Grant Achatz's Aviary set to take flight April 13
After enjoying a lucky trip to the culinary past of 1906 Paris on opening night of Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas' Next restaurant Wednesday night (still thinking of that Bombe Ceylan dessert), my wife and I toured the operation with Kokonas before stopping for a few drinks at the adjoining Aviary bar, which was abuzz during friends & family service, and which will surely please fans of Alinea.
Kokonas himself was amazingly energetic for a guy who'd been awake for 42 hours straight at that point (it was around 10pm and he was planning to stick around until the staff champagne opening toast at 2am). He said it looks like Aviary will officially open next Wednesday, April 13, and the host later confirmed the target date. Some fun tidbits from Kokonas:
- Aviary will have outdoor patio seating. It will be by reservation, although patrons can get walk-in service inside.
- There are plans to install an English-style hedge outside Aviary for guests to wend around as they wait to get inside. That should be an impressive sight in the Fulton Market district.
- Even the ice cubes in the drinking water are special; they're made with layer after layer of mist, a new one wafting down as the last one freezes until a flawless cube's created.
- The capacity of the large space has been set at under 200, which means it will never be knee-to-elbow packed inside.
- Though the cocktails will cost around $16, each one will be about a half-hour experience from ordering to finishing, so the service shouldn't empty too many wallets.
- There will be separate food menus for the standing tables near the bar kitchen and for the lounge seating at the other end of the room. That's in addition to the menu for Next and the one for the yet-to-open Office room in the basement. Already, the operation employs more than a dozen dishwashers. "It's like operating a small hotel," Kokonas said.
- Speaking of that Office space, it's got a classy masculine vibe and the smell of leather from the couches set into twin alcoves was intoxicating. The spot has a capacity of 16, and it'll be invite-only (and to rent out for small groups). I would gladly hang out there on a regular basis.
- He said the next night's staff meal would be Thai. "We'll be eating a lot of Thai food for the next two months," he said, as they test dishes for Next's next incarnation, as a futuristic Thai restaurant.
- Kokonas was positively giddy about the online ticketing system, which, though glitchy at the outset, sold about $150,000 worth of bookings in two hours, a feat he estimates it would have taken 30 phone operators to replicate. (I was given one of the open bookings announced in the afternoon and gave my credit card info over the phone, so I haven't been through the ticketing process myself, though my colleague Julia Kramer has.) Kokonas was fascinated to see the sales pattern: the top-priced chef's table experience at Next and the lowest-priced reservations sold out almost immediately, followed by the seatings in the middle.
- Of the few same-day seatings that will be offered via social media, Kokonas says they'll try to accommodate folks like a couple from out of state who are set to leave the next morning. People, in other words, with compelling stories to tell.
I took a pretty much immediate liking to the guy and knew my instinct was right when Kokonas made a joke at my expense and said, "I don't know you well enough to say that." It's a construction my wife can confirm I am forced to use with well-met strangers on a regular basis. I hope he's finally gotten some sleep.
I must have needed some myself, actually. As my wife implies in the post linked above, it took me a while to figure out how to crack open the ice egg that held a delicious old fashioned inside. (When I pantomimed one move with the little metal cube connected to two rubber loops that guests use to free the booze, the host said calmly but firmly, "That will result in a broken glass.")
But then the server did all the work setting up the next drink, a gin-based "tea," served in a steampunk-laboratory contraption. The show unfolded like this: a jar holding tea and spices and other wonderful-smelling ingredients was connected via tube to a glass orb below that held the gin. The whole thing was placed over a small burner at the table. When the liquid heated to a certain temperature, it was sucked with a bubbling whoosh into the top vessel. There, it steeped for some minutes and was then poured into small teacups of clear glass.
The resulting spicy, floral flavor explosion capped off a truly extraordinary evening.