Classic Tables: Avec

At nine years old, it's still one of the most exciting tables in town

We'll wager that you, like us, thought Avec was near perfect just the way it was.

For nine years, the Randolph Street restaurant has been an infallible source of late lunches, lively dinners and midnight snacks. With new chef Erling Wu-Bower in the kitchen, it's once again one of the city's most exciting destinations, too.

Wu-Bower, who came of age in Paul Kahan's restaurants, has loaded the menu with a cavalcade of new dishes. On a recent visit, we twirled house-made squid-ink pasta a la chitarra ($17) with shrimp, chile sofrito, minted breadcrumbs and corn. There was superlative king salmon ($10), cooked rare on the plancha and plated with wild chickpeas, walnut-oil vinaigrette and ribbons of lemony sorrel.

Chicken thighs ($13) flaunt Wu-Bower's deft hand with texture. Saffron-tinged bomba rice–crisped and caramelized along the bottom of a pan, like the socarrat of paella–is a base for thighs marinated with ginger, coriander and pomegranate molasses. On top: slices of raw apples and cilantro tossed with chermoula vinaigrette, a punchy, vibrant counterpoint to the plate's deeply savory flavors.

The menu will change regularly, says Wu-Bower, including tonight, when the squid-ink pasta is replaced by chestnut pappardelle with guinea-hen sugo.

All the more reason for another visit, we think.

Avec, 615 W. Randolph St.; 312-377-2002 or avecrestaurant.com