The acclaimed Chicago chef Grant Achatz has finally come to New York, setting up outposts of his two cocktail lounges, the Aviary and the Office. The Aviary NYC is the more experimental and eclectic, with elaborate cocktails and delicate snacks such as tempura shrimp with yuzu-scented pear.Credit…Cole Wilson for The New York Times
Grant Achatz, Science-Minded Chef, Turns to Cloning
By Pete Wells
At the Aviary, the willfully atypical cocktail lounge he founded in Chicago in 2011, the name of each drink is preceded by a bird silhouette like the ones on the endpapers of Roger Tory Peterson’s field guides. The nearer the silhouette is to the name, the more the cocktail will resemble something Nick and Nora Charles would have recognized. The farther away the bird, the weirder the drink.
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During my first flight at the Aviary’s new Manhattan incarnation, my server pointed to the entry for Bring Another Smurf, a mezcal and coconut drink. “If you look over here,” he said, sliding his finger left, “the bird is all the way out.”
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Is a cocktail improved when its bird is all the way out? The question pecked at me each time the elevator let me out on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental New York, site of the Aviary NYC and its quieter, shadow-filled sibling, the Office NYC. It also is originally from Chicago, where Mr. Achatz and his partner, Nick Kokonas, have built one superb, genre-bending establishment after another.
The wildest notions are reserved for drinks in the Aviary. Mr. Achatz’s food plays second fiddle in both rooms, and plays it beautifully. Yet neither space really shows off his full powers. In this perch above Central Park, the bird is half out — or, if you look at a different way, half in.
Like many Aviary drinks, the one called Science A.F. (ostensibly a reference to the microbiologist Alexander Fleming) is made at the table. A small blue flame compels Scotch and other ingredients in the lower chamber of a vacuum coffee maker to ascend to an upper chamber filled with fruit tea, as dry-ice fog carpets the table. This took about five minutes and produced something that tasted like the fruit punch that might be served at a convention for designated drivers.