Last month I ate dinner at these two restaurants in the West Loop on consecutive nights, and really enjoyed them. Both are moderately priced; you can expect to spend $60-75/person including tax/tip and moderate alcohol. Even though I might not put either one among my top ten in the city, I'd enjoy returning to either one, and I recommend both to those who haven't already been.
Salero is a new restaurant (opened last spring, I think), next door to longtime favorite Blackbird on Randolph Street and near the Clinton stop on the CTA Green and Pink Lines. Salero specializes in cuisine from the Basque provinces of Spain, with contemporary/global influences. They do not have tapas like they do in southern Spain; they serve from a traditional appetizers-entrees menu format.
When we looked at the menu, both of us found four of the appetizers compelling, so we split those four:
- Crispy veal sweetbreads, sauce ‘perigueux,’ heirloom carrots, bacon, wild huckleberries and hazelnuts
- Morcilla (blood sausage) and foie gras (sauteed), a la plancha with grilled matsutake mushroom, spiced dried cherries and green lentils
- Beets and shallots roasted in the embers, with "Monte Enebro" goat cheese, frisee, salsa verde and toasted pistachios
- Grilled octopus, with smoked espuma, potato, fried olives, pickled mustard seeds, puffed quinoa and black onion powder
All were thoroughly excellent - in fact, they were all so good, I would have a tough time calling any one of them a "don't miss" over the others.
After splitting these four, we decided that we were comfortably satisfied. (We both have a pretty healthy appetite, FWIW.) So we went straight from there to dessert. Note, this is not the normal progression at Salero, so by all means consider the entrees as well!
We then split one dessert: churros, with a couple of small scoops of chocolate-salt-caramel mousse and little dabs of this and that. These were superb, straight out of the fryer, light and hot and not overly greasy, perhaps the best churros I've ever had.
Service was exemplary - friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful. The room was nicely appointed and bistro-ish, with a row of candles up above along one wall. About 75 percent of the tables were occupied on this, a weeknight. The noise level was somewhat unpleasantly loud, but not oppressive; unfortunately they had music which contributed to the din, but at least wasn't cranked up to thumpa thumpa level. On a noise scale from 1 ("dead") to 10 ("I gotta get out of here"), I'd call it a 6-7.
I really enjoyed Salero, and hope to return in the future.
621 W. Randolph St.
Chicago, IL 60661
LA SIRENA CLANDESTINA
La Sirena has been open for two years. I'll start with the food. Using the descriptions on the website menu, we started with the "GALA APPLE AND FENNEL - GOLDEN BEETS, WALNUTS, DUNBARTON BLUE, MUSTARD VINAIGRETTE". Very nice, with fresh, bright flavors. Next, the "VEAL SWEETBREADS - HOUSE GIARDINIERA". Wow! These might be the best sweetbreads in the entire city. I think Chef must press them into a mold and then slice them before cooking, because they arrive as six perfect 1.5" cubes, with slight grill marks on the sides. Full of flavor and moist and creamy. If you love sweetbreads (like I do), you'll love these. Also, the "GRILLED SPANISH OCTOPUS - ACORN SQUASH ROMESCO, APPLE-CELERY RELISH". This was the only real miss; the octopus was a bit dry and chewy, although the accompaniments were really quite tasty, with an unusual combination of flavors. We split the "FEIJOADA - BRAISED BEEF, PORK AND LINGUIÇA, RICE, BLACK BEANS, FAROFA, GREENS, SALSA". This was pretty good; I can't say I was blown away, but I'll chalk that up to my own preference (I didn't choose this dish). AFAIK this was an authentic version of the Portuguese/Brazilian dish, and I suspect those who have been to South America will like this a lot. Incidentally, linguica is a pork sausage, and the one last night was quite spicy - enjoyably so, to those who like spicy dishes. For dessert, we split the tres leches cake, served in a glass (!) topped with whipped crème fraiche, and it was outstanding. One more comment on the menu - there were A LOT of dishes that sounded great to me (this isn't always true), including many that I didn't get to try. So heck, I'd be happy to go back tomorrow and try a bunch of other items!
The restaurant was about half full when we began at 6:15 (on a Friday), and by the time we left, was full. On a noise scale from 1 ("dead") to 10 ("I gotta get out of here"), I'd call it a 6 when we arrived, 7-8 by the time we left. (There was music too, although it was not a major contributor to the noise level.) The atmosphere was energetic and bistro-ish, and also seemed very homey/cozy (i.e. not overly polished/corporate - I intend this as a compliment). Chef-owner John Manion was present in the dining room, and the staff was friendly and helpful.
La Sirena Clandestina accepts reservations, including on their website (powered through the Yelp SeatMe software). We didn't have any trouble finding availability.
Also worth mentioning, the restaurant is one short block from the new Morgan stop on the CTA Green and Pink Lines (and across the street from Next).
I look forward to returning to La Sirena Clandestina, and in particular to trying the moqueca (and having more sweetbreads!).
La Sirena Clandestina
954 W Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607