A margarita with brightly colored, red pepper infused ice cubes, a bourbon infused cocktail enclosed in a vacuum packed bag that emitted a strong odor of coffee, freshly baked bagels, and orange juice as the bag was slowly and meticulously cut open, a ‘boom goes the dynamite’ cocktail that came out in a chemistry looking cauldron with dry ice smoke billowing out for minutes, and the infamous ‘heart of stone’ cocktail…(a favorite from Chicago)…a witch’s brew cocktail of whiskey, port, spices, and tea served in a unique circular glass porthole – with a flavor profile that gets stronger and stronger as the drink gets poured out. Each drink presents a unique combination of chemistry meets gastronomy and has flavor profiles unlike anything you’ve ever had before. Although it’s an extraordinary experience that may only be done once…it’s an experience that should be done.
Upon reading reviews of the Aviary, it’s obvious everyone has a strong opinion of this exclusive gastronomic cocktail bar. Reviews range from ‘too expensive, not worth it’ to ‘best experience I have ever had in my entire life’. It seems strange to me that someone would visit the 35th floor of one of the nicest hotels, the Mandarin Oriental, in one of the most expensive parts in NYC (Central Park/Columbus Circle) and not expect to pay $20+ a cocktail, but that’s neither here nor there. Some people complained about the service, but we had outstanding service, and everyone was exceptionally nice…which leads me to believe that if the patrons aren’t nice, well…you do the math! Rules to live by!
We had an 8pm reservation on a Tuesday evening via a good friend of mine in the seafood industry and upon arrival, we were sat down right next the windows which showcased the stunning view of Central Park. A lovely couch with pillows sat across from two single chairs surrounding a low-end table. The waitress came over almost immediately and offered us tap, sparkling, or still water and asked if we had been to the Aviary before. I had visited the Aviary in Chicago back in September, so I had a greater idea of the journey we were about to embark, but my friends were completely in the dark. The waitress then went through the menu and explained that we could do a la carte or order from the tasting menu. On the left was a list of drink options, and each had a line with a bird flying away from the cocktail. The further the bird’s line, the crazier the cocktail. The food menu had lots of sexy and unusual creations from their famous ‘black truffle explosion’ (a Grant Achatz creation from his days at French Laundry) to their infamous giant, crispy, pork skin (it really is Giant). We opted for the $110 tasting menu which came with three cocktails and a chef’s choice of food ($65 for just the drinks). I highly suggest the food and cocktail option as the drinks are very strong and you’re probably going to want to order some food throughout the course of the evening, (especially when you see everyone else doing it and how delightful it all looks or when you’re halfway through your second drink and realize how NOT sober you are!)
Since there were three of us and four potential drink options on each course of the cocktail tasting menu, we choose three out of the four options and split everything. For the first course we had:
Zombie Panda: awesome effervescent drink that comes with tons of pink infused ice cube balls. The ice cubes are similar to the balls of tapioca pearls at the bottom of bubble tea drinks, except these balls are icy and full of booze! 4/5.
Michalada: very crisp and refreshing cocktail with a slight orange flavor to it, no theatrics in this one. 3/5
Margarita-ish: my favorite drink of the first course. The drink came with two, square, red pepper infused ice cubes that completely changed the flavor of the cocktail as they melted. 5/5.
Wake and Bake: this is one of Aviary’s signature drinks. It’s also available in a similar format in Chicago. The waiter comes over to the table with a vacuum-packed bag with a cocktail inside. When the bag is opened, you’re instructed to stick your face into the bag and breathe in the flavors of a coffee shop: freshly brewed coffee, bacon, orange juice and a warm toasted bagel. The drink itself tastes exactly like coffee made love to Rye whiskey, it’s very boozy. 3/5
Immediately after our first course of drinks came out, our first course of food came out. For us it was a delightful, refreshing vegan soup.
Second course was the following:
Heart of Stone: this was a favorite from the Chicago location. The drink comes out in a circular, wheel shaped device. Inside the contraption is fruit and spices which make for quite a unique flavor profile. As you continue drinking, the flavor profile completely changes and the drink gets stronger. Awesome drink. 5/5.
Beam Me Up, Toddy: the presentation on this drink is out of this world. The drink comes in a Bunsen burner meets high school chemistry concoction. The Bunsen burner warms up and produces a flame that heats up the alcohol then sends it up to the glass tube filled with fruit and spices above it. This drink was excellent, and super strong! 3/5.
In the Rocks: we were convinced to order this drink by the waitress because of its unique format. The drink is held in a giant circular ice cube, and to get to it, one must open it with the small sling shot provided by the wait staff. The drink itself was extremely boozy and bitter, but the concept was very unique. 3/5
For the food portion, we were served four dishes. The large dish was crab and roe with potato chips and edible flowers on top. It was excellent. We were also given a plate of vegetables with a delicious sauce on the side, and two small bowls tuna tartare with forbidden black rice underneath a thick layer on semi-hard avocado mousse.
For the third course we had:
Boom goes the Dynamite: a ‘must have’ just for the excitement and theatrics of the cocktail. The drink is a total science experiment. It comes out in ball with liquid bubbling and dry ice spewing out of it for minutes. This drink should be the poster child for ‘making chemistry cool again’. 4/5.
Espresso Martini: no theatrics behind this one, but the drink itself was fantastic, the cold brew coffee gave it a nice flavor. 5/5
And a Panini to Go: this drink was served with a little dessert bite on top which was fun and tasty. It came in an interesting glass inside a glass cup and had flavors of white chocolate, ginger and chartreuse.
The ricotta gnudi (above) was served with this course and was one of the most delightful concoctions I have ever eaten in my entire life. It was two pieces of manchego stuffed pasta served with breadcrumbs, chives, zucchini, mushrooms, and snap peas in an amazing black truffle sauce.
Fantastic experience overall. I don’t think I could have done the five-course tasting, I would have been on the floor. Furthermore, we did the three-course tasting and we were there from 8:00pm until almost 11:00pm. If you plan on doing the five course, I would give yourself at least three plus hours. The staff was very friendly, the drinks were great, the views were unbelievable, the food was fantastic and the experience is something I will never forget!