There is a vibe that is all-together different when you enter John Manion's restaurant, La Sirena Clandestina. A bit hideaway, a bit other worldly, a bit local loco and a bit loco local, Manion's Brazilian and Argentine influenced endeavor brings simple authenticity with full flavor to Fulton Market. "The older I get, the more simple I like things, the more direct I like flavors, " Manion said in an Eater Chicago interview.
Manion, a straight shooter with a flair for bringing previous restaurants like Branch 27 and Mas to life, calls it like he sees it in life and in food. "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 in the aforementioned interview. Manion brings that sense of home and Latin street-corner food together in his 50-seat restaurant that bodes a turntable and stack of vinyl along with a large old fashioned bar and South American menu. The menu changes with the seasons. The seasonality gives Midwestern roots to the Latin American zest. Manion explained to me that changing the menu with the seasons is where the real creativity comes in and what makes it the most fun for him.
Manion, who spent time in Brazil as a child, believes that the best meals come from letting the pure flavor of the food shine through. After tasting his vegetarian empanadas, his best sellers -- of which he makes more than 100 per day, and his pork loin with black bean risotto, I can attest that -- Man-o-Manion! -- he is right!
La Sirena is one of those comfortable spots that is at once sultry and back-alley feeling, making it a perfect late night artist hangout. Iconic Chicago artist Tony Fitzpatrick is said to be a fan. Long-time friend, artist and lead singer of Poi Dog Pondering, Frank Orrall, is a common La Sirena personage. "John Manion is my favorite chef in the world. He loves food like I love music. He loves music deeply, and I love good food... we have become fast friends. I have nick-named him Captain Manion because he is 'the captain.' I am proud to serve on his ship, and the food is always better at the captain's table. Personally, I trust this man with my life; he's a blood brother. As the chef-captain, I'm just one of his many dedicated shipmates, ready to go on every adventure. I know I am in the very best of hands."
If you want to experience Manion and Orrall in one spot, they meld food and song together at The April 1 Dinner Party at Chicago's City Winery. Manion will be making his rock star vegetarian empanadas aside a kale salad and his pork loin with black bean risotto, paired with wine from City Winery and chocolate from Vosges. Orrall will be a guest at the table, and will perform, along with Field Museum's only artist in residence, Peggy MacNamara and Vocalo radio host and comedian Brian Babylon. The opening act is resident choreographer of Ballet Chicago, Ted Seymour.
For a mouth watering sneak peak, check out the video below to see Manion work his magic on vegetarian empanadas: