La Sirena Clandestina is one of my favorite restaurants in the West Loop, Chicago’s hottest dining neighborhood. It’s a laid-back alternative to some of the fancy pants spots across the road (The Aviary, Next, Moto). There aren’t many options for Brazilian food outside of the Brazilian steakhouses in town, so La Sirena manages to be both a neighborhood spot but also a unique gem in Chicago’s saturated dining scene. Empanadas, grilled chicken hearts and a killer kale salad (it’s all about the poblano dressing) are their calling cards, but when I visited for brunch, I discovered some delicious new finds.
On the regular brunch menu, super tender braised beef in a hearty feijoada is a perfect winter comfort food to eat while watching snow fall outside. In a Brazilian twist on chilaquiles, fried plantains are used in place of corn tortillas, and I found they held up much better under gooey egg yolk, cheese and salsa verde, maintaining better crunch and flavor than tortillas.
With the new Google headquarters going up across the street, Chef John Manion knows the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood will only get busier, so he’s looking to shake things up with lunch so he can serve more guests during a hectic lunch rush. Right now, La Sirena’s lunch menu mainly showcases dishes that are prepared à la minute. This attention to detail makes for consistently tasty food, but it takes extra time that hungry customers on a short lunch break might not be willing to wait for. He’ll still be slinging empanadas all day long, but look for a modified lunch menu and possibly a breakfast menu to debut later this year.
To flex their creative muscles, Chefs John Manion and Mark Steuer are planning a February 22nd La Colombe brunch takeover featuring their coffee supplier in both savory and sweet dishes. On the savory side there’s coffee cured foie gras, coffee smoked whitefish and coffee poached egg on carbonara. Coffee adds a subtle bitter note to the rich carbonara and the noodles were perfectly al dente.
For your sweet tooth, there’s coffee French toast with whipped ricotta and coffee caramel, coffee-glazed doughnuts and cocoa nib granola with espresso yogurt. I’m not as doughnut-obsessed as some, but loved that there was a generous dose of salt in the coffee glaze to prevent it from being too cloying. And the doughnut itself was not too dense, with large enough holes in the crumb to soak up the bittersweet dark chocolate milk that comes on the side for dipping.
My favorite dish of all was perhaps the espresso yogurt parfait. I could have eaten an entire gallon and was in fact scraping the bottom of the bowl despite this being the 10th course in our decadent brunch. I loved how the cocoa nib granola was nutty, salty and not too sweet. The yogurt had a nice tang and intense coffee flavor, made simply with espresso, raw honey and plain yogurt. Citrus and mint were the perfect finishing touches to brighten this up. I’m kind of devastated that this will only ever be available one more time (mark your calendars: Sunday, February 22nd) but I’m hoping this makes it onto the permanent breakfast menu that Chef Manion hinted at. That, or that he’ll give me the recipe.