For Porto, the seafood restaurant and wine bar that gives the Atlantic coast of Galicia and Portugal the attention it has long deserved, closing in March provided an unexpected blessing. These last four months gave Executive Chef Marcos Campos, Chef de Cuisine Erwin Mallet and Pastry Chef Shannah Primiano an abundance of the world’s most precious resource: time.
“We’ve had time to elevate Porto to a more progressive culinary journey,” says Campos. That includes everything from delving more deeply into the preservation techniques — smoking, curing, pickling, dry-aging — central to the restaurant’s approach to spending hours experimenting with Porto’s wood-burning ovens and grills.Porto’s Atrium, located off the main dining room in the rear of the restaurant, channels the feeling of an impromptu gathering at a winery. Overhead are custom chandeliers crafted from hand-woven rope and vintage metal fishing baskets formerly used to catch sardines.
NEW DISHES & CONSERVAS
The envelope-pushing creativity of the chefs thrived during the restaurant’s closure as is represented by dishes such as the revised Cangrejo & Rodaballo Rillette (Smoked Wild Galician Turbot, King Crab, Crème Fraîche, Trout Roe, Rye Bread), Tartar De Vaca Vieja (8-Year-Old Dry-Aged Spanish-Style Grass Fed Beef, Oysters, Anchovy Garum, Sea Beans) and Pasta Do Mar #2 (Galician Seaweed Spaghetti, Baby Zucchini, Seaweed Pesto, Salmon Roe, São Jorge Cheese-Brined Smoked Scallops).
The Spanish and Portuguese have perfected the art of capturing the essence of the sea in a can, conservas, a centuries-old preservation technique oftentimes an expression more exquisite than their “catch of the day” versions. Porto offers berberechos, navajas, sardinillas, bonito del norte belly, zamburiñas and more.
Following Campos’ lead, Primiano’s desserts find inspiration in classic Spanish and Portuguese sweet dishes before channeling more contemporary techniques and intriguing ingredient pairings. Her seasonal desserts include Leche Merengada (Crispy Milk, Meringue Ice, Burnt Cinnamon Gelato, Lacto-fermented Plums) and Seaweed (Nori Ice Cream, Candied Sea Lettuce, Mango Caviar, Squid Ink Rice Puff).Both Spain and Portugal are represented in the Galician Uni Toast, which pairs toasted brioche with La Brújula uni conserva (Spain), lemon gel, and a puree of roasted cauliflower and São Jorge cheese, a tangy cow’s milk cheese from Portugal. Bits of fresh codium seaweed add a touch of natural salinity.
WINES & WINEMAKERS OF THE MOMENT
Porto launched with a comprehensively curated cellar of 300-plus wine selections from every corner of Spain and Portugal. The last few months the wine team expanded this inaugural program with more hand-picked imports celebrating Wines & Winemakers of the Moment. This boutique collection of close to 150 bottles hails from a new generation of talented winemakers who are reinvigorating and reinventing the vintages across the mainland and island regions of Spain and Portugal with a selection of wines that embrace the zeitgeist made by producers whose work meditates on the techniques, grape varieties and traditions of the pre-industrial past, just as the founders of the biodynamic and organic movements did with agricultural practices.
For Beverage Director Jesse Filkins, these down months afforded more opportunities to refine his culinary-focused cocktails and further connect with the kitchen team. That relationship led to new cocktails exploring Porto’s emphasis on the sea and live-fire cooking, including the Queimada De Verano made with Galician Orujo Blanco and Licor de Hierbas and Humo y Sal, which incorporates nori, sherry barrel-aged whisky and smoke.Designed by Maison Bonhomme, Porto’s interior reflects the restaurant’s concept to create a heightened intimacy between guests, food, wine and the stories that connect them, including the chef’s island in the main dining room built with repurposed wood from fishing vessels.
SUNDAY DINNERS AT “CASA DE CAMPO(S)”
Beginning in September, Porto will expand its days of operation to include Sundays for two ticketed multi- course family-style meals: late lunch (2 p.m.) and early dinner (6 p.m.). The Casa de Campo(s) ticketed dinners, which take place in Porto’s atrium, offer guests the chance to dine as though they were at a dinner party at Executive Chef Campos’ home with the crackling sound of wood burning in a nearby wheel grill filling the room with delicious aromas.
PORTO, 1600 W. Chicago Ave., 312.600.6338. Reservations available online or via Resy.
Photography by: Bonhomme Restaurants