John Manion is getting eager to open up his highly anticipated new restaurant, La Sirena Clandestina. While some reports have said they're opening this weekend, Manion said they're still awaiting some inspections and that the Fulton Market restaurant won't open likely until next week. But he is ready to let people know just what he'll be doing in the kitchen.
Manion has always called La Sirena a "Latin local" restaurant, meaning it will be rooted in Midwest sensibilities using local ingredients while being influenced by the flavors of Latin America. Manion spent about five years living in Brazil as a child and has kept that love of Brazilian and Argentinean flavors with him. For the menu, he said things will change often and that he's influenced by what he sees at the markets and with producers. "It's like having a dinner party every night," he said.
The menu at the approximately 50-seat rustic restaurant decked out in reclaimed materials, is broken down into four sections: De La Calle, De La Casa, Al Lado and Parilla y Playa. Manion explained that De La Calle features more typical South American street food, like daily fresh ceviche and empanadas that will always be baked and not fried. He said the De La Casa section will have larger, heartier plates like a pork loin Milanesa. "Everyone's grandma made me a Milanesa in Argentina," Manion said. "And of course everyone's grandmas was the best."
The idea here is that Manion wants people at La Sirena to dine like people in South America. "Most places you go, the best meals you have are not necessarily the ones you have in restaurants, but on the street or in people's homes," he said. He added the Al Lado section for sides and salads because that's what comes with the food. "Salads aren't appetizers. Salads are things you eat with your food," he added.
The one section that will change the most often is Parilla y Playa. These are things you'd find on a grill or eat while you dig your feet into the sand on a beach. These dishes, which will also be featured on a late-night menu, will not necessarily be daily specials, but more integral to the rest of the menu.
"When I think of Brazilian food I think of being in the north and there's a guy with a vat of oil and drops a whole fish in there," Manion said. "That's where I am in my life, that's how I like to eat ... like a dozen perfectly grilled prawns with hot sauce. I want that section to be simple; high-quality ingredients cooked correctly and letting the food be the food."
And while the food may introduce diners to new dishes, the wine and cocktail program, discussed by Justin Anderson last week, will also see some funky, even weird (in the best way possible), presentations to accompany the food.
With La Sirena, Manion, who drives home the idea that this isn't an ethnic restaurant, wants to expose diners to flavors they aren't used to having in Chicago, but are very typical in South America. "The flavors, they're classic flavors, but it's how I'm interpreting the tradition," he said. "It's me remembering the flavors of my childhood. The older I get the more simple I like things, the more direct I like flavors." Watch for La Sirena to open mid- to late next week.