The moment I moved within walking distance of La Sirena Clandestina I know I (I mean my bank account) was in trouble. La Sirena has been a favorite of mine ever since the first time I tried it, and quickly become my boyfriend and my go-to special occasion spot. We saved it for birthdays and anniversary dinners, but quickly changed that by “celebrating” my move in day and having gone back since.
If we’re still standing by La Sirena being our special occasion destination than last night must have been a “congrats you survived another Tuesday” party, because we definitely had no excuse to eat there, but we also could not resist. If it helps we ate at the bar, so I guess getting a table there can still be considered a special occasion event.
The restaurant itself is a small, romantic spot deep into Fulton Market. I’ll let their restaurant website do the talking on the explanation, as they say it best:
The name, which means “hidden mermaid,” derives from [Chef John] Manion’s desire to create the dark and slightly mysterious atmosphere of a hidden spot one might stumble upon at a beach somewhere tropical. The chef drew ideas for the menu and concept at La Sirena from growing up in Brazil and his subsequent travels to South America and the Caribbean. “I take inspiration from Brazil and Argentina, but La Sirena is so much more than a Brazilian restaurant,” Manion says. “There are a few things on the menu we stick to script on—like pao de queijo, moqueca, which are homages to my childhood in Brazil. But it’s a little, independent joint with a lot of influences.”
The atmosphere truly lives up to his vision. During the day the restaurant is bright and inviting with sunshine pouring in their floor-to-ceiling windows—at night, a sultry, dimly lit experience that, as promised on their website, feels both intimate and lively—the perfect spot for a date night.
Last night happened to be not only my first time dining at the bar, but also when there was still daylight. The mood definitely shifted more towards lively than it did intimate, but it was a refreshing way to experience the restaurant.
Normally my boyfriend and I stick to ordering pisco sours, and for him last night was no different. They make one of our favorite pisco sours we’ve found in Chicago, using a classic recipe of Peruvian pisco, lemon, a touch of sugar, egg white and Peruvian bitters. I decided I wanted to mix it up a little bit and checked out the cocktail menu. After much deliberation I decided to try out the heritage daquiri (rum, lime, sugar and optional seasonal fruit). I was a little nervous to stray from my beloved pisco sour, but my first sip was met with pure delight. My drink was fabulous, light, refreshing and not overly sweet. It had a delicate simplicity to it that, dare I say it, made it my new favorite cocktail at La Sirena.
If you’re not one for daquiris or pisco sours I would also recommend their Fernet and sugarcane Coke. If you’re a Fernet lover like me you will not be disappointed.
After a little cheers and a few sips of our cocktails we decided to order our food. La Sirena’s menu is designed to share, which makes it perfect for getting to try out a few different things. Last night we opted for the kale salad, la bomba rice and pao de queijo.
The kale salad made it to the table first. This salad is simple in it’s ingredients, but complex in flavor – making it one of my favorites in the city. It includes cotija, pepitas, thinly sliced jalapeño, thinly sliced radish and a roasted poblano dressing. While it does not sound like much, this salad packs a true punch. The dressing perfectly coats everything without feeling drenched, the pepitas offer a nice crunch, and the jalapeños pack a hot punch with the cotija following to cool that heat right down. The salad
is perfectly balanced, and delicious to both kale lovers and those who are less enthused about kale (i.e. my boyfriend).
Our pao de queijo came out as we were enjoying our salad (unless otherwise asked they just bring the food as it’s ready). While their pao de queijo is delicious, it is one of those sides that I do not miss when we don’t order it. They’re very dense cheese bread that don’t necessarily add anything special to the overall meal. I may just be biased because I’m not a huge bread person, but they’re not a must order in my opinion.
Now our last dish, the la bomba rice, is a MUST. For anyone reading this and thinking “what is la bomba rice?!”, picture your favorite risotto or paella. It’s a delicious rice dish
that they change up seasonally. Currently the dish features charred corn, aged white cheddar, shishito, chanterelle, and huitlacoche vinagairette. I’ve now tried three versions of this dish (previously a pea dish and a leek dish) and I have to say this one has been my favorite. The charred corn and the chanterelles add a beautiful texture to the rice while the shishitos add the faintest bit of heat. As far as eating with our eyes first and stomachs second, this dish is mouthwatering from first glance. Split between two people the dish is filling enough to serve as the main course, but is a large enough portion to provide an ample taste to 6 people. It can serve as a great finish or a wonderful compliment at the start of any meal.
Despite how full I was at this point in the meal I could not pass up on
dessert. After my summer studying abroad in Buenos Aires I have come to love alfajor cookies. Whenever I am somewhere that has one I just have to try it. So far La Sirena has my favorite alfajor cookie I have tried outside of my summer in South America. Their alfajor – dulce de leche in between two biscuit cookies – is the perfect size and not overly sweet like some unsuccessful version I have tried. It is the perfect way to finish off any meal at La Sirena, and light enough to still be enjoyable when you ate a few too many bites of the la bomba rice. I also love how they can be ordered individually, so I can always order two and never have to share with my boyfriend.
Overall, La Sirena never fails to disappoint. From a beautiful decor to perfectly crafted cocktails to a fantastic menu it is definitely a spot that should not be missed.
La Sirena Clandestina
954 W. FULTON MARKET
CHICAGO, IL 60607