Well, just to get warmed up, how about something with (almost) no economic content?

Review: Avec

The 17 year old (Brian) and I ended up at Avec (615 W. Randolph) nearly at random: a last minute decision to go see Faust at the Lyric Opera, and then a scramble to find somewhere near the Ogilvie Station that had decent reviews and would let us get to the opera early.

The place looks like a nicely equiped Finnish sauna. There is a line of tables along one side of the room, and a bar along the other. If you sit at a table with your back to the wall, a line of finely clothed posteriors that forms a rythmic backdrop above your dinner companions.

Tables are communal style, with what seems like too little room per person. But, the closeness forces a certain breaking of barriers (as do the seats at a football game) that in the end we found nice. Acoustics are pretty good, and all in all the atmosphere does a very nice job of creating that “I’m safe in my cave with my tribe” feel that is part of why we like crushing ourselves together in restuarants so much (and why any decent restaurant host/hostess groups full tables together on a quiet night).

The menu is of medium length. Sharing is strongly encouraged. The restaurant seems to have a commitment to re-introducing squeamish diners to the wonders of tripe, offal, etc, and does a good job of advancing the cause. It might be difficult for vegetarians to find a lot of variety: both I and a substantial portion of our meal were in hog heaven. To add the mandatory economic theory content to this entry, I had fun trying to convince my son that precisely because offal carries a bad connotation, we should be willing to try it: after all, why would the restaurant serve something that fought our biases if it wasn’t especially good?

The highlight of the meal was probably the veal liver. Crisp from the pan, in a soubise (I had to look it up: it’s a Bernaise sauce with lots of onion, and they were careful not to drown the dish in it) with parsnips, rapini and lemon. The acidic flavors from the lemon and onion set off the sweetness of the veal liver very nicely, the rapini and parsnips added some undertone and texture, and the liver itself was kick-ass. In many ways, like a slighlty less fatty, firmer fois gras. And, of course, without any of the guilt!

The pumpkin pizza with pheasant sausage and a pumpkin also had a lot going for it. The sausage was nicely spicy and worked very well with the pumpkin, and the roasted pumpkin seeds were terrific. We disagreed on whether the pumpkin should have been further roasted (to remove some more liquid) before it was mashed up to put on the pizza. I say yes, but I quibble. It is something I’d eat again in a minute, and I think its something one could do pretty well at home. Add smoked pork product to taste.

The amberjack with mint cured bacon, garbanzo beans, preserved lemon and olives was not a favorite. On execution, the amberjack was over-cooked. But, more fundamentally, the rest just didn’t hang together very well. The mint-cured bacon had an off-taste (perhaps picked up from the fish), and the preserved lemon was too staccato. The garbanzo beans, on the other hand, were excellent.

The restaurant does not take reservations. We were there on a miraculoulsy nice November evening, and the waiting diners seemed to be having a nice time with their drinks under the gas heaters outside. This adds to the happening feel, but probably means that I would not go there at a busy time in the winter.

Faust was, of course, a blast. Who  knew that unwed sex had such dire consequences? I’m glad that like almost everyone of my generation (and, I am told, this one), I waited.

Tomorrow, perhaps some thoughts on stimulus. On the other hand, research is going pretty well, so the opportunity cost is high…