A Chat with Chef Sarah Pliner of Aviary in Portland, Oregon

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The Daily Meal sat down with Portland chef Sarah Pliner to find out about the culinary philosophy behind her restaurant, Aviary

Chef Sarah Pliner in the kitchen.

What is the feel you are hoping to create at Aviary?
Relaxed and inviting, and really enthusiastic about food.

What is exciting you the most about food right now? Certain ingredients? Recipes? A new discovery?
I've been thinking a lot lately about how foods evoke emotions. I think it's a little strange that foods should make us feel emotion, but they do — for example, I think the taste of yuzu is melancholy and wistful, and that's weird, but if I can use it in such a way that a diner also feels that, like in a late summer dish that has some early fall flavors in it, then that is really incredible to me, and brings another dimension to the experience of eating.

What are some of the menu favorites of diners at Aviary?
It's hard, because the menu changes so much. people seem to really like the crispy pig ear, Japanese eggplant, tempura green beans, and shigoku oysters with tomato granité, so I pretty much never change those. Sometimes people get attached to a dish and don't want me to change it, but I have to or we'd eventually be stuck with one menu that never changes. It's tough to figure out.

What’s your personal favorite dish on the menu currently at Aviary?
We just started last week with bigeye tuna tartare with watermelon, jicama, avocado and pickled duck tongues. The jicama and watermelon are dressed with a toasted cumin vinaigrette, which has an earthy flavor that I think is an interesting contrast to the fruit, the tuna itself is just really nice tuna dressed with a light ponzu, which is both my favorite way to eat tuna and neutral enough to pair well with something really assertive, like the watermelon salad. A nd pickled duck tongues are fun for everyone. It 's also a really pretty dish, that my cooks like making because it's fun and new for them.

Can you explain what makes the bar program at Aviary special?
Our bar manager, Kaysie Condron , is a very talented mixologist, but she's also passionate and knowledgeable about wine and beer. I think she brings Aviary a complete bar program, where one can always find something interesting to drink. 

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What is the one thing that you think surprises people about Aviary?
I've heard from a number of customers, that the food is pretty healthy. I guess it's not uncommon in Portland for restaurants to serve food that's kind of heavy, and even though we do serve some very rich proteins, there's always a fresh vegetable, herb or fruit component that balances out. I think with all the attention the pig ear has gotten, some people might expect Aviary to be a gut bomb, and it's really more the opposite.