Friday, March 16, 2012

Aviary Kitchen Table, now with more elBulli

If I had to pick my favorite places to spend a few hours on a given evening, the Aviary's Kitchen Table would certainly be near the top of the list.  It feels really special to be tucked into the corner of the kitchen, just out of reach of the lively crowds on the other side of the metal screen.  The chefs are intensely focused as they put together the complicated drinks, but they're always willing to answer a question or chat when they have a moment.

After a warming amuse of hot apple cider, the first drinks arrived - Pomegranate (a more traditional champagne cocktail) and an elBulli cocktail, the yuzu/sake/Kyoto.  This was my favorite of the whole night - so subtle and elegant.  It starts with Q tonic, then sake that's frozen with liquid nitrogen (watching this process throughout the night was great fun!), and finally a layer of intensely flavored yuzu foam. 

We also had a big bowl of elBulli "chips", which ranged from Frito-shaped polenta chips and black squid ink chips speckled with rice, to richly saffron-hued tapioca chips and a hefty nori chip.  The one I liked best was made of rice, as thin and white as a crumpled sheet of paper. Such fun to try all the different textures and flavors!

I was excited to see the Gin & Tonic make an appearance - apparently it's now a regular visitor to the Kitchen Table.  It was paired with the elBulli white sangria in suspension, making a colorful and modern pair.

The Ginger cocktail was paired with elBulli bites, corn croquant flutes filled with guacamole and topped with the tiniest dollops of sour cream.  I liked the intense crunch and corn flavor of the shells; though there was nothing too unexpected about the combination, the earlier elBulli dishes (this one is from 1996) are generally less avant garde.

From here, we moved into the more serious drinks, like the Study of Scotch and In the Rocks.  D let me do the honors of breaking the ice sphere!

I love the new Kitchen Table approach of serving two different cocktails at a time for greater variety.  The next pair had a shared theme of captured air and aromas, the Bitter, scented with wood smoke, and the Rob Roy, served in a bag of lavender air.  My favorite of the two is the Bitter, since the smoky scent always transports me back to happy winter evenings in Tahoe.

Our next elBulli bite was the bacon and date, a sandwich of date paste between two crisp sheets of bacon - maybe prosciutto.  The idea is great, but I would have preferred a thinner layer of date filling.

After the Oolong and Cider, we had a pair of pink and green drinks, the Huckleberry and Cranberry - both refreshing and sweet-tart.  The Cranberry, topped with bright green chervil foam, was ever-so-slightly bitter.

The pillowy elBulli huckleberry marshmallows that accompanied this course made me think of soft, stuffed animal dinosaur bodies.

For our dessert "courses", we had the Horchata and Cream Soda, paired with a striking, porcupine-like array of elBulli lollipops - everything from dark chocolate with puffed rice to pineapple covered with bruléed meringue swirls.

After Hot Chocolate (now with an electric orange topping of bell pepper foam) and a Tom and Jerry, then a Popcorn mignardise, we said our farewells.  Definitely another fun evening!

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