The fact that “avec” means “with” in French is actually perfect. Because I could go to Avec with friends. With family. With a date. With myself. With snow outside. With rain. With sun. I could eat their dishes with wine. With beer. With cocktails. With water. With no beverage at all.

Basically, what I’m getting at here, is that Avec goes with everything.

This can be attributed to its phenomenal food: Mediterranean-influenced small and large plates as well as selections of cheese. Pair all of those with wines from southwestern Europe, and it’s a match made in heaven. Well, a match made on West Randolph. But that’s even better for us.

Located in the Near West Side, it’s almost like Avec and it’s equally fantastic neighbor Blackbird, are the gateway to “Restaurant Row.” Apparently, that’s what they’re calling it these  days – restaurant row. But it makes sense, because West Randolph is home to some of the greatest eateries in the city.

Back to Avec.

Avec is one of those restaurants where you’re not just dining, you’re having an experience. And everything about that experience is unique – from the exceptional food to the drink list to the décor.

Speaking of décor, let’s talk about it. I like to describe Avec as a giant wooden box. Alright, maybe giant isn’t the best word here – the dining area itself is rather small, with five oblong, wooden community tables. The wooden tables match the paneling on the walls, the ceiling, the floor and the 18 or so wooden stools placed at the 48-foot bar.

The entire restaurant is oblong. I likened it to a wooden box, but I guess wooden rectangle would be more fitting. At the back of that wooden rectangle is an installation of hundreds of green, glass bottles that from afar give off a sort of matrixy feel – you know, the movie.

If you’re at the far end of the restaurant – by the matrix display – you can see into the sleek, stainless steel kitchen. The same stainless steel that matches the bar at which patrons sit. Everything in Avec is elegantly simple, which contrasts with its complex cuisine.

On that note, let’s transition to the food.

With small and large plates, the food at Avec is designed to be shared. I know that stresses some people out. Trust me, when food is that delicious, the last thing I want to do is share. But sharing is actually the best way to try out more items on the menu!

Everyone is different, and every group is different, so it depends how many items you want to order. We normally order about two or three small plates per person and then a couple of large plates for the whole table. Now that may seem confusing. When I say per person, we’re still all sharing – it’s just a way to make sure we get enough food for the group.

As I said, everything here is delicious. But I have a couple of go-to items that I cannot leave Avec without having had: the medjool dates, the pork shoulder and the focaccia.

Thought I was going to leave it at that? Hah, no way.

A lot of places do dates, especially Mediterranean restaurants. Needless to say, I’ve had a lot of bacon-wrapped dates.  And nothing’s wrong with that. Bacon + dates, pretty hard to screw that up. But Avec takes dates to a whole other level.

They take their dates and bacon, too. But before they wrap that delicious bacon around the dates, they stuff the fruit with chorizo. Divine. But it gets even tastier. Add to that some piquillo pepper-tomato sauce and homemade rustic bread. In one bite you taste the sweetness of the medjool dates with the saltiness of the bacon and the savory element of the chorizo. Absolutely phenomenal. But don’t be silly. You can’t eat these dates in one bite. They are huge. I normally make it in two.

On to the focaccia. When it comes to your table, it looks like a sizeable pizza. That should give you some perspective on the size of this large plate. The focaccia is thin and soft and seasoned with fresh herbs. But wait. It’s not just bread. There’s something inside. Taleggio cheese, ricotta and truffle oil. And it’s all sandwiched by another layer of focaccia. The whole thing comes hot out of the oven so that the cheese is warm and melty and the bread is perfectly toasted with just enough crunch to contrast with the soft cheeses. I could eat this dish every day and never get tired of it.

Another one of my favorite large plates – the pork shoulder. First of all this pork shoulder is slow roasted to the point where the meat falls off of the bone as soon as your fork hits it. The pork shoulder sits in a stout, black pot with vadouvan curried lentils, roasted brussels sprouts, apricots and apples. The flavors hit succulent, savory and sweet all in one bite. Incredible.

Alright, I’m not going to describe every dish in vivid detail, otherwise we’d be here all day and I’d be drooling all over my keyboard. But I’ll touch quickly on a couple of other small and large plates I’m a fan of. Small plates: charred cauliflower, chicken liver crostini, steamed mussels and the roasted salmon. Large plates: braised lamb neck and the whole roasted fish. See? Short and succinct.

Now I’ve told y’all before, I am a super-carnivore. So the majority of my choices are meat-heavy. However, Avec is vegetarian-friendly with large plates like the oyster mushroom pizza and pappardalle pasta.

And of course to add to all of this deliciousness, you need…wine. You guessed it. Avec has over 130 wines, 30 of which are offered by the glass. It’s like every wine lover’s playground. If you’re struggling with what to pair with your meal, ask your waiter. The staff there is incredibly knowledgeable about the wine list.

Funny aside: I went on a date there recently. No, that’s not the funny part. The waiter was helping me choose a wine to go with our meal and talked for about 10 minutes about various bottles. He used so many words – many of which I had never heard of – and I just nodded my head in agreement so that I looked impressive to my date.

Okay, back to things y’all actually care about like dessert. If you’ve still got room after your meal, Avec has sweets like homemade nutter butters, affogato, chocolate mousse and bread pudding. You can’t really go wrong with any of them.

I like to end things on a sweet note, so we’ll leave it at that! One last thing I will mention, though: Avec gets very crowded and does not take reservations. So either try to beat the rush by going early, or be prepared to wait for a while. But don’t worry, it’s well worth the wait.