Chorizo-Stuffed Medjool Dates with Smoked Bacon and Piquillo Pepper-Tomato Sauce
Shawarma Sausage with Crisp Pita, Pickled Onions, Cucumber, and Smoked Yogurt
Fried Soft Shell Crab, Green Garlic Aioli, Tarragon, Scallions, and Green Strawberries
Another stop on our recent Chicago food tour (between lunch and dinner) was Avec Restaurant and Wine Bar (615 W. Randolph), one of the first ventures of the now-titanic restauranteur Paul Kahan. Just last year, Mrs. Hackknife and I had a fantastic dinner at Avec's fine dining sibling Blackbird across the alley; while Blackbird is the child that got accepted to Harvard Law School, Avec is more like the stoner brother still living in his parents' basement (which, in this case, resembles the insides of a desktop humidor, all beige wood and right angles). Led Zeppelin's Greatest Hits blared through the sound system as we indulged in the house favorite Medjool Dates stuffed with chorizo, wrapped in bacon, and slathered in a spicy Spanish red pepper sauce (clearly, the dates are a best-seller - piles of them kept spilling out of the kitchen window waiting to be plated), washed down with a glass of mellow Broadbent Vinho Verde Rose from Portugal. The shawarma sausage salad was like a gyros turned inside-out, with crispy pita shards standing in for the usual limp pocket bread. Of the daily specials on offer this early summer afternoon (the thermometer was struggling to surpass 73F, yet it was still a welcome respite from the brutal winter just recently passed, or so I'm told), we chose the one featuring a pair of ingredients only available during a narrow window each year, namely soft shell crab and green strawberries, whose crispy and tart qualities were nicely bridged by the tarragon and green garlic aioli. As tempting as it was to settle in with another glass of Mediterranean vino and continue exploring the menu, we had dinner reservations (and valuable stomach space to clear somehow) in a too-short while down the street...