avec (!), blackbird and charlie trotter’s

August 25th, 2008 · 25 Comments

to begin, let’s jump right in with the above photo: chorizo stuffed medjool dates with smoked bacon and piquillo pepper-tomato sauce.  now, for the record let me just say that these were awesome.  but totally freakin’ awesome.  and by the way, these awesome stuffed dates?  they are absolutely nothing like those bacon wrapped almond stuffed date things you once made for that party…  because i know you did. 

yes you did.

this post is long overdo.  but i’d been gone so long over the summer that i wanted to show you that i could still cook, or that i would cook or that yes, cooking was still a huge part of my life.  so first i wanted to present you with some of what goes on around here, in my kitchen – and well, now that i have a few posts under my too-tight belt, i’d like to talk a bit more about chicago.  i mean avec.  because avec is a great restaurant.  so great that across the street from avec there are newly constructed condo’s for sale, and i was looking at them and seriously thinking, "if i bought one of those and moved to chicago then i could eat here every single day".  oh and by the way, avec is not necessarily in an emboldened font – but in my mind it always will be…

whipped brandade

do you see what i see?  that right there is a bowl of the best brandade ever.  EVER.  seriously freakin’ awesome.  and right alongside the bowl on the wooden plank, stacked up in 2 perfect rows are the toasted baguette slices.  the perfect presentation. 

english pea crostini with lemon zest, radish, watercress and ricotta salata

questions?  i didn’t think so.

sockeye salmon tartare with marinated baby carrots, zucchini, red onion and grapefruit juice

this was freakin’ wonderful. (excuse the iphone pic)

housemade country terrine pork, sweetbreads, cherries and pistachios with cherry mustard and pickled quail eggs

excellent excellent excellent in every way.

focaccia with taleggio cheese, truffle oil and fresh herbs

this stuffed focaccia was a phenom (another iphone pic – sorry)

avec pic from my second (4pm) visit before my flight…

avec pic swiped from their site – i mean, just look at this place…

avec serves my kind of food, all rooted in mediteranean cuisine.  it’s owned by donnie madia, an impressive restaurateur who also owns blackbird right next door.  donnie’s undeniable attention to dramatic yet minimalist detail is exquisite to me.  his design sensibility creates a vibe that works well with my psyche, and somehow becomes a clean, neutral, even peaceful altar for the knockout food.  when i’m back to chicago, avec will be my first stop.  for sure.

blackbird was there first, sits right next door and is the french upscale version of it’s younger more bohemian counterpart.  we dined there too, and i must tell you that it was also a standout dinner but in a more refined manner.  i didn’t shoot any photos of the food – and perhaps should have, but quite frankly we got to drinking cocktails and that right there is supremely dangerous territory.  i begin to care much less about documenting the food and exponentially began to care way more about just enjoying the evening like a regular (non food-blogger) person.  and then the cocktails were followed by the wine pairing to go along with our tasting menu – well it is the sure fire way to remembering things vaguely.  case in point – the following morning when i looked over our menu – i had zero recollection of the last course.  but none. nada. zippo.  and honestly, i wasn’t even that smashed… honestly…

chef paul kahan was nominated just last year for the james beard award for outstanding chef, and in ’04 received the honor of being named the best chef in the midwest.   his devotion to both his craft and his kitchen staff is well documented – and although i know none of that first hand, i would attest to all of it if only by the level of food he puts out.  and i’m quite sure that donnie madia wouldn’t have it any other way…

the menu was as follows, and i honestly do recall being knocked out by this dinner.  the white gazpacho was out of this world, the foie was perfectly prepared and with unique accompanying flavors that were as harmonious as a bach double violin concerto – and the sweetbreads were the best i’ve ever eaten anywhere – by far.

blackbird tasting menu

chilled parmesan gazpacho with peeky toe crab, local black raspberries and pumpkin seeds

chilled cuttlefish with jicama, snow peas, cardamom and crispy chocolate

roasted hudson valley foie gras with preserved grapefruit, sherry-braised radishes, sea beans and lychee-espresso

seared tasmanian sea trout with cherry molasses, kohlrabi, baby turnips, forbidden black rice and salad burnet

crispy veal sweetbreads with cashew butter, rye waffle, black mission figs and black olive honey

braised rack of lamb with fresh soybeans, spring radishes, pickled feta and lovage

local strawberry sorbet and olive oil

kalamata olive cake with rhubarb, toffee and buttermilk ice cream

milk chocolate fritters with apricots, soy and rice milk sorbet

which brings me to my final evening in chicago, a dinner at charlie trotter’s.  so let me please officially state that the food itself was really wonderful – totally top notch – and i did take a bunch of pics but they all look like kinda this due to the lighting and my old point and shoot…

and really, this representation is hardly fair to do to a forty eight hour braised short rib with chanterelles and black fermented garlic.  just think of what the perfect bite of beef could taste like, and this would be not only in the running, but on the short list.  though there was one thing… you would think that in the forty eight hours it took to cook the rib, that they might have found the time to clean the chanterelles properly.  because our chanterelles were gritty and this was charlie f’ing trotter’s and we were both biting down on mushroom dirt.  big misstep for a kitchen such as ct’s. 

and… the service was a bit stiff and well, odd… and that rooooom was beyond tired, as in – think early 80’s fancy but stuffy hotel dining room, such as, say, the ‘pierre’ or the ‘st. regis’ – but back in the day when carpets were burgandy with leaf patterns and wall sconces were high french and gilded.  that was charlie trotter’s.  and that vibe squicks me out.    but hey, for me to complain at all about this dinner would be pretty foolish because what was really the very best part was that it was a surprise gift.  i had a feeling that something was up when they began pouring from the premium wine pairings without asking us… so thank you mr. youknowwhoyouare.  the dinner was delicious and i was so happy to be able to experience chef trotter’s food.

this is joe.  we met in economics 101 in 19muffleshhhsecond semester we took philosophy together and then greek mythology and well, afterwards we never spoke of any of that again, but we’ve remained like family all these years.  one of the many reasons i love joe is that he was by far the hottest guy in the trotter dining room that night and the only one without a tie.  that and the fact that he is all irish and insists on cocktails before dinner and drinks a lot of very good wine.  joe is also a restaurateur in chicago, his place is the beloved le colonial.

and so that was chicago.  all of that and alinea, of course.  so to recap, my 5 days looked a little something like this: alinea/avec/blackbird/charlie trotter’s/avec with lunches at le colonial thrown in for very good measure…

as a true nyc girl, born and raised – it’s hard for me to admit love for another city.  but chicago, i love. 

i do… 

Tags: restaurants · travel

25 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mary Coleman // Aug 25, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    I want every single one of those dishes. That’s my kind of food.

  • 2 diva // Aug 25, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    avec scores a place in my heart. really my kind of food! great pics – and love the design of avec. it’s so sleek.

  • 3 Robert // Aug 25, 2008 at 10:33 pm


    Again, sophistication beyond this readers limited comprehension.

    Dont even know what the dish names mean. Have had pickled eggs before, and of course mushroom dirt.

    Sounds like Chicago will be seeing more of you. Lucky Chicago. Lucky you. Lucky CEF fans……

  • 4 Amy at Minimally Invasive // Aug 26, 2008 at 5:24 am

    Damn straight — my family would revolt if they didn’t have their bacon-wrapped dates every Christmas Eve. But you left out the goat cheese!

    You eat better than anyone I know.

  • 5 Diana // Aug 26, 2008 at 5:43 am

    Oooh, them’s good eats.

    Forbidden black rice?

    Thanks for the level of detail–I’m inspired!

  • 6 TaratheFoodie // Aug 26, 2008 at 7:45 am

    All that food looks great – now I have the urge to make a tartar of some sort… I’ve never done it and it’s right up my alley. I’ve eaten it a few times, though, and love it.

    I also very much LOVE Chicago. I’ve been there a few more times than I have to NYC and while I also love NYC, I LOVE Chicago. Probably because I’m from Cleveland it’s more my speed. :-)

    Now let me ask you, does everyone have to dress up to go to Charlie Trotter’s? Like do the men have to wear jackets? The funny thing is that I’ve been to many really nice restaurants but have never had to worry about really getting dressed up because fine dining has gone so casual the last handful of years. I mean, I don’t show up in a Metallica tshirt or anything, but you know what I mean. So, I’ve never been anywhere where they wouldn’t let you in if you weren’t dressed up. Is Charlie Trotter’s like that? Also, I heard it was mega-expensive – is it worth the price?

  • 7 Whitney // Aug 26, 2008 at 9:37 am

    I live in Chicago and I sadly have not been to any of the above. Once I am a lawyer and not merely a law student I will have to partake.

    Next time you are in town hit up North Pond. I got to experience it with the BF’s rents and it was nothing short of amazing. Not at minimalistic as Avec/Blackbird but an amazing spot in Lincoln Park and wonderful local food.

  • 8 Jack // Aug 26, 2008 at 10:42 am

    It all sounds great to me except the terrine and the foie gras. I generally donít do organ meats, but those dishes looked and sounded so appealing that I would have at least tried a bite or two in such circumstances. Iím sure if you like that sort of thing it was great. The sockeye tartare really tickled my fancy along with the crostini and of coarse the short rib. Chantrelles are pretty hard to clean sometimes. The gills often extend down into the dirt unlike other varieties of mushroom that have a more defined stem. Chantrelles, boletes, and black trumpet mushrooms occasionally appear in our yard this time of year and Iím hoping the rain today will create the right conditions.

    The seared sea trout dish with forbidden rice also sounded really good. I discovered forbidden rice a few years ago through a food buying club: http://www.morningsidefarm.com
    It smells like popcorn and takes on a purplish color when you cook it.

    Great post Claudia, it looks like once again you ate like champions!

  • 9 Peter // Aug 26, 2008 at 10:55 am

    The real tragedy is that when I lived there during grad school, none of those (save Trotter’s) even existed. And I was a broke-ass grad student and couldn’t go there.

  • 10 evil chef mom // Aug 26, 2008 at 11:17 am

    hungry… oh so hungry! i don’t even know what to say.

  • 11 lisa // Aug 26, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    Whipped brandade! Now, I have to have that. You didn’t happen to get instructions for making that at home, did you?

  • 12 countrymouse // Aug 26, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    I know better than to read your blog.
    Now I’m hungry again. But I’m addicted.
    The same way I am to food.
    Terrific post on places I dream to go.
    Perhaps for Christmas you could post us a road map of the great places to eat in America. We can plan our summer road trips.

    And avec, wow, just spectacular.
    Chicago could become “my kind of town”…

  • 13 lifeinrecipes // Aug 26, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    I really love eating at Avec – every morsel sings with the flavors and textures I crave.. Although I can’t help but feeling that I’m dining in a really long sauna.

  • 14 Lauren // Aug 26, 2008 at 7:16 pm

    awww….joe is SO cool. food looks good too.

  • 15 Natalie // Aug 26, 2008 at 8:18 pm

    Can’t help but notice that heavenly hunk of bread in the first pic. I really want to reach into my monitor and go dunk dunk dunk dunk into that velvety sauce.

  • 16 Heather // Aug 26, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    Goodness, how whelming. I need to know more about brandade. I could almost see your reflection in that spoon.


  • 17 michelle @ TNS // Aug 27, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    le sigh. i spent 4 years in chicago as a poor college student, and a night at gino’s east was big spending. and now i don’t live there anymore, and i don’t go back nearly enough.

    and i was already sad about that, and then i read all THIS. goddamit.

  • 18 Hillary // Aug 27, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    Thank you for these photos. I live in Chicago and still haven’t been over to these restaurants. It’s on my must-try-soon list now!

  • 19 Angelina // Aug 27, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    I am a really big fan of AVEC (ha) but haven’t been in about a year. Thanks for the reminder. I’m going to try and get there next weekend for my boyfriends birthday. He has never been there and I know that he will love it.

    GO CHICAGO !!!

  • 20 joycooks // Aug 29, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    I LOVE this place!! Avec was my favorite place on my most recent trip to Chicago. Everything you ate and said…. my sentiments exactly. I ate there in winter so the menu was a bit different but everything still knocked my socks off. Once again, great minds think alike. I loved reading that post, thank you!

  • 21 Shelby // Aug 30, 2008 at 10:35 am

    I was at blackbird a couple of weeks ago. Those sweetbreads still haunt my dreams. As do the figs that came with them, they were beyond perfect.

  • 22 Nicole // Aug 30, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    I HEART Chicago!
    We went to avec to celebrate Tom getting his job here in Nashville. Oh how I wish I could go back

  • 23 Beth // Sep 3, 2008 at 6:03 pm

    That’s an all-star restaurant tour on a tight schedule! Very glad you ejoyed the best of what Chicago has to offer. Next time you visit, Donnie Madia’s newest venture, The Publican, will be in full swing. We expect great things.

    Fun to come across your blog – I’m enjoying it!

  • 24 Samantha // Feb 8, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    Keep those comments on Bites coming. The restaurants in Nashville really DO suck. You are so right. Good for you for having the nerve to speak the truth. Allium is especially bad and I despise Germantown Cafe. We do like City House though. Go Tandy!

    Avec sounds wonderful. I want to go! The next time I am Chicago, I will. For sure!

    (We didn’t care for Charlie Trotter’s when we went 2 years ago. The food was definitely good but not worth the expense for the atmosphere.)

  • 25 Trotters Angelina Black // Sep 15, 2010 at 10:21 am

    […] cook eat FRET – avec (!), blackbird and charlie trotter's and really, this representation is hardly fair to do to a forty eight hour braised short rib with chanterelles and black fermented garlic. just think of what the perfect bite of beef could taste like, and this would be not only in the running, but on the short 19 Angelina // Aug 27, 2008 at 18:05 pm. I am a really big fan of AVEC (ha) but haven't been in about a year. Thanks for the reminder. I'm going to try and get there next weekend for my boyfriends birthday. […]

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