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Blackbird vs Avec

My friends and I will be in Chicago over July 4th weekend. We want to try either Blackbird or Avec. Based on reviews and menus, I would prefer Avec but I see they don't take reservations. If we go on Saturday night, is it worth our while to wait for a table or should we just reserve a table at Blackbird? Truth is, two out of three of us cannot drink alcohol, so we'd be going for the food not the wine. Also, we're staying at the Wyndam near N. Michigan and W. Ontario. We'll probably take a cab to the restaurant. Will it be easy to catch a cab back to our hotel after dinner?

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  1. On a weekend (unless you go early...like 5:30pm), I would recommend Blackbird. Prime-time waits on weekends can be in the neighborhood of 2.5 hours. I love Avec, but I wouldn't wait 2.5 hours to eat there (or anywhere for that matter).

    You should be fine getting a cab back to your hotel. There's enough traffic on Randolph on weekend nights that it won't be a problem. I've never had a problem getting out of there via taxi either during the week or on the weekend, and I've been to both Blackbird and Avec tons of times.

    1. The choice here is between the kind of evening and food that you would want. Avec's food is based on the Mediterranean tradition (Spain, Italy, Greece) while Blackbird is creative contemporary American (chef de cuisine Sheerin worked at WD50 before coming to Blackbird). Both places are loud and vibrant. Blackbird has more of a traditional dining format. At Avec you can sample a lot of items. Cabs are not an issue there. For me, it is worthwhile waiting for seating at Avec, but i am biased since it is one of my favorite restaurants in the city. If you can, try going earlier or later.

      1. You might also enjoy the Publican which was created by the people behind Blackbird and Avec. They take reservations, too.

        1. Between these two, I recommend Blackbird also. The reservations situation is described above; if you really want to work Avec into your itinerary, the best way to do so is to either go very, very early (they open at 3:30 pm) or on a weekday (although it can get crowded on weekdays too at certain times, particularly pre-opera). Also, you ask whether it is "worth our while to wait for a table" at Avec, which sounds like you're not familiar with Avec's seating. You won't have your own table at Avec; there is communal seating, with about 8 seats at the bar and about six (?) tables that seat eight, so after waiting 1.5-2.5 hours on a Saturday night, you would then be seated at an eight-top with five other friendly folks. ms. chow's descriptions of the differences in food are accurate; you can confirm this with a look at the sample menus on their websites, www.blackbirdrestaurant.com and www.avecrestaurant.com

          Personally, I prefer some of our other contemporary American restaurants over Blackbird - notably, Cafe des Architectes and Aigre Doux, which are both walkable from your hotel - because of Blackbird's cramped seating, high noise levels, and small portion sizes, but that's not the question you've asked. The food is absolutely delicious at all three of these places, including Blackbird!

          1. Thank you so much. The menu at all three places look great. I'd be happy to eat at all three, but we only have one night available. I'm still leaning toward Avec. For a Saturday night, what time is the best time to go after the dinner rush? I think 5:30pm might be too early since we'll be doing a lot of sightseeing during the day.

            5 Replies
            1. re: thymewarrp

              Friday or Saturday nights, i usually go around 10 or 10:30, and have gotten seated within 10, 15 minutes. Just depends. I go there too weeknights around 5:30, and there usually is no wait.

              1. re: thymewarrp

                Wow, my experience has been very different from ms. chow's (although I try to avoid the weekends there, after learning the hard way). The times I've tried on Saturday nights, Avec stays packed with long wait times until really late. In addition to those who prefer to dine late (and those who have been waiting several hours from more typical dining times), they also get hit with an after-theater and after-opera crowd. (It's not far from the Lyric Opera House.) You might want to call them (312-377-2002) and ask what's typical; I've found their staff very helpful when I've asked similar questions.

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  Crowds from the Lyric Opera are extremely unlikely in the summer as the opera season ended in late March and opening night is September 26. Sometimes the hall has been rented out after the end of the opera season. After-theater diners from farther east on Randolph may be another matter this summer.

                2. re: thymewarrp

                  Definitely agree with ms. chow. If you go late (10 or 10:30) you should be fine. I've gone there after shows on the weekends and haven't encountered bad waits.

                  1. re: jesteinf

                    The other thing is that you can give the hostess your cell phone number and she'll call you when your table is ready. While you're waiting, you can hang out for a drink (or mocktail) at Sepia which is right around the corner or Meiji - a sushi place next door to Avec and Blackbird. I think both places are great, but we keep going back to Avec for its fun atmosphere. The chorizo stuffed dates are ridiculous as is the whipped brandade.

                3. Both of these restaurants are excellent, but I'd try to do Avec. Especially after a day of sightseeing, Avec is excellent for a fun, lively atmosphere and a meal that you can pace to your specifications. The food is to die for -- Chef Koren Grieveson just received a well-deserved nomination for a James Beard Award. If there is a long wait, instead of lingering outside with the masses, I enjoy going to the bar at Blackbird (right next door) and having a drink there. I see that some members in your party don't drink alcohol. The bartenders at Blackbird are unfailingly charming and tremendously creative -- I wouldn't be surprised if they couldn't make an outstanding adult soda (i.e. no alcohol cocktail) for while you wait. Enjoy!

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: Kaelin

                    If you don't mind, I would like to tag off of this post instead of create a whole new one :P (Yes, it is on this topic).
                    My Dad and I will be visiting Chicago in the late summer and are going to Avec. We both are very "hearty" eaters - we don't shy away from stuffing ourselves with good food! :) Now, I know that Avec is a Mediterranean small plates type of place, but I also noticed they do offer some larger plates. The 2 things that I am really interested in trying is the chorizo stuffed dates and the stuffed faccocia. (1) In terms of serving size, what would be a good amount for 2 hearty eaters and (2) Are there any other items on the menu that we should try?
                    Also, in terms of Avec's drink menu, I too don't drink alcohol. Do they offer good non-alcoholic beverages? Or would the creative bar at Blackbird be a better choice for drinks?

                    1. re: pastry634

                      You should eat as much as you want until you are full! If not, order more. The place is set up for that.

                      The thing is that the wait staff at Avec are really great. You should trust them with any concerns you should have. They'll let you know how much to order and I'm sure they'll accommodate if you need more.

                      1. re: rubinow

                        The dates are terrific, and when my daughter and I went there, we ended up ordering a second plate of them.

                        BTW, they are REALLY easy to make at home. Get some dried dates, open them up, stuff with chorizo (about a half tablespoon), roll up, then wrap with a half piece of good bacon. Pan fry at medium heat, until crisp and grease from chorizo is dripping out. Serve with marinara sauce.

                        Just my opinion, but the pork stew was disappointing. Very bland.

                        1. re: Pete Oldtown

                          >> Just my opinion, but the pork stew was disappointing. Very bland.

                          Another dish to avoid is the short ribs, if they still have them on the menu. I had them last time I was there and they too were rather tasteless, and extremely fatty.

                          1. re: Pete Oldtown

                            Which preparation of the pork did you have? It changes pretty regularly.

                        2. re: pastry634

                          I have not been there with non-alcohol drinkers, but i would imagine that they know how to accomodate. Their cocktails are straightforward, i.e., they will make mixed drinks, but don't have 12 different kinds of 'xxx-tinis'.

                          The amount of food is subjective. With 2 people, we have done 3 small and 2 large; 2 small and 1 large; depends too on what is on offer. Great choices though on what you have been eyeing so far. The chorizo dates are similar to what is normally served at Spanish tapas places, except these are giant medjool dates, and it is bathed in a very rich red pepper sauce. It comes 4 to an order. The foccacia is about the size of a laptop, and is a cheese sandwich made in heaven. The flatbread is pretty good too, just depends what toppings are on offer (faves - sardines, merguez sausage). The roasted whole fish is equally good. This might be too warm a dish for late summer when you're in town, but the pork shoulder is comfort food heaven. When i had it a few weeks ago, it had apricots, and is slathered in mustard.

                          1. re: pastry634

                            The portion sizes at Avec are generous, in my experience (and I consider myself a "hearty eater" too). The small plates are at least as large as appetizers at most restaurants (and larger than some), and the large plates are at least as large as entrees elsewhere (and larger than some). Personally, I think the "small plates" may be a misnomer in the case of Avec, as I haven't found the need to keep ordering more courses, not the way I would at tapas restaurants, for example.

                            1. re: nsxtasy

                              Yeah, and I suppose it is somewhat silly of me to ask recommendations on what to order, considering I won't be going for months and the menu is likely to change by then. I've heard good things about their pork shoulder, too. Do most/all of their food come in the iron pot it was cooked in (I've flickr'd some of their food)?

                              1. re: pastry634

                                Totally with ya on that. I'll be in Italy in a few weeks, and have been planning a food 'itinerary' for months. One place i picked is even closed already!

                                Anyway, with Avec, Ms Grieveson at this point has a pretty much set format with the menu. The preparation will change, but the main template for the dish is there. Every few months, she might introduce a completely new dish. The dates and foccacia are pretty much mainstays since they opened 4 (?) years ago. The flatbread will change toppings. The crostini too. The fish, depending on the catch, will be cooked with different ingredients. The pork shoulder too has different preparations. It comes in a Staub pot. The dates too come in a small Staub crock. The rest are in normal plates and bowls, or wooden boards like at sushi places.

                            2. re: pastry634

                              To give you some perspective, when my wife and I go our standard order is:

                              2 things from the small plates side of the menu
                              Whatever the prosciutto-oriented salad is
                              Maybe a cheese plate

                              I'm a pretty good eater, bu she definitely isn't. For 2 hearty eaters you could definitely add a small plate or 2, or the pork shoulder. I would highly recommend the pork shoulder, whatever the preparation is when you go.

                          2. Thank you so much for all your advice, especially about the seating arrangements at Avec (and to pastry634 for asking questions I hadn't thought of). Unfortunately your advice hasn't made our decision any easier because everything sounds soooo gooood. But it's good to know that whatever we decide, we will not be disappointed. Thanks a million!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: thymewarrp

                              No problem, thymewarrp! Thank YOU for allowing me to tag off your post :). Here's a little suggestion that I have been told in the past about choosing between Blackbird and Avec if you really, really, really want to do both: Avec for dinner and Blackbird for lunch another day (or the same day, I suppose. Only if you don't mind Kahan overload).

                            2. >> Prime-time waits on weekends can be in the neighborhood of 2.5 hours. I love Avec, but I wouldn't wait 2.5 hours to eat there (or anywhere for that matter).

                              That estimate is a bit on the high side, at least using tonight (Saturday night) as a data point. Waiting times for a table for three (as the OP needs) at 8:00 pm tonight were 90 minutes.

                              >> Friday or Saturday nights, i usually go around 10 or 10:30, and have gotten seated within 10, 15 minutes.

                              Not for a group of three on Saturday night. For a party of three, waiting times at 10:00 pm tonight were still 60-90 minutes. However, a solo diner could walk in at 10:00 and be seated immediately.

                              Remember, Saturday nights are worse than Friday nights. And the communal seating arrangement offers a huge advantage to a solo diner, as opposed to a group of two or more people, since there is sometimes a single seat open, either at the bar or at one of the eight-tops that constitute the rest of the seating.

                              At 11:00, waiting times for a party of three were down to 20 minutes or so.

                              This weekend (i.e. today) ought to be fairly typical for springtime. July 4 weekend, when the OP is visiting, I honestly don't know whether waits would likely be longer or shorter than now. Taste of Chicago goes on that weekend, which probably brings in lots of visitors from out of town and suburbanites downtown. However, to whatever extent those folks are at the Taste of Chicago, they wouldn't be at Avec, so who knows. Also, the big fireworks show (when approximately 750,000 to 1,000,000 people are watching, IIRC) is on Friday July 3, which might make Friday night a better night to go to Avec than Saturday night. Unless you want to go to the fireworks, of course. Traffic and parking gets mobbed for Taste of Chicago and especially the fireworks night, but it primarily affects the lots, roads, and sidewalks to the east of the Loop, and Avec/Blackbird are to the west of the Loop.

                              1. Hey just wanted to say thank you for all the comments and suggestions. We finally made it to Chicago for July 4 and had a fabulous dinner at Blackbird. the food, service, ambience, location, etc were all wonderful.