Aviary Returns Bigger and Better Than Ever

The up-and-comer restaurant was damaged by a Fourth of July fire last summer. Now it's back.

By Benjamin Tepler March 23, 2012 Published in the April 2012 issue of Portland Monthly

Fried chicken salad aviary wdn8mp

Fried chicken skin salad at Aviary

Image: Adam Wickham

AFTER A ROGUE FIREWORK torched Aviary’s roof last summer, Portland’s culinary community rallied to help a rising star, offering up kitchens and running fundraisers to help with repairs. Now, Aviary has charged back into Portland’s restaurant scene with inventive, Asian-inflected cooking, plus a brand-new cocktail program and bar to match.

Behind the industrial chef’s counter stands the culinary triumvirate of Sarah Pilner, Jasper Shen, and Kat Whitehead. With a combined résumé that reads like a “best of” list for New York restaurants, the chefs bring wide-ranging global influences and epicurean styles to a dozen or so small plates. The fried chicken skin salad typifies their approach: a mastermind combination of supercrisp chicken cracklings, sweet watermelon, and pickled rinds, tossed in a chile–fish sauce dressing over a satin-smooth swipe of Middle Eastern eggplant baba ghanoush.

While the exposed piping and cinderblock dining room feel almost obligatory these days, Aviary’s cuisine breaks refreshingly from the snout-fest of Portland dining. Recently, local sturgeon benefited from this fresh thinking: expertly poached, sided by buttery morsels of manila clam and trumpet mushroom, and elevated by a daring drizzle of passion fruit jus. Just as surprising is the popular “crispy pig ear,” served in a steaming paella pan with creamy coconut rice, chewy links of Chinese sausage, and a battery of Thai and Vietnamese herbs.

Slotted behind the NE Alberta Street dining room is the new bar, dimly lit and fashioned with repurposed wood from the building’s former life as a church. Bar manager Ross Hunsinger keeps stride with the kitchen, juggling adventure and balance on a food-friendly list. Aviary’s cocktails make room for the understated with the “gntnt” (Ransom Small’s Gin, house tonic, tarragon) and the bold “brix layer” (cabernet sauvignon, cherry, bourbon).

Aviary has reignited impressively. This is a destination to watch.

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