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The Aviary at Mandarin Oriental, New York

Written By Suzy Xiu

The concept born from its predecessor flagship in Chicago, The Aviary NYC, is the only cocktail and food experience of its kind.

Traditional, with a creative twist, The Aviary NYC is a seamless blend of both. Chef Grant Achatz and business partner Nick Kokonas work to ensure all operations are meticulously balanced, from the daily sourcing of fresh herbs and produce, intensive training of employees, to the brainstorming and execution of new ways to fuse and feature drinks. Enjoy your carefully crafted cocktail while lounging 35 stories high, with a scenic view of the Manhattan skyline. SmartFlyer agent, Suzy Xiu, visits The Aviary to give us the inside scoop.

Chef Grant Achatz, The Alinea Group
Chef Grant Achatz, Photo by The Alinea Group

In NYC, a city that offers almost everything at our fingertips, very rarely does anything come along that succeeds at both surprising and impressing us. Newly opened at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel New York in Columbus Circle, The Aviary NYC, as well as its sister concept, The Office NYC, does just that. It is the first East Coast outpost of James Beard winning Best Chef and alum of The French Laundry, Grant Achatz. The Aviary is added to the list of Achatz’ wildly successful restaurants, after Alinea and Next. Coming from such an impressive pedigree, expectations were high for The Aviary’s grand opening, which has been in the works for nearly six years. We had the privilege of enjoying the seven-course food and cocktail pairing, with the fabulous General Manager of the Mandarin Oriental, Susanne Hatje. Hatje was recently awarded the prestigious Hotelier of the Year award at Virtuoso Travel Week, the premier annual international luxury travel event, celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary this past year.

The experience starts with a spicy passion fruit tequila concoction, an amuse-bouche of sorts, before the real adventure begins. The menu is cleverly constructed – almost a work of art in itself – where small birds flit across the page from the whimsically-named drinks on the menu, hinting to the strength of each, “The darker the bird, the stronger the drink.” The first to arrive was the Science A.F., a veritable experiment named after Alexander Fleming, the Scottish scientist who discovered penicillin. Normally test tubes and rising smoke (thanks to a dry ice effect) do not entice my taste buds, but we all agreed this concoction was delightfully drinkable, a unanimous favorite of the evening. Some other standouts were the Wake and Bake, inspired by the technology of the volcano vaporizer; In the Rocks, which required a slingshot to assemble; and How Does Snoop Dogg Use Lemongrass, a question best answered in person.

Service was warm and approachable, with playful banter running back and forth all night between servers and guests. The ethos is to forge a connection, and one way they achieve this is to have the staff kneel at the couches when explaining each drink and dish. A refreshing experience in a city where the sheer volume of people contribute to a culture of dismissive and uneven service, grudgingly accepted as the norm.

Now on to the food! Each course was light and well-portioned, so that the seven courses did not feel unmanageable. The cuisine definitely had an Asian bent, with items like Kampachi Ceviche and A5 Miyazaki Wagyu. The Black Truffle Explosion, both on the menu at The Aviary and The Office, has been described as one of the best things you will ever taste in this lifetime. We agree.

Reservations are done through Nick Kokonas’ Tock, the egalitarian ticketing system used also by Eleven Madison Park, Alinea, and other top restaurants around the world. Kokonas’s system is a pre-paid reservation, which helps reduce the amount of no-shows, and also curb food waste (he is also partners with Achatz in The Alinea Group). Everyone has an equal chance of snagging a reservation, so the crowd is a good mix of people, from excited foodies to international jetsetters, and even notable celebrities (we spotted Conan O’Brien on our way out). With sweeping views over the beautiful Central Park, this was not just a meal, but a whole experience. Even in such a high-quality environment, everything was perfectly executed from beginning to end. And we can’t wait to return.

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