When I first met Ashley, I weighed the pros and cons of telling her that I had a food blog. Some may find it interesting while others may find it slightly, uh, dorky to put it nicely. But, when I found out she was almost as big of a food geek as me, I went with it. Not only did she think it was one of the coolest things ever (leveraging a little editorial license here), and single-handedly drive my readership in the state of Ohio to number 3 overall, she asked if she could contribute. I said of course, and left it up to her to decide what she wanted to write about. After giving it some thought, she decided that her first post would be a review of a place in Chicago, and thus the “Ashley At” feature has been born. I gave her free reign to write what she wants with no editing from me and this is what came about…
Ashley at The Aviary
Work took me to Chicago on a Friday and great company kept me there through the weekend. Post-exam celebration I met up with best childhood friend and her husband for pre-dinner drinks at The Aviary, one of Grant Achatz’s stops, where she made reservations. Apparently reservations are taken months in advance but they aren’t secured on the usual first come basis—The Aviary reservations work more like a lottery system and you receive notice via email if you are a chosen one. Thankfully, we were chosen!
After stepping foot into the uber-modern space I understood why it is so popular and once I glanced at the menu I understood why reservations are made months in advance! The tables are perfectly arranged for small groups and intimate conversation in an open modern space. A friendly server greeted us and explained the menu—the first page consisted of prix fixed or 7-course flight, mind you these were all drinks. There were images of birds in flight and the longer the flight the more complex the beverage. The prix fixed included an appetizer, entrée and dessert liquid beverage a whole new meaning to drinking your dinner… other pages contained a la carte beverages, rum or bourbon flights, and then food bites.
It seemed easy enough and then I started reading the al a carte drinks. Yum! While tasting three different drinks was appealing, the individual drinks sounded better to me than the prix fixed. My eyes zeroed right on Ginger described at peychaud’s, shiso, fingerlime, and vodka —their version of a Moscow mule that just happens to be a favorite. If a delicious drink weren’t enough for your taste buds, you would certainly be wowed by the presentation.
Ginger came out in two glasses, the vodka was in a small flask and in my drink glass was a beautiful presentation of crushed lime ginger ice, fresh local baby mint and basil leaves, sliced baby red peppers topped with a lemongrass stirrer. The vodka was poured over the crushed ice creating a drinkable cascading spectacle swizzle-stirred with the lemongrass. It was a perfect combination of spicy ginger and sweet herbs that just tasted better as the ice melted. Genius!
My second selection was a watermelon gin concoction in a highball glass with watermelon-ball ice, again a perfect blend of flavors. The freshness of the watermelon complemented the gin, wasn’t overly sweet, and was incredibly refreshing. I was very happy with my two selections. Jenn and Theran opted for the prix fixed, three course. They selected six different beverages so we could all taste. And again, presentation was brilliant and fun and flavors were perfectly executed.
As far as food at The Aviary, they have a small selection of bites and since we weren’t eating dinner until 9pm we decided to try a few to go with our drinks. The server encouraged us to order sets of three, and when the bites arrived it was clear—they were literally bites. We went with the asparagus, guacamole, and wagyu hoping to share but the size was such a bite we ended up each picking one. I had the guacamole in a corn crust that was delicious with my Ginger; I just wish I had two or three bites instead of one.
After the three bites came and went we decided drinking our dinner wasn’t the smartest idea so we ordered a basket of chips. Because obviously having chips for dinner is…
No actually dinner was coming but not until 9pm so we all wanted something to tide us over. The reasoning aside, let me tell you about the chips! Unique, crunchy, salty and fun. Fun because each bite was a mystery deciphering what exactly was in the chip. Each chip in the basket was different and there were quite a few! Long string of polenta, nori, asiago cheese, Swiss cheese, squid crackers, aged cheddar cracker. The nori was my favorite- salty with that Chinese restaurant shrimp cracker aftertaste, the rest of the table preferred the cheese chips which appeared to be fried thin slices of cheese. It definitely wasn’t your typical basket of chips but they were enjoyable and did the trick!
Overall The Aviary was unique and fun, like no other “bar” I have been to before. The drinks could not have been better and the presentation style made me want to keep ordering to see what would come out of the drink kitchen. I definitely would recommend this drink restaurant to a friend and will return for more drinking fun on my next Chicago trip…assuming my name gets called!