CONCEPT & DESIGN
A seafood restaurant and wine bar that gives the Atlantic coast of Galicia and Portugal the attention it has long deserved, West Town’s Porto draws inspiration from the fishing villages and farmsteads along the Atlantic Coast of Galicia and Portugal. Showcasing regional wine, seafood, and conservas (gourmet tinned seafood), Porto honors this delicious corner of the world.
“At Porto, we share our love for the history, culture, food and, ultimately, people of Galicia and Portugal,”
says Bonhomme’s founder and managing partner, Daniel Alonso, who, having grown up between the Midwest and his parent’s hometowns in Galicia, has a personal, heartfelt connection to this part of the world and the purveyors who call it home.
After being open for only a few months, the local (and global) shutdown provided unexpected opportunities. Those 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 had time to elevate Porto to an even more progressive culinary journey,” says Campos.
That time was spent delving more deeply into the preservation techniques — smoking, curing, pickling, dry-aging — that are central to the restaurant’s approach, and spending hundreds of additional hours experimenting with Porto’s multiple wood-burning ovens and grills. “In many ways, those four months were a blessing,” adds Campos. “They gave me invaluable time to work more peacefully and profoundly with chefs Erwin and Shannah and our beverage director Jesse, to develop ideas, sharpen our skills, and improve our supply chains in Galicia, Portugal and locally.”
For Alonso, research for Porto has been ongoing since childhood, instilling a passion for and relationship with the area that few can claim. Every year the Porto and Bonhomme teams make multiple visits to Baiona and Ribeira, the Galician cities Alonso has considered his second homes since birth, as well as Vigo, home of the largest fishing port in Europe. There we sit down with the fishmongers, winemakers and farmers who are at the heart of Porto’s menu on our travels to small villages along the coast, including Azenhas do Mar, Cambados, Combarro, O Grove, Corrubedo, Porto and Viana do Castelo.
Designed by Maison Bonhomme, Porto’s interiors create a heightened intimacy between guests, food, wine, and the stories that connect them.
Porto’s chefs island, the centerpiece of the restaurant, is an 80-foot-long oblong counter built with repurposed wood from fishing vessels and 20 slabs of brushed granite. Floating above the Chefs Island are custom blackened-steel and wood shelves whose scale and size evoke the frame of a fishing vessel’s hull. From this intimate perch, guests, seated in plush navy velvet and brass counter stools, are able to interact with Porto’s culinary and beverage teams while watching the dining scene unfold in front of them.
Woven harmoniously throughout every surface of Porto are artistic elements drawn from Europe’s visual arts legacy and physical elements that romanticize the sea and the little villages dotting the coastlines of Galicia and Portugal.
Upon entering Porto, the scene is set with custom-designed wall coverings in four one-of-a-kind motifs by acclaimed local artist and regular Maison Bonhomme collaborator Erik DeBat, which envelop the room with evocative prints that recall the beauty of graphic design and lithographic printing of the 19th Century. The work by visual artists and designers of this time are as gorgeous and avant-garde today as they were over 100 years ago. Their work’s cultural resonance also extends to all table service items, which have been sourced from Sargadelos, a 200-year-old maker of fine ceramics from Galicia.
Intense attention to detail
as well as a passion for reinventing vintage pieces and giving historical pieces new life, signatures of Maison Bonhomme, appear throughout Porto. Fourteen early-20th century American composition light fixtures adorned with an acanthus leaf pattern and their original chain and canopy that once hung in the lobby of the historic Continental Bank on LaSalle Street. Six brass chandeliers that once hung in the dining hall of the United Center further the ‘everything old is new again’ theme. Wine storage is anything but ordinary at Porto with a 19th century 20’x12’ Belgian library bookcase carefully repurposed beautifully doing its new job. And a cast-iron balcony, circa 1872, one of two from the Northern Illinois Hospital and Asylum, was rebuilt by ironworkers and wraps around and frames the interior walls facing Ashland and Chicago avenues.
Flanking either side of Porto’s entrance are two cozy nooks, each appointed with plush velvet armchairs and stunning Lucite-and-brass 8-top dining tables, perfect for small gatherings. On one side, a monumental Murano crystal chandelier designed by Maison Bonhomme in collaboration with the Venetian masters hangs underneath a 20-foot-high skylight.
Porto’s solarium, located off the main dining room, channels the feeling of an impromptu gathering at a local winery, with the crackling sound of wood burning in a nearby wheel grill filling the room and further stirring the senses. Large granite communal tables and an antique 20th century French truck panel table provide seating for larger groups – or for a gathering of fifty. On warmer days, the solarium’s sliding windows allow the space to become indoor-outdoor.