Monday, May 16, 2011

#188 - Avec Restaurant

It's odd to realize I've never done an Avec post.

A favorite of ours, some of that has to do with the fact that it was closed for a healthy chunk of the life of this blog due to a fire.  It also has to do with never particularly loving the pairings we've had at the restaurant.

And the fact that our dear love for the place had waned a bit over the last two years, which itself came about for a couple of reasons:

One, the seasonal changes to the menu seemed to become more like tweaks than real changes.  Since, for the longest time, we skipped new places for the safety and deliciousness of Avec, lately it seemed to make for a ripe time to get a bit more adventurous in the city until the internet menu sparked a "gotta have that" feel to it.

Two, and most importantly, Avec was how we had come to eat at home with very similar flavors, regional feels and preparations.  Throw on the fact that we had drunk our way through the wines on the list that interested us in the dozen and a half times we had been there, that the wine list for years itself seemingly only went through minor tweaks instead of real changes and that while I'm intrigued by an unfined, unfiltered, old vines Syrah from the Coteaux du Languedoc, I'm just not interested in paying $150 for it, we always felt we could get the flavors at home with the added bonus of playing in the more general range of our peculiar wine tastes at a third of the cost.

But Avec is probably the best $150-200 meal in the city.  It's a place where you can throw caution to the wind, order everything you want and not leave feeling the wallet pain.  You get a real feel for the place with what's currently tripping chef Koren Grieveson's trigger in a setting that can only make you feel comfortable and relaxed.  When you eat there, it feels like a weekend.

I always wished the wine list wasn't so scattershot, I guess.  Not knowing how a grenache blanc, macabeu, carignan blanc blend from the Languedoc-Rousillon would show with the bevy of somewhat disparate plates fanned out before us always precluded us from diving into the more idiosyncratic offerings on the list.  And in the past, when we did dive in, they didn't work.  There was always a seeming food and wine paradox staring at us on the horizon.  Order all the food that sounds tasty and delicious and we were somewhat stuck with the offerings by the glass because of the inevitable clash a particular bottle would offer.  Order food according to the bottle that sounds infinitely interesting and we've limited our food choices and/or blown the cost curve, which never particularly felt warranted, mainly because these were flavors so distinctly attached to home.

Much of this paradox isn't really fair though.  That Languedoc-Rousillon is only $50.  In fact, much of the wine list is under $60.  One can navigate their list with relative ease and not blow the budget in the least.  And their wine list has changed significantly since what felt like a rather staid existence for a couple of years.  Many of the finicky pseudo-complaints I've offered here as well derives from a feeling that a meal at Avec usually just misses being off-the-charts brilliant and the 'just-missed' factor always rested in the pairings.  So if we got into the multiple bottle world to try to get to the pairing goods, we'd be pushing into the $200-300 range, which never felt warranted because of the reasons listed above.  It's a vicious circle in many ways.

It's never the food.  The food always utterly (or ultimately) satisfies.  It's food that very much influenced how Mrs. Ney cooks.  When we first had Avec's flavors probably six years ago, it was flavors we wanted then, now and forever.  With the restaurant's small plates allure though, finding a collection of wines that cast a wide enough net to capture enough of the flavors and reach that pairing nirvana never seemed to (perfectly) happen.  It's a place that emphasizes small producers, traditional producers, producers that offer value and producers that make wine that represent the land.  That should slide right into the cuisine and at least approach the beauty of food and wine pairing love but, for us, it hasn't ever quite gotten there.  Moments, sure, but never quite all the way...there, there.

This trip has better moments than past trips.  Upper-tier for sure.


Beet salad special with Aleppo pepper and meyer lemon vinaigrette

Spring pea crostini with red onion and parsley

Brussels sprout salad - no bacon/pancetta/prosciutto/guanciale business, letting the parmigiano-reggiano serve as the primary added depth

Brandade with chives and garlic bread

Sardines in a balsamic-almost mole-like sauce

Housemade bratwürst with white beans - cassoulet-ish

Great collection.  Highlights came from the simplicity of it all and the seeming influence on the less-meat of everything.  Always loved the brandade but this seemed more scaled down for the better.  The Brussels sprouts in the past made us reconsider Brussels sprouts but this one left out the meat flavoring, which also kinda made it better.  Sardines - keep it (in general).  Gave it a shot and we've came to the conclusion we don't need them.  Oddly, the one meat component, the bratwürst, was our least favorite.  A bit on the verge of sawdusty and muddled but the accompanying white beans, all oily and salty and delicious, were spectacular.  We ate so gosh darn well.


Six 250mls:

2009 Companhia das Quintas, "Prova Regia" Bucelas, Portugal (Arinto)
2009 Cabriz, Dão, Portugal (Encruzado)
2008 In Optimus, Vin de Pays d'Oc, France (unoaked Chardonnay)
2009 Dante Marramiero, "DaMa" Trebbiano d'Abruzzo, Colli Pesaresi, Marche, Italy
2008 Condesa Eylo, Rueda, Spain (Sauvignon Blanc, Verdejo)
NV Mas Fi, Brüt Rosé, Cava, Spain (Trepet)

The Arinto was all-Portugal and played well with the beets and crostini.  The Encruzado's lime salt and rust angle became a bit too much, dominating the food instead of playing with it.  The unoaked Chardonnay came off somewhat pedestrian but tried hard to work with the Brussels sprouts, ultimately failing.  The Trebbiano though served admirably with the brandade and Brussels sprouts with its delicate orange peel edge and lifting acid.  The Eylo, recommended with the brandade, actually worked better with the sardines, bringing a cleansing acid to the sardine-fishiness that wasn't particularly wanted.  The brüt rosé was ordered to blend with the cassoulet feel of the bratwürst and we ended up happy.

When the wine jives with the food at Avec, it feels like you're getting the Mediterraneanness in all its glory.  With Mediterranean food, the food and wine have to sing together to get the full effect.  You can get close, love it and feel like you just had a pretty great meal but once you have the full effect on a fairly regular basis, it's all you want.  It's like seeing a great director trying something different.  You respect the diversion, enjoy the nuance but want more of the stuff that made him or her great.  It's like Woody Allen's Interiors serving as a merely interesting pairing and Crimes & Misdemeanors being the goods.   For us,  Avec in the past has been too much Interiors in terms of pairing.  This trip had moments but we still chasing Crimes & Misdemeanors there.

This one was Broadway Danny Rose, moments of very good, times of frustration and a general sense that it could have been something great.  But we liked the journey.

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