Wood oven fideo paella Photo: Jeff Marini

However you feel about small-plates dining, you can credit Avec with its proliferation. Fifteen years ago, the West Loop pioneer started a trend that launched a thousand servers asking, “Have you dined with us before? Let me explain how our menu works.” And yet, even in its teenage years, after what must be hundreds of thousands of chorizo-stuffed dates, One Off Hospitality’s pseudo-Mediterranean cave, much like its sister spot, Blackbird, still feels remarkably fresh. Perhaps it’s the constant din of cheerful, booze-fueled conversation echoing off the all-wood walls.

Patrons are squeezed in tightly enough around the communal tables that each one becomes a party in its own right, with guests oohing over one another’s flatbread-topped skillets filled with citrus-perfumed mussels or platters of paella studded with snail-sausage nubs. In the summer, the crowd spills onto the sidewalk patio, clutching glasses of txakoli and nibbling salt cod brandade, creating a beacon of levity amid Randolph Street’s occasional self-seriousness. Have they dined with Avec before? Yes. And they’ll be dining with Avec again and again.