“No idea, none at all,” Erling Wu-Bower says when we ask if he had any sense that he might be the pick to take over Avec after Koren Grieveson announced her departure. “I mean, how often do you get to be head chef at your favorite restaurant?” From the outside though, there couldn’t have been a better choice: Wu-Bower has learned nearly every side of Paul Kahan’s and One Off’s meatophilic empire, working under Grieveson at Avec and Brian Huston at The Publican, and launching Publican Quality Meats’ cured meats program with Cosmo Goss. He seems the natural choice to carry on Avec’s hugely influential Mediterranean small plates menu while keeping it up to date. With the change of seasons he’s nearly wiped the menu clean— okay, the dates and the focaccia will never go away— and filled it with new dishes of his own devising. We stopped in Friday afternoon and he showed us several of the new dishes, some of which he was still tinkering with as we spoke, took pictures, and nibbled. See them in the works in our slideshow below.
Surryano, a jamon serrano-style ham made in Surry, Virginia from Berkshire hogs. Generally Erling likes to stay “legitimately Mediterranean” with preserved ingredients, but in this case, “It’s just too good not to use.”
Smoked Edwards Surryano ham with avocado, apple, mint and mojo verde.
Pear and quinoa salad with escarole, pecans, cauliflower and cider vinaigrette. “My mom made me eat stuff like quinoa all the time,” Erling says dismissively, but it’s a well-balanced salad in which the grain mainly provides texture.
Crispy merluza (hake) with ajo blanco, grapefruit, arbequina olives and treviso.
Erling shows how he wants the hanger steak plated.
Anise-marinated hanger steak with shaved artichokes, persimmons, lovage, feta and chili.
Graham scores the whole roasted fish…
…then butters the inside before it goes in the oven.
Betty at work in front of the oven, which has a ferocious plume of gas-fed fire in back as well as a stack of wood burning to add flavor.
Erling demonstrates another dish to Graham.
Whole roasted fish with roasted Tuscan kale, fennel, green grapes and salmoriglio.
Erling and Graham are still working on a chestnut pasta dish as dinner begins— and orders come in. He says they changed the pasta twice— the first 50% chestnut flour version didn’t have enough gluten, and one with egg was too eggy. Now they’re working on the sauce, which has great meaty depth but lacks something at the top. (At least to them.)
Chestnut pasta with guinea hen sugo, cabbage and pecorino romano.
Slagel farm 55-day dry-aged ribeye with bagna cauda, braised quince and rosemary breadcrumbs.
Braised veal breast with sweet potatoes, capers, almonds and malugetta vinaigrette.