Turning Tables: John Manion to Open Brasero in Chicago

Wine

Who’s behind it: Brasero comes from John Manion, the chef-restaurateur behind Wine Spectator Award of Excellence winner El Che Steakhouse & Bar in Chicago.

Why you should know about it: Manion has been a guiding force in Chicago’s Latin American cuisine landscape, bringing Argentine and Chilean flavors to Windy City locals and visitors, along with impressive, similarly focused wine lists. Manion’s newest restaurant draws particularly from Brazilian culinary traditions. “Brasero feels like a full-circle moment for me,” Manion told Wine Spectator via email. “[It] is firmly planted in the ‘now’ of Chicago—it is a Chicago restaurant with those influences, not a South American restaurant that happens to be in Chicago.”

When it opens: Brasero is set to open this winter, at some time in 2024.

The culinary approach: True to its name (brasero is a Spanish term for a type of grill), the restaurant focuses primarily on wood-fired Latin American cuisine. Dishes include whole young chickens with garlic-chile oil, red snapper fried in farofa (a meal made from toasted cassava), moqueca (a seafood stew of mussels, shrimp and coconut rice), linguiça sausage in mojo de ajo (a garlic sauce) and beef shanks inspired by Brazil’s national dish, feijoada stew. “The philosophic guardrails of the menu are a custom wood-burning behemoth [grill] (it’s become such a big part of how I think about food) and memories of my childhood in Brazil,” Manion explained. “It’s such a culmination of my experiences that I can’t believe I get to actually do it. It’s what I like to cook and eat: bold, flavorful and fun.”

John Manion continues to champion South American cuisine at his latest restaurant. (Courtesy of El Che Steakhouse & Bar)

What’s on the wine list: Building off the work done at Manion’s earlier restaurant, El Che general manager and wine director Alex Cuper leads the 100-label, exclusively South American wine program at Brasero. The focus is on smaller wineries practicing natural and lower-intervention winemaking techniques, as well as newer names throughout South America.

“We wanted the wine list at Brasero to be unique, and very easy to navigate in the sense that it shouldn’t be overwhelming, but a fun conversation piece,” said Cuper, noting that every wine on the list is less than $100. “The goal is to highlight the exceptional quality of South American wine at an exciting price point, allowing our guests to explore and experiment.”

The list includes wineries such as Argentina’s Alpamanta, Ver Sacrum and Zorzal, as well as Chilean names like Viña Bouchon. One section is dedicated solely to País, an historic grape variety in Chile, and another features 11 orange wines. “We’re trying to make wine accessible in all aspects, team and guests alike,” said Cuper. “Wine should be fun [and] enhance the dining experience.”

The design: The 120-seat restaurant looks to the 1970s and that era’s jet-setting culture for its design influences, along with classic Chicago eateries. The result is an exciting yet relaxed atmosphere with wide-ranging visual elements.

The neighborhood: Located at 1709 West Chicago Avenue, Brasero sits among several other restaurants in Chicago’s West Town, not far from the Windy City’s East Village, Eckhart Park and Commercial Club Park, and to the north of Rhine Hall Distillery.


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