The vino-centric Aviary Wine & Kitchen offers serious food-and-drink pairing with a side of playfulness.
By Kristi Willis, Photos courtesy of Aviary Wine & Kitchen
Aviary Wine & Kitchen opened in 2006 as a home-décor shop that dabbled in food and wine. It was fun to meet friends in the lounge and sip from an unusual wine list while catching up or to enjoy a pop-up dinner or wine tasting.
In 2017, Co-owners John Coronado and Marco Fiorilo decided to go all in and convert the space, located on South Lamar Boulevard, to a full-service wine bar and kitchen, an expanded venue for sharing their passion that wine is for everyone.
Aviary now serves lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday, and offers brunch service each Sunday. Happy-hour specials of $1 off oysters and $10 off select bottles of wine are enough to entice anyone to skip out of work early. The Wednesday Dirty Dozen special—half price on select bottles of wine—is a wine lover’s dream come true, and diners who prefer their meal and vino alfresco can be served at the patio seats overlooking the hustle and bustle of South Lamar Boulevard.
The stylish dining room is bright and inviting. Peacock-blue walls surround a charming bar that winds down the length of the restaurant, offering a few choice bar seats overlooking the chefs shucking oysters and dishing up house favorites.
The well-curated wine collection lines the wall behind the bar, with bottles stacked to the ceiling, inviting guests to test their taste buds. Nodding to its namesake, two colorful peacock statues peer out from the bar and onto the street, keeping watch over the busy dining room. The vibe is casual and lively with a dash of irreverence. Aviary is never too serious yet always serves noteworthy food and wine.
It’s no accident “wine” is listed before “kitchen” in the restaurant’s name. Aviary is a decidedly wine-forward gathering spot, with the owners’ love for wine shining through in the extensive wine list. The by-the-glass list alone is adventurous, with offerings from familiar locales like France, Italy, Spain and Napa, Calif., as well as some less familiar wine-producing spots like Greece and Austria.
The bottle list is playful, with wines grouped by celebrity personalities, from David Bowie—featuring sparkling wines, of course— to the sultry reds represented by Etta James and the large-bottle formats of Andre the Giant. Bottle prices range from the budget-minded, everyday selections to spare-no-expense celebration wines.
For those who prefer a Pilsner to pinot, Aviary also offers an equally thoughtful craft-beer selection.
In February, beverage director Alex Bell and Fiorilo launched Aviary Wine School, an educational wine-tasting series that takes place the second Sunday of each month. For $25 a class or $250 for a season pass, participants can dive deeper into their wine education.
Aviary’s Mediterranean-influenced and seasonal menu was designed for sharing and pairing. Whether you order oysters from the raw bar, small bites from the Peck section of the menu or more substantial dishes from the Graze menu options, the staff is at the ready with suggestions for the best pairings for each dish.
The plates and presentation are thoughtful in the details, from the perfect jam selected for a chosen cheese to the fresh-shaved horseradish paired with a display of raw oysters.
Executive Chef Thomas Calhoun, previously of La Condesa, Uchi, Uchiko and Sway, shows his mastery of the palate, striking a satisfying balance with each plate. The smoked-fish toast has a bright bite of fennel and peppery radish, and the humbly named grain salad has a complex medley of wheat berries, couscous, crunchy winter vegetables and tangy harissa yogurt. The roasted whole fish is a house favorite, with a crispy skin giving way to delicate, flaky fish served in flavorful anchovy beurre blanc that will leave you begging for more bread to mop up the sauce. The short dessert list offers a rotating selection of cakes, tarts and ice creams worthy of breaking your diet. Or guests can simply splurge with the daily house-favorite paring of cookies and sparkling wine.
Aviary Wine & Kitchen touts substance and style while retaining a casual, come-as-you-are atmosphere that’s a perfect match for its South Austin neighborhood and a great reason to add it to your list of regular haunts.