Another upscale Latin-focused restaurant joins El Che Bar and Boleo in this year’s buzziest trend, this one with a dedicated rum element. Ronero opens Tuesday on Randolph Row, and along with Caribbean-inspired eats from executive chef Cory Morris (Mercat a la Planxa, Rural Society), guests can get a taste of Havana nights at an exclusive upstairs speakeasy.
The project comes from Nils Westlind, who spent much of his childhood in Colombia with his parents who were international social workers. His love for rum, the first alcoholic beverage he tried at a quinceanera,inspired the concept, as did his childhood explorations in South America.
The menu, from the chef who also appeared on “Chopped,” borrows from Colombian, Argentinian, Brazilian and other Latin American cuisines. Divided into three sections, the starters portion features baked empanadas ($11), Peruvian-style ceviche ($16) and hearts of palm salad ($15). The entree section of meats, birds, fish and vegetables includes dorado mahi-mahi with gallo pinto, shishito peppers and Salsa Lizano, a Costa Rican table condiment ($26), and a hamburger based on a torta Cubana topped with chorizo marmalade and shoestring potatoes on a potato roll served with yucca fries ($18). The main menu attraction, "el gran show," offers shared portions for two to four with a tableside spectacle element, including pescado frito, a whole fried red snapper atop coconut-cola rice and fried plantain ($45) that’s carved tableside, and puerco en pachamanca, pork shoulder cooked in banana leaf to mimic Peruvian ground cooking ($52).
With ornate wall tiles from Nicaragua and white-washed brick, the decor combines rustic elements of old world Havana and art deco accents of rum-running during Prohibition, including brass panels and chandelier light fixtures. The marble-top bar, built with hand-carved wooden medallions composed of 258 individual pieces, features South American-influenced cocktails curated by beverage director and partner Allie Kim (Momotaro, Maple & Ash).
Named for a master rum distiller, or maestro ronero, the main dining room in the back will feature portraits of maestro roneros hanging over green velvet booths. Rum is prevalent at Ronero, and the restaurant even features an upstairs speakeasy-style bar dedicated to it. Westlind’s past projects include club venues, such as Parliament, and the upstairs bar features tableside cocktail service, his answer to bottle service, available by reservation.
A wall of rum barrels serves as the entrance, which Westlind said is inspired by Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, an enormous fortress in Cartagena, Colombia. As a kid, Westlind—nicknamed “gringo loco” by the locals—ran around the castle scaring tourists. The West Loop space was built with skylights that nod to open-air aesthetics in South America. Rum was the first alcoholic beverage he tasted, and he wanted to offer an exclusive experience of large-format cocktailing served in vintage bar vessels while bands and DJs play Buena Vista Social Club music and “Colombia Boat Party” jams, Westlind said. Open Thursday through Saturday, guests can reserve tables in the upstairs lounge for four to six people, and prices will range from $300–$500 per table.
The cocktails honor Latin American traditions while introducing current cocktail culture in South America, Westlind said. Kim’s cocktail menu ($9-$13), which is also available at the downstairs bar, focuses on rums in Latin American staples, including a Hotel Nacional and Hemingway Daiquiri. Her original creations highlight offbeat spirits and ingredients, such as the Mama Pacha with gin, singani (Bolivian brandy), allspice liqueur, Peruvian corn punch and lemon juice.
Westlind’s goal is to curate an expansive collection of dark aged rum that “helps tell the story” of the Latin American spirit. The upstairs will also feature a private dining room with a members club, where guests can taste rare vintage rums and other spirits, such as cognac and scotch.
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