Back in 2012, WW named Aviary Restaurant of the Year. Three years later, it remains one of the city's most ambitious and creative dining experiences.

Aviary's spare concrete and white-walled interior serves a subtle reminder to guests: Your focus for the evening belongs squarely on the eclectic small plates dreamed up by chefs Sarah Pliner, Kat Whitehead and Jasper Shen.

Each dish is a delicate and subtle creation, a balance of Asian-inspired ingredients and Western techniques. Here, a boring brick of silken tofu becomes a harmony of taste and texture thanks to sweet hot bean paste, scallions, cantaloupe, sesame, peanuts and lime ($9).

We also loved the charred octopus served with a ricotta pudding, broccoli raab and red curry jus ($21). The pork belly katsu ($14) and crispy pig ear, served with coconut rice, Chinese sausage and avocado ($16), are house favorites. The service here is impeccable, which makes even a visit on a random Thursday evening feel like a special occasion.

Your knowledgeable waiter may wax rhapsodic over lapsang souchong, an aromatic black tea found in the delicious smoke & iron cocktail. Or he may gush over the bone marrow custard that's served with a flat iron steak smoked over Douglas fir, a potato puree and pickled daikon ($22).

Don't be surprised when he refolds your napkin neatly each time you step away from the table.

Photo: Nashco
Photo: Nashco

Pro tip: That soup dumpling spinoff? We're still waiting. Go to Taste of Sichuan.

GO: 1733 NE Alberta St., 287-2400, 5-10 pm Monday-Saturday. $$.