The Descent of Manion
After what he describes as three years in the wilderness, John Manion (Mas, Branch 27) has settled, like seemingly everyone else these days, in the West Loop. His new “Latin local” spot La Sirena Clandestina (954 W. Fulton Market; no phone yet) is scheduled to open in about April in the space that currently houses Dodo. “I’m not going to do Brazilian or South American food necessarily,” Manion says. “I am a Chicago chef. It’s going to be the influence, the flavor, so it’s Latin local.” La Sirena Clandestina emerged from a pop-up Manion ran at Dodo this summer using same-day produce from Green City Market, with dishes such as Things That I Bought at the Market Today Empanadas. He’s bringing in newer ideas as well, including a dish from a Blue 13 dinner he participated in this past Monday: spicy Maya prawns with palm oil and coconut milk. Manion plans all entrées under $30, homemade desserts including alfajores, and outdoor dining. As for Dodo, Manion and a silent partner are buying a majority stake from the owner, Kim Dalton, who will collaborate on La Sirena Clandestina. So, yes, groan away: It is going the way of the dodo.
Five Questions for Thomas Lents
Lents, 39, takes over the kitchen at Sixteen (Trump International Hotel and Tower, 401 N. Wabash Ave.; 312-588-8151) on January 19, as Eater reported yesterday. He previously worked as chef de cuisine at both Las Vegas’s Joël Robuchon at the Mansion and San Francisco’s Quince, as sous chef at Thornton’s Restaurant in Dublin, Ireland, and as executive sous chef at Everest.
Dish: What are you going to do with the menu at Sixteen?
Thomas Lents: A complete revamp. Obviously, it’s not going to happen overnight. [It will reflect] the palate I have developed over the past 20 years, from my time with Jean Joho at Everest, to my time cooking in England and Ireland, and my time with Mr. Robuchon. The menu will definitely reflect the things I have learned from those individuals and my own style.
D: What is your own style?
TL: My philosophy on food is that you find the best ingredients that you can find locally and internationally, procure from the best sources, and treat it with the best technique you know, be that French, Italian, American, [or with] influences from Asia and Germany.
D: “Locally and internationally”—are you bucking the local/seasonal movement?
TL: The first and most important thing about sourcing ingredients is that you find the best product—and then you find the best local product. I spent some time in San Francisco, and I’m going to work with some of the farmers in the Bay Area. Vegetables are in their peak out there at different seasons [when] you just can’t get [them] in Chicago.
D: What distinguishes you from other fine-dining chefs?
TL: My training. The people that I have worked with. There are a few Robuchon alums in Chicago now [Matthew Kirkley, Anthony Martin, Ryan LaRoche], but my Ireland experience with Kevin Thornton [is a point of distinction]. His usage of wild game and English and Irish techniques mixed with the precision technique that I learned from Mr. Robuchon can set me apart from other chefs in Chicago.
D: Overall, what will Sixteen be like under you?
TL: It’s going to remain luxury dining. That room at Sixteen demands a certain level of dining. But I think there’s an opportunity in Chicago right now to promote more fine dining. I think a lot of restaurants have been moving away from that, but I think that market is still there. I definitely want Sixteen to be at the pinnacle of that market.
State of the Onion
Still on track to open in February, the restaurant in the Four Seasons has acquired a name: Allium (Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, 120 E. Delaware Pl.; 312-649-2349). Named for the botanical genus that includes onions, Allium pays homage to Chicago, which probably acquired its name from a Native American word for a wild onion native to the area. “And it’s also a vegetable,” thereby supporting Allium’s farm-to-table ethos, says Kevin Hickey, the executive chef for the hotel, who is staying on through the transformation. (The food plan remains as it was in November.) The décor uses pinstripe and houndstooth fabrics—“a men’s-suits feel,” Hickey says—with some animal print and esoteric artwork, paired with a theme of crimson. Guess that’s where the “wild” part of “wild onion” comes in.
“Condiments are like old friends: highly thought of but often taken for granted.” —Marilyn Kaytor (1929–2007), American journalist, editor, and author
“My wife wants to remove all my roosters,” says Didier Durand, who is undertaking a whirlwind renovation of Cyrano’s Bistrot and Wine Bar to create Cyrano’s Farm Kitchen (546 N. Wells St.; 312-467-0546). More than 100 rooster knickknacks have accumulated in the dining room, but they don’t fit with the new décor scheme, typified by oxen yokes and barn wood from Sandwich, Illinois, as opposed to the old white-tablecloth look. “I have been talking to my roosters every day for 16 years,” Durand says. He plans a more rustic menu to match the redecorated space, with food from his childhood in Bergerac (hence the restaurant’s name). He cites steak frites, roast chicken, veal sweetbreads, tripe, pâtés, terrines, brandade, cheese, charcuterie, and an olive-oil tasting. Desserts will include chocolate pot de crème, canelés, and Durand’s grandmother’s recipe for a prune dessert similar to clafouti. He hopes to open by January 25. Meanwhile, with the glut about to hit the market, sell short on rooster-tchotchke futures.
He Said It
“I could say what it’s not. It’s not Asian or Thai, but I’m having a hard time figuring out what it is.” —Michael Kornick, who is opening the fewer-than-50-seat Ada Street (1664 N. Ada St.; no phone yet) in partnership with David Morton. Pinning down how to define the cuisine for the industrial-area spot is apparently as hard as the name, which used to be The Right Door.
Lake o’ the Irish
After more than a decade as an itinerant consultant for places as diverse as the five-star hotel The Shelbourne in Dublin and Evanston’s chef carousel Pensiero Ristorante, Alan Lake has planted his spatula. Brendan and Siobhan McKinney, the owners of Avondale’s Chief O’Neill’s Pub & Restaurant (3471 N. Elston Ave.; 773-473-5263), brought on Lake as chef after hearing about his Shelbourne experience. “They have been completely supportive of the changes I want to make,” Lake says. “Good sourcing of ingredients, good product, using the Irish traditional fare as a jumping-off point. We want it to be the best Irish cuisine in Chicago. Why not?” A few dishes from Lake’s developing menu:
• Grilled Faroe Islands salmon with a crust of green apple, roasted shallots, and rashers topped with lemon sauce
• Irish stew with Mint Creek Farms lamb, porcini mushrooms, and herbed root vegetables over roasted barley
• Gunthorp Farms chicken stuffed with bangers, aged Irish cheddar, and grilled scallions with Colman’s mustard sauce
• Peat-smoked whitefish
• Banoffee (that is, banana-toffee) pudding
• Rhubarb-strawberry-oat crumble
Another commonality between the McKinneys and Lake is music—Brendan plays the Irish bagpipes, Siobhan the flute and pennywhistle, and Lake percussion. “I’m going to be performing there as well,” Lake says. “The band is Casa de Sol.” Our suggestion for that night’s special: bass.
Clear As, Well, You Know
We tried to straighten out the scattered speculation about Rodelio Aglibot (Sunda) and his new association with the Aja space at the Dana Hotel (660 N. State St.; 312-202-6050). Aglibot and his spokeswoman confirmed some details, denied others, and refused to either confirm or deny others. They also left open-ended questions unanswered, but they did offer the names of two dishes: Two-Ingredient Salad and Shit on a Shingle. An accounting:
• Toni Motamen of Lake View’s Raw Bar and Grill is involved.
• The space will be remodeled to include elements that are “gritty, sexy, and elegant, yet understated and comfortable,” Aglibot says.
• It’s scheduled to open in the spring.
• It’s not Asian.
• The principals are not calling it an American contemporary restaurant. Aglibot says, “The cuisine DNA is inspired by modern takes, expressions, and playful interpretations of an impressionable time in Chicago and American history.” (What time in history? could also go in the Unanswered section below.)
Neither confirmed nor denied
• There will be an oyster bar and a sushi bar.
• Aja’s chef, Ariel Bagadiong, will remain involved.
• What will the restaurant be called? “It’s been quite the process” is all Aglibot offers on this question.
• Who has what role?
• Is Shit on a Shingle chipped beef on toast?
Follow Pollack on Twitter.
On the Blog
- Oenophiles will soon flock to the West Loop.
Things to Do
1. Say aloha to corkage-free BYO (up to two bottles of wine per table), available through February 9 at the Gold Coast Hawaiian hideaway Roy’s (720 N. State St.; 312-787-7599).
2. Feed your pint-size diners for free at Koi (624 Davis St., Evanston; 847-866-6969), where an entrée purchase scores up to two free kid’s meals (regularly $5 apiece) on Sundays through Thursdays in January. Mini meals include choices such as sweet-and-sour shrimp or lo mein.
3. Sample a slew of Founders Brewing libations at a $50 five-course dinner featuring the Grand Rapids, Michigan, purveyor tomorrow at 6:45 p.m. at Jerry’s (1938 W. Division St.; 773-235-1006). Founders’ founder, John Freyer, will be on hand, pairing beers with the grub (expect Centennial IPA to accompany pan-seared skate wing and Backwoods Bastard Scotch Ale with grilled prime rib). After dinner, Founders mounts a tap takeover, serving 12 different draft brews between 9 p.m. and midnight.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
The hotly anticipated Tavernita soft-opens tomorrow, taking reservations for the dining room only until the whole shebang—which includes the dining room, lounge, and adjacent pintxo bar Barcito—debuts January 23. . . . Wellfleet, the restaurant portion of the Fish Guy Bill Dugan’s Albany Park digs, will open—with lunch service only—on January 16. Dinner is set to begin this spring. . . . Pending final inspections, Bread & Wine, an Irving Park wine bar/artisan market, will open January 17. . . . With new ownership, a new baker, and new goodies such as chocolate chip–pretzel cookies, Fritz Pastry reopens Saturday at 9 a.m. . . . In related news, Fritz’s former co-owner, Nate Meads (see “On the Fritz” from last week’s Dish), has been named the pastry chef at the upcoming West Loop Champagne salon RM. . . . A clarification: The pioneering Gaztro-Wagon food truck is not gone forever. It’s on winter hiatus. The truck is slated to be back on the road, without the gaztromind Matt Maroni, in the spring. . . . The Ravenswood location of Bagel on Damen has shuttered. It’s bagels as usual at the Wicker Park shop.