John Manion is a man who enjoys lighting things on fire. He’s demonstrated his Promethean prowess at Más, his adored Wicker Park restaurant that closed in 2007. Then there’s La Sirena Cladestina, which closed at the end of 2019. The Fulton Market spot leaned more into Manion’s formative years he spent as a child in Brazil. A few blocks south, El Che Steakhouse has evolved in the West Loop, showing off Brazilian and Argentinian preparations of meat in the style of the great Argentine chef Francis Mallmann.
Though a native Michigander, Manion — like Malmman — takes a MacGyver-like approach to cooking over fire, trying out various methods to bring seared and smoky goodness to the table — just check out the Meat Project. For Manion’s new West Town restaurant the grill is again the center of attention.
While Manion describes Brasero, 1709 W. Chicago Avenue, as the spiritual successor to La Sirena, he’s quick to point out that the menu shows a variety of Latin American influences. But the menu also pushes tradition, utilizing a few American techniques and ingredients to position Brasero uniquely. Manion mentions how through the years he assumed the mantle of “bean guy.” His expertise in cooking beans (feijoada is a Brazilian black bean stew) left little question about who would prepare them. But then at a pop-up dinner last year that previewed Brasero’s menu held at Sportsman’s Club in Ukrainian Village, one of his cooks made the beans using a slightly different technique. A beleaguered Manion was stunned by the great results: “I guess we have a new ‘bean guy,’” he says.
For Brasero, its feijoada is a group affair, a $200 dish reminiscent of risotto and stuffed with collard green kimchi, slow-roasted beef shank, puffed beef tendon, pickled orange, and farofa. Beyond the beef dishes, there are a few Peruvian dishes with Chinese influences like a pork fried rice.
Look for a mix of small and large plates, with plenty of seafood and pork chops. At one point, Manion considered opening a restaurant dedicated to charcoal-roasted chicken. That moment has since passed, but the chicken has found a place at Brasero, cooked in the corner grill that burns wood into charcoal. The chicken is brined and finished with a fermented garlic sauce glaze that’s supplemented by chili oil and a special seasoning of herbs, salt, and dehydrated chicken skin. Manion’s calling it chicken salt.
Caipirinhas are the featured cocktail and come in a trio of flavors. Alex Cuper, Brasero’s wine director, is also promising a selection of 100 Latin American wines priced around $100.