My last stop of 2014 Portland Dining Month is Aviary, which was the 2012 Restaurant of the Year according to Willamette Week. Previously I visited it for 2011 Dining Month, only a few days before it burned down due to an illegal firework on July 4. That visit left me underwhelmed, but I saw potential if I had more range of the menu. They rose from the ashes and for the 2012 Portland Food Adventure I was blown away. The creativity, skill, and massive taste of each bite was super.
The talent behind Aviary are the three co-chefs/owners you see in the open kitchen. Sarah Pliner, Jasper Shen and Kat Whitehead have impressive pedigrees in top kitchens in NYC. Their cuisine cannot be classified. There are Asian influences, there are classic French influences, there are Northwest ingredients, and the cocktails are fantastic. The menu is short and not broken out into small plates and entrees.
The Portland Dining Month menu offered two choices for each course. You could not go wrong, everyone was very happy with each course.
I started with the canicule cocktail of Bombay Sapphire ‘East’ gin, Ransom dry vermouth, sauvignon blanc, pineapple shrub, cilantro, jalapeno. It was the best cocktail I’ve had in a year. It definitely had fire, but I’m a big sucker for cilantro. Meanwhile, the Brooks pinot noir by-the-glass selection was very good – and I’m a NW pinot snob. I think their bar would be a great regular stop if I lived nearby.
The decor is industrial-and-wood. The place was packed on Saturday night and the noise level is high. Service was courteous but we had quite a wait between courses due to the busy night. Not a problem — the complimentary bread plate with anchovy dip was welcome. We had a wonderful evening of conversation and each plate was delicious. Also – no drama about separate checks, everything done efficiently, plates served en masse for the whole table each course. Very nicely done.
On to the food. For the first course I had the crispy pork belly with asian pear, grated parsnips and endive, pomegranate seeds and black sesame vinaigrette. Very nice. The soup looked great and the spoonful of it I had was nice. The brussels sprouts and bottarga on top gave texture and flavor contrast.
I had the 4 cup chicken as the main course, and it was the best dish I had for all of Dining Month. The chicken was a roulade, sliced, on top of a pureed taro root and swimming in the most luscious woodear mushroom jus. It was close-your-eyes-and-savor fantastic. Nom nom nom. My companions who had the Tasmanian sea trout with sunchokes, black barley, blood orange, dill broth and trout roe also enjoyed their dish.
The desserts were very nice. I had the chocolate pudding with mango, crispy rice, and saffron ice cream. It had texture and taste and was a great ending. Romana’s toasted almond cake with berry compote and goat cheese ice cream was also good, she said.
Aviary will continue to be a place I recommend for foodies, and now I’m wanting to drop in at the bar more often! I appreciate that they take reservations, as that makes it much better for those of us who want to actually plan where we will eat.
1733 NE Alberta St.
Portland, OR 97211