Restaurants

La Sirena Clandestina's menu embeds Brazilian staples

Friday, December 28, 2012

You see the flaky empanadas, and the garlicky, parsley-and-cilantro-jammed chimichurri sauce, and you're thinking: this must be a Brazilian joint. But La Sirena Clandestina is much more than that. In fact, Brazil plays only a minor role.

"When I was a kid I lived in Brazil for five years and traveled around quite a bit. So that definitely influences what we do here. I mean it's the food that I like," said Chef and Owner John Manion.

And Manion likes simplicity. A grilled hangar steak - again, with that vibrant chimichurri - and impossibly crisp, pan-roasted chicken thighs, then served over a mound of crunchy, garlic-flecked rapini and a butter-fortified chicken braising liquid sauce, sprinkled with cashews. But his tastes always bring him back to Brazil in some ways, reflected in a dish like moqueca.

"I feel like moqueca is one of the world's great dishes, it's just that nobody really knows it here," he said.

It's a fish stew, for lack of a better term, and here, Manion starts by adding a cilantro-coconut puree to rice; meanwhile, he cooks head-on shrimp with coconut milk, onions, peppers and tomatoes. Sauteed mussels surround the rice, while the shrimp go on top, crowned by a piece of sauteed baramundi.

"The dende oil, the chile, the coconut milk is a big factor; it's something you see a lot in Brazilian cooking," said Manion. "These are flavors that I really, really like, but it's not an ethnic restaurant. The seasons here definitely factor into what I do as well."

Which is why it's no surprise to see a seasonal salad, like shaved Brussels sprouts tossed with a huge mound of dill, plus almonds, manchego cheese and charred radicchio.

"So it's kind of Latin, but it's kind of local as well," he said.

La Sirena Clandestina
954 W. Fulton Mkt.
312-226-5300
http://www.lasirenachicago.com/

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