avec, a wine-focused restaurant from the award-wining team behind One Off Hospitality Group, opened in October 2003 out of a partnership between Executive Chef Paul Kahan, Donnie Madia and wine steward Eduard Seitan. The rustic menu, featuring Midwestern takes on Mediterranean classics, takes its cue from the sun-drenched wine regions of Southern France, Italy, Portugal and the coast of Spain. Beyond reflecting the aromas, flavors and colors of the Mediterranean in its cuisine, avec's moderately priced wine list focuses on the boutique vineyards of southwestern Europe.
Originally conceived as a wine bar, the kitchen's offerings quickly steered the space in another direction. Wine, however, remains at avec’s core. Focused on hearty peasant wines from small producers in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, the list offers 130 wines priced between $20 and $90 a bottle. Thirty wines are offered by the glass, encouraging guests to experiment with avec’s selection of European boutique wines. The bar also offers an unusual selection of French, Italian and Belgian beers selected to best complement Wu-Bower's cuisine. Sherries, ports and sparkling wines round out the beverage list.
Chef Koren Grieveson helped open avec in 2003, contributing to the menu, and in the process earned the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Great Lakes in 2010. The menu is neatly divided into four sections: small plates priced from $5 to $13, large plates priced from $14 to $20, salumi, which can be enjoyed in servings of one for $5, or an assortment for $15, and cheese, which can be enjoyed in servings of three for $15, with accompaniments for an additional $6.
These sections of the menu blur the lines of formal dining. A meal can be constructed of any selection of small or large plates, chosen at the whim of the diner rather than dictated by order and tradition. Fresh crudo salads, cheese or salumi selections, warm cassoulets and casuelas are served in whatever order diners desire. Large plates such as pasta, pork shoulder or focaccia can be shared among a group or ordered as a meal unto themselves. The dishes at avec are a lovely representation of the everyday foods of the Mediterranean. Their presentation recalls the communal, unhurried approach to dining enjoyed on those warm shores.
The James Beard Award-winning design, by Thomas Schlesser, incorporates the elements of wine-making into the architecture of the 1,500-square-foot bar and dining area. Designed in a Danish Modern style, the room finds ornamentation in structure and materials. The honey-colored room is wrapped in cedar and anchored by a light hickory floor and outfitted with red oak seating. The space holds five communal tables, each seating eight guests, encouraging a convivial atmosphere. A 48-foot stainless-steel bar seats 18 guests with a view into the galley kitchen.