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.
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.
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.