Aviary: Put a Bird on It in Portland’s Alberta Arts District

Restaurant Portland

Aviary is one of Portland's top bird-themed restaurants, located in Alberta Arts District.

Maybe it’s in the water, but as Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein point out in “Portlandia,”, residents are infatuated with bird imagery. Plenty of Portland shops and restaurants sport bird logos, including local favorites like Le Pigeon. It got to the level where two restaurateurs decided on the name Little Bird. Jasper Shen grew up playing mahjong, and since one of the tiles sported a little bird (xiao nao), he wanted that to be the logo for the restaurant he was opening with chefs Kat Whitehead and Sarah Pliner. Unfortunately for them, Le Pigeon chef-owner Gabe Rucker beat them to the bird, using those two words for his downtown bistro. No matter. Shen, Whitehead and Pliner stuck with the theme, opting for Aviary.

The trio’s already overcome adversity, opening in the Alberta Arts District, then reopening in December after a crippling fire. That may have been a blessing, since it allowed them to absorb a salon and transform it into a bar with vintage cash register and wood bar. We don’t know what Aviary was like before the blaze, but the food was strong during our visit.

Restaurant Portland

The glass fronted restaurant features sidewalk tables, concrete flooring, a wood banquette and a mushroom-lined sill that shields Aviary’s open kitchen.

They served us Pearl Bakery olive bread and baguette with bagna cauda, a “hot bath” of olive oil, white wine, anchovy and more, before we moved on to the meal.

Soup Portland

Earthy Chestnut Soup ($9) came with enlightening creme fraiche, fried Brussels sprout leaves, shaved un-fried leaves for contrast, and briny shaved bottarga.

Fish Portland

Chefs balanced silky Arctic Char Crudo ($12) with celery root puree, bright, bursting pomelo, American caviar and chives, creating a memorable plate.

Artichoke Portland

A hearty Smoked Artichoke ($10) stump came with quinoa-folded creme fraiche, shaved radishes and sweet grapes. This plate was a little watery and could have used a hit of acidity.

Salad Portland

Fried Chicken Skin Salad ($11) was atypical and more or less came together, with sweet watermelon, bitter greens and crisp, savory skin, but smoky baba ghanouj didn’t quite fit.

Chicken Portland

Four Cup Chicken ($14) was a modern play on Taiwanese three-cup chicken featuring the traditional soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil, plus tomato water. Aviary presented the dish as a roulade with earthy taro root, dried apricot and wood ear mushrooms.

Pork Portland

Crispy Pig Ear ($12) arrived in the form of what I’ll call “pork-tato” chips, atop herb-laden coconut rice,, creamy chunks of avocado, and dime cuts of sweet Chinese sausage. This was one of the more complete pig ear dishes in my recent memory.

Cocktails Portland

Ross Hunsinger oversees the cocktail program and wine list. My pick was the aromatic Choke & Coke ($8) with Johnnie Walker black Scotch, Cynar, Mexican Coke and lemon garnish.

Matthew “Mattatouille” Kang, who joined me, opted for a Pinkerton ($8), a cocktail named for Allan Pinkerton’s notorious detective agency, a tall drink with Cazadores reposado tequila, grapefruit, Chardonnay, white soda and one semi-embarrassing cocktail umbrella.

Aviary proved to be a progressive restaurant that didn’t flaunt seasonal produce the way some restaurants do, but obviously used them. They also delivered original combinations of flavors and textures that weren’t just for curiosity’s sake, which was refreshing.

Note: Aviary hosted us and covered the cost of our meal.

Aviary: Put a Bird on It in Portland’s Alberta Arts District


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

Leave a Comment