Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Flying on Over to the Aviary in Chicago for a Cocktail...or Two

On our first visit to Next Restaurant in Chicago for their menu "The Hunt," we inquired during our dinner about the Aviary cocktail bar next door - just curious to know how the spot was doing.  The Aviary was opened by Chef Grant Achatz along with Next in Chicago's meat packing district, and both spots are the Chef's vision of unique approaches to a restaurant and cocktail bar. At the end of our meal our server had secured us a table for some after dinner drinks.  It was very cool - a Chef's take on cocktails with gadgets, technique, great ingredients - just the things that go into making a great meal.

On our second visit to Next for the Bocuse d'Or menu, we dined with some friends and had told them to save room for some after dinner cocktails.  Unfortunately, after our dinner there was a significant wait for a table - so we punted on the idea.

For our most recent trip, we REALLY wanted to return to the Aviary so decided to buy tickets (yes, there are no reservations but you can buy tickets!). So after we imbibed in Next's Chicago Steakhouse (see my post about our dinner), we headed next door to the Aviary (the two are connected and share restrooms... not that you needed to know the latter part!).

We were led to a great table right in the middle of the bar, asked how we liked our dinner, and left to peruse the menu of cocktails, wine, beer, and small bites. There were so many intriguing choices on the menu it was truly difficult to select.  But we rose to the challenge with all the inner strength we could muster!

Wino4Life's Choice (Round #1)
For my first selection, I went with one of the Aviary's better know signature drinks. "In the Rocks" has your drink delivered to you inside of a large spherical ice cube.  The server places a contraption over the top of the glass with a rubber band that you pull back like a sling shot and let rip to break the ice cube and release the drink.  I actually recreated a version of this for one of Wino4Life Wife's birthday dinners, but have never had one at the aviary.  

The drink's content has changed a few times - and tonight was the Third Edition - flavored with absinthe, vermouth, and rye. The ice cube was setting on top of a tart cherry ice.  The first drink was strong but very delicious.  As the tart cherry ice continued to melt, the flavor profile of the drink transformed and mellowed. 

Wino4Life WIfe's Choice (Round #1)
The wife opted for the other of the Aviary's well known drinks.  For this drink Chef Achatz commissioned the design of this "porthole" drink infusions gizmo that allows you to clearly see all your ingredients.  As you pour out and enjoy some of your drink, the rest remains in the porthole to continue to infuse.  

Tonight's concoction was called "Insane in the Membrillo" and consisted of gin and oloroso sherry infused with quince, ginger, and almonds.   My wife doesn't like strong cocktails, so wasn't thrilled with my "In the Rocks," but absolutely loved this drink. The variety of flavors, and how the flavors intensified as it infused. 

Wino4Life's Choice (Round #2)
Well OK, just one more... this time I opted for the Glogg, a drink of orange, port ice, aquavit, and cognac.  Mixed in a glass... I think not!  This drink is created at your table using a hot infusion siphon (I've added one of these to my Christmas list).  A butane burner heats up the aquavit and cognac in the lower chamber. 

The liquid is forced up into the upper chamber where it is infused with the orange and port. Once all the liquid leaves the bottom chamber, the pressure is released and the infused liquid drains back into the bottom.  This drink also absolutely rocked - a wonderful warm beverage before braving a snowy Chicago night.  I would order either of these drinks again in a minute. 

Wino4Life WIfe's Choice (Round #2)
The wife decided that she'd had enough liquid refreshment for the day - so opted for a treat that every Aviary server we saw that night mentioned - a foie gras "Twix" bar.   

At one time not too long ago this would have been illegal in Chicago, but even for one-time contraband food stuffs - the wife seemed to enjoy it very much. 

We will definitely be back to the Aviary - and often. The menu typically changes along with the menus at Next Restaurant. There were many other choices on the night of our visit, including drink flights such as this one:
  • Infernal Imagery - barolo, maurin quina, and rhum
  • Dusty Loafer for Henry - angostura, kola, and tequila
  • Lambrucha - tea, ginger, lambic, and bourbon
Also, other creative drinks like the Italian Stallion with egg white, blood orange, aperitivo, and rye or the Five Food Groups with beer, coffee, peach, amaro, and whiskey.  If that's not enough, there is an exclusive by-invitation room called the Office, where there are more classic cocktails served.  I am hoping we make the invite list on our next visit! See you in August!

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