Pastaria doing a collaboration dinner with chef Perry Hendrix of famed Chicago restaurant Avec was bound to be a success. If you combine two great things, you're bound to create something extraordinary. Everyone knows that so well, in fact, that by 5:15 on a Wednesday, Pastaria already had a 30+ minute wait. I had expected that, so I was there early and ready to eat. I take no risks when it comes to pizza. The avec menu was available in addition to Pastaria's standard menu. I noticed a number of people around me eating only the regular items, which was surprising; you can have that any day! Get the specials!
After I finished yelling at them in my head, I checked out the avec options. The menu was 3 courses for $30, including an appetizer, pizza, and gelato.
The first of our starters was the Charred Sugar Snap Pea Tabbouleh, which was a lot like the grains you make yourself at home, except with flavor. The freekah was cooked perfectly, and the combination of the peas, radishes, olives, and oranges gave it a fresh flavor. I loved the tahini drizzled over it, adding a tang and almost bitter note. I will definitely be copying this in the future.
This was a wild dish: Wood oven baked squid. I actually thought we were given the wrong dish when it was set down on our table, but what they did is mix thinly sliced pieces of squid and small fideo noodles with a tomato sauce, making it hard to discern noodle from squid. That was topped with aioli and morcilla - blood - sausage and all baked together. The bottom and edges of the pasta and squid mix got nice and crunchy. I'd love it if this showed up on the Pastaria menu from time to time.
Honestly, I just came for the pizzas. If I hadn't been required to do the 3-course ordering, I would have just gotten all three pizzas. The pizza that didn't make the cut was the Deluxe, topped with taleggio cheese (wonderfully stinky), ricotta, truffle, and fresh herbs. Instead, I went for the Salt Cod Brandade pizza. I've seen a lot of unique pizzas around the world, but I have never seen a salt cod pizza.
It was so out there that I knew it was going to be good. God, the flavor of this thing. I don't know exactly what they did, but it seems like they mixed salt cod, roasted garlic, olive oil, and cheese together and spread it onto the dough. After it was baked, artichoke hearts, red onion, and arugula were put on top. This knocked my socks off. The texture of the toppings was perfect - very similar to your standard white pizza - and the flavor was a subtle mix of fish and garlic. It reminded me of something I'd see Anthony Bourdain eating in Spain and enviously lust after.
As good as the brandade was (and, in case you already forgot, it was really, really good), this Chorizo-stuffed Medjool Date Pizza was better. If this was a full time menu item, I think it might even knock the Salume Beddu Nduja pizza out of the top position. Let's talk about the dates first. You can look at the pictures and see it's really hard to tell where the chorizo ends and the date begins. It's like avec has some been able to grow dates filled with chorizo (Monsanto can probably get that done for us here, Gerard!). When you bit into them, you got the sweetness of the date then the spice of the chorizo all at once. I'd marry that pizza.
If you still don't believe me, you should also know that it had bacon and a sweet & smokey piquillo pepper-tomato sauce. So many amazing layers of flavor.
The next time you see there's a Pastaria collaboration dinner, you need to be there. I will.