it was seared on the outside and he put it back in the oven on high heat right before plating and ended up overcooking the pork. With the dry pretzel crumbs and an over-reduced miso caramel that hardened to the plate, it was a dry and unpleasant experience. The miso cod was textbook and quite boring. Nikki's fried shrimp were worse. I could've gotten a better plate of shrimp from Long John Silvers. The shrimp were easily U-12 in size and overbreaded and underseasoned (give me creamy dipping sauce!).
Stephanie's mussels were intuitively unique and delicious. Lucky girl chose the wheat style beer. For those of you who like the lemon, try orange. It's actually the proper citrus to pair with wheat style beers and has a much more gentle acidity that marries well with the beer. If you add a shot of OJ and vodka to a Hoegaarden, we call that a "Dirty Hoe". Try four of those and let me know how you feel. Anyways, The lamb was tasty with Mark's manuka honey. A crepinette is supposed to be a small, breaded, flattened sausage patty sauteed in butter. Ryan's was a grossly large and unrefined meatball. The charcuterie plate was a lazy cop out in my opinion. The bacon cheeseburger was "ehhh (a little dry)." The shrimp and scallop beignets were delicious, even after sitting around for an hour. The creamy avocado complemented the airy fritter with a nice limey tang.