Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Aviary

Location: 955 W Fulton
Cost: Varies widely but cocktails range from $15-30 and food bites are around $5 a piece

I spent the month of January on internal medicine at NMH. Interestingly, all of the attendings I worked with over the month were really into the Chicago food scene. For that matter, they'd probably tried way more of the cool and trendy spots than I had. Well after all of the patient care and evaluations were said and done, my team went out for a little celebration. I was ecstatic when the idea to hit up The Aviary was finally landed upon.

Getting into The Aviary is a challenge in itself. Luckily one of our smooth talking interns had a connection that got us a table relatively last minute. In general though, you can send an email in, and if you're lucky they'll randomly select you name for a reso.

The restaurant is setup as a speakeasy of sorts. There's not really any sign, so you should be confident on your directions before heading out. Once you get to the front, a doorman will radio for someone to come escort you to your party. The inside is setup with a bunch of booths as well as some high top tables from where you can get watch the cocktails get made. Our booth was curved nicely to give a moderately intimate setting to our group of six. On top of the main lounge, I guess there's a small spot in the basement called The Office which is extra exclusive (and we couldn't even get into despite the valiant efforts of the same smooth talking intern that got us the table in the first place).

Our server was kind of stone cold the whole night. We didn't feel rushed or anything, but there was just no love coming our way. Many of the other staff members were very helpful with explaining our drinks and food though.

Like I was saying at the top, the cost is variable, but it's pretty up there. Each cocktail is either a show, a work of art, or both, which is how they can justify the prices going above the $15 mark. Each "bite" of food is actually a single bite and can cost anywhere from $3-6.

The Food
So I'd just gotten over being sick and wasn't about to try everyone's drinks. It's not really my forte describing cocktails either, but I'll try to give justice to the creativity behind each one. After plenty of deliberation (the menu takes some looking over) we got our first round of drinks. First came the Oolong which was quite a show. They have a mixture of fruits, herbs, and booze above a vacuum sealed container, and after heating it over a bunsen burner, a little physics action causes the alcohol to suction through the flavoring mixture above.

 The Oolong

The Cider came in a disk filled with fruits including mango, apple, and pomegranate split into different layers. As she poured the drink from the different layers it changed color and flavor.

 The Cider

The Light Guard Punch was a pear based drink with some mysterious ice cubes that wouldn't melt (we're not sure exactly what these were).

 The Light Guard Punch

The Cranberry came out looking like a ton of tapioca balls but wasn't. Instead these were little miniature balls filled with the cocktail. It was topped with a green and tasty foam, but was relatively straightforward.

 The Cranberry

The Hurricane came in a carafe to show off the different initial densities of the drink's ingredients that had caused it to layer out. Multiple members of our party thought this was the best drink of the night.

 The Hurricane

I had the In the Rocks. It was a standard Old Fashioned which came inside a frozen sphere. They have a slingshot on top of the glass which I used to break the sphere, resulting in the release of my drink and the transformation of the sphere into my ice cubes.

 In the Rocks

After that, we pretty much ran the table on the bites menu. Because of the size, there clearly wasn't any sharing. In my one bite of Bay Scallop though there was an explosion of flavor with plenty of acidity and kick.

The Potato @ 9:00
The Apple @ 12:00
The Scallop @ 3:00 

 The Foie Gras @ 2:00
The Duck @ 7:00
The Crab @ 11:00

We then decided to finish off the rest of the a la carte drink menu.

The Tom and Jerry came out very similarly to an eggnog. I think Brian, who also got the Oolong, was a little disappointed that he got two warm drinks which he didn't really get a hint about from the menu or our server.

 The Tom and Jerry

The Pear had a flavorful tube of ice frozen to the interior of the glass with a hole chiseled in the middle for the rest of the drink. It reminded me of one of those water bottles my mom used to freeze for me so that it'd stay cold throughout my baseball games.

 The Pear

The Two Turtle Doves came in a box with some sprigs of pine. I got to taste the ends of these which were like little delicious alcoholic milk shakes.

 Two Turtle Doves

The 2-in-1 came with a sweet component and bitter component separated out in two glasses with mixing up to the drinkers discretion. I was seemingly the only member of our party that could tolerate the bitterness to the little red vial on the side.

The Ginger looked way cooler than what my picture shows. It came out as a glass of beautifully flavored snow which they then dumped some vodka on and mixed together (sorry, I wasn't quick enough on my camera draw for this one).

 The Ginger

The Truffle was my second drink. It came with a shaving of truffle in the glasses bottom and was topped with sweet vermouth and some gin. The drink was insanely bitter which I kind of liked. The only issue was the day after I had it, I couldn't really get rid of the bitter taste in my mouth.

 The Truffle

The Aviary is all about showmanship. Each one of these drinks had a little mystery or show to it making them very entertaining. I've knocked on places in the past for being overly gimmicky in order to raise prices, but I think these were relatively justified. It's a bit logistically difficult to manage this place, but if you plan far enough ahead you'll probably be alright. If you're looking to wow some friends or know a physicist that owns something nicer than khaki pants and a polo, you should bring them to The Aviary.

Note: There will be no Pearl rating this time. As explained above, I'm not really a cocktail aficionado, but more importantly, I don't have a good bearing on places to compare this to. The point is that it is a great spot for cocktails that are more interesting than what you'll find elsewhere in the city. 
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