By Chris Angelus, Portland Food Adventures
Early in the Summer of 2011, I had the good fortune to interview Naomi Pomeroy of Beast for About Face Magazine. In that interview, when I asked Naomi where her favorite places were, she indicated to me that she held the relatively new Aviary in very high regard. In fact, she mentioned them in the same thought as Le Pigeon and Gabe Rucker, both of whom I know are near and dear to her heart.
I don’t take chef’s recommendations lightly. After all, that’s the impetus behind Portland Food Adventures. So when Naomi spoke, I listened. And ate. And so I found myself at Aviary’s chef’s counter a few days later, led there by one of the most delightful front of the house people in Portland, Leah (who, sadly, moved on after the soon to be referenced unfortunate event). The first moment of Aviary love starts with the bagna càuda dipping sauce. Oh my God. It’s warm, creamy and so incredibly tasty. If all I ever had at Aviary was that, I’d go back to dine over and over again. It’s a warm butter sauce infused with anchovies, tomato water, olive oil and garlic. I slowly inhaled two other plates, one sturgeon and another with crab and clams, and couldn’t wait to sing Aviary’s praises to friends. But before I could sing, I was blessed with the most delicious and beautiful panne cotta ever for dessert. I looked up and conversed with the creator of that heaven, Kat, who, as it turns out, shares a common Connecticut upbringing with me. We connected on more than a culinary plane.
As if the full head-on culinary barrage of delight wasn’t enough, I walked out of Aviary and there in front of me stood The Salt and Straw cart. Realizing I was borrowing a page from Caligula, I couldn’t resist a taste and purchase of their Strawberry with black pepper variety. SO delicious. That was before they had their store.*
That visit had me back with a companion two days later. We ate like Beasts (a tribute to Naomi for
encouraging this discovery), and were delighted when chef Jasper came out and presented us with various amuses. Here, I thought, was a different Portland experience. Not that I hadn’t had amuses before, but I don’t think I had had the chef come out to meet me and present them at the same time. I assume he was appreciative of the fact that I came back so soon with friends. That’s the stuff of success, for sure. And then to have every bite be so amazing, truly this is why I love Portland. I mentioned to Jasper what I do with Portland Food Adventures, and asked if it would be possible to come and talk to him about an event. We set an appointment for Wednesday, July 6th.
Monday night, upon returning from viewing the fireworks from Neahkanie Mountain with my son, I noted on Facebook that Aviary had suffered a fire. I tried to email Jasper, but didn’t hear back. As the reports came in, it sounded more and more severe. Nonetheless, I dropped by Aviary at the appointed time on Wednesday and was so saddened to see what had happened to this utter gem. It had been gutted, and there were trucks outside salvaging whatever could be salvaged. I saw the table I dined at merely a week ago stacked up in a Penske truck ready to be hauled away. So sad.
Well, months later, after some insurance battles and after Aviary’s chefs experiencing the true Portland spirit of community — as restaurants like PING, Genoa and Firehouse opened up and allowed Aviary to have pop-up dinners at their respective establishments, Aviary was to reopen. Expaned, with a new bar and patio area, and as beautiful as it was. They added to their arsenal Ross Hunsinger in the bar and Christine Schuman to the front of the house. (They haven’t missed a beat). I wanted to have an PFA on the day they opened, but these meticulous chefs preferred to have a bit of a soft reopening before our event, so we set the date for January. I met with the chefs, and I was so pleased to hear their recommendations that would provide gift certificates as part of the Aviary adventure: Salt & Straw, Firehouse and St. Jack. What a powerhouse lineup!
Of course, who could predict that January 17th would fall smack dab in the middle of a media-hyped snow event in Portland? I decided the night before to turn off the TV, and just plow ahead. As it turns out, I was right. The roads were so clear that I zipped over to Alberta from my office in SW in no time. And I was greeted with a very romantic setting, the bar looking wonderful with Ross readying the welcome cocktails, and this incredible menu. There need not be more words in this blog to describe the evening. I think the pictures, while not all inclusive, and the menu (also not all-inclusive–there was an amazing amuse of pig’s snout to start the evening, and Ross’ cocktails to bookend the night were fantastic), are enough of a tease to present anyone reading with this for cause enough to not only try a Portland Food Adventures event in the future, but as one of our guests that evening so eloquently posted on Facebook the next day, “Portland, fly, don’t run to AviaryPDX. They are turning out some outstanding eats and thanks to Portland Food Adventures for organizing a fantastic evening of wine, food, and people.” (Thank YOU, Lee Barth, for experiencing and enjoying your first ever Portland Food Adventures event!)
I am fortunate to have had my dear friend Allison Jones provide some of the photographs for this wonderful winter evening at Aviary.
Jasper Shen, Kat Whitehead, and Sarah Pliner welcome our guests to their beautiful and updated Aviary.
Ross sets the tone. The evening started in the bar with a delicious Bourbon cocktail.
The delicious amuse. (Not on the menu)
The spicy duck leg may just have claimed the best dish of the year for me, only 17 days into the year. Unbelievable. It’s on Aviary’s regular menu. MUST. ORDER. IT.
The artichoke was a favorite of many when we asked for a show of hands.