Thursday, July 25, 2013

Chicago: Elevating the cocktail at The Aviary

Took a long weekend to visit Mom and Chicago.  I love that city.  You would too, if you like leafy-green side streets, gorgeous modern and not so modern architecture, 26 miles of public, beachy lakefront and museums and culture galore. Oh and eating and drinking.

I wasn't about to leave town without trying The Aviary, (CTA: Green line to Morgan), for a little cocktail sorcery from Grant Achatz (that elfin genius of molecular gastronomy), and his partner Nikolas Kokonas.

After a short wait, the front door man, with his little secret-service-like earpiece, ushered Mom and me into the first room, with standing room only black tables, where we perched our elbows and looked at the bar, with staff swarming with quiet activity behind a silvery cage. (Are you in the cage, or are they?) No sidling up to the bar and chatting up the bartender here, nothing so uncivilized.

The bar behind our cage, or their cage

The staff are serious and solicitous, asking first if there are any allergies and last, if we needed transport home— a thoughtful touch. Despite the gravity of the staff, the drinks are sexy and playful.  

"The Avenue"

"The Avenue" was a perfect oval of passionfruit sorbet, in a champagne flute, with carbonated grenadine, calvados, and bourbon.  After a few perfect, heady sips, we were pleased to be asked if we'd like to sit down.  You know, like the grown-ups!  We were led to a plush, low-banquette, where we could slouch out of view from the standing only tables.  (Something about this led me to think about the first-class section of an aircraft, with the elites curtained off from the masses.) 

A serious-looking man approached bearing a puffed-up plastic bag about the size of a small pillowcase with a glass containing a dark liquid.  This was the Rob Roy with lavender air, Pedro Ximenez 1985, and scotch.  They scissor open the bag, allowing the lavender air to waft out over us, and I was asked to please remove the cocktail, so I did, thereby swishing around the lavender air and inhaling while I took the first taste.  I managed not to roll my eyes, and the cocktail was good with that scented addition. 

Something brewing

The tiny edible portion of the menu contained potato chips and "Bites", which come in threes, so we chose the sublime duck rillete, the bacon wrapped date, and a particularly tasty one called corn chowder. True to their moniker, they were exactly bite-sized, and of course, comically, we tried to split them because we are cheap that's how we roll. 

The bill prominently stated that 18 percent gratuity was included, thereby relieving their patrons, if they've had one too many, of the mental strain of addition.  Or, to ensure the staff gets their due in case guests balk at the high prices and think tipping excessive? 

Cocktails were balanced yet innovative. The Aviary succeeds in elevating the cocktail experience with a peculiar mix of lighthearted experimentalism and a serious devotion to providing you with a high quality experience.

Sure, the Aviary flirts with pretension, and you may feel for a moment like a privileged and powdered member of the French court, which is momentarily revolting and alarming, and then you get to liking it, and that I think, is somehow part of the point. 

The Aviary on Urbanspoon

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