Exclusive: José Andrés Is Opening a Speakeasy Dedicated to Jamón Ibérico
Jamón ibérico is relatively rare on American menus, reserved for special occasions or relegated to high-end charcuterie boards. But at Pigtail, the newest concept from chef José Andrés opening in Chicago this month, it takes center stage.
The basement cocktail bar and small plates restaurant features jamón ibérico and pork from ibérico pigs in the majority of dishes, including many of the cocktails. Hence the name: 'Pig' for pork, 'tail' for cocktails.
"From the first time we started to talk about the project we already had the name," says Ramon Martinez, director of culinary at ThinkFoodGroup, the company behind José Andrés' group of restaurants. "We started making the DNA for the new Jaleo here in Chicago, and it had this basement, and we were really intent on doing something with that."
Barcelona-based design firm Capella Garcia, which also designed Jaleo in D.C. and Las Vegas, transformed the basement into a cozy black and pink lounge with flying pig mirrors and curly pigtails on the walls. Chicago has a deep speakeasy culture, which made it the perfect place for the new concept.
"I absolutely love the speakeasy bar scene in Chicago, so when I saw the lower level space at Jaleo I knew we could create something really special. We're combining two of my favorite things: jamón and cocktails! It's going to be a fun destination to start or end your night," Andrés said in a press release.
Jamón Ibérico is the back leg of Spanish Black Iberian pigs. Those pigs feast on acorns and olives before they're slaughtered, then the hams are salted and dried for two weeks and cured for at least 12 months.
"It's all about the pig," says Martinez. "Aside from the jamón, these porks have so many other parts that are amazing–cheeks, ribs–that are delicious because they come from the same Ibérico pork. This menu is a celebration of the Ibérico pig"
Head Chef Justin DePhillips, a Jaleo veteran who moved up to Chicago from Jaleo Disney Springs, oversees the food menu at Pigtail and Jaleo Chicago. He'll serve things like la croqueta de jamón de bellota, a jamón and béchamel fritter; orejas y morros fritos, fried pig ears and snouts with rey silo cheese foam; wontons stuffed with bacalao foam and sopressata honey; and a foie gras terrine with Ibérico de Bellota. Vegetarians and those who don't eat pork are welcome, too. There will be greens, boquerones and other fish dishes, and the option to remove pork from certain menu items.
"It's gonna be a menu everyone will enjoy," Martinez says.
The emphasis is on little bites that pair well with the 20 or so cocktails on the menu.
Miguel Lancha, cocktail innovator at ThinkFoodGroup, says guests can expect Mezcal distilled with a leg of Ibérico ham hanging inside of the pot still; the Negroni Cristal, a combination of Ibérico fat-washed Gin Mare gin, blanc vermouth, and Luxardo Bitter Bianco; and the Consomé Cocktail, made with pork consomé, palo cortado, and amontillado sherries, with an egg espuma.
"When you think of Spanish cocktails, it's often more like what we have at Jaleo–sangria and stuff like that," Lancha says. "What we're doing here is more modern cocktail styles, but using Spanish ingredients."
Some drinks, like the Vacuum Gin & Tonic #3, made tableside with a vacuum infusion of juniper, spices and herbs, do not include pork.
"There will be some whimsical, theatrical, tableside action where you're getting frozen things with a hot espuma on top, for example, or where we're making aromatic clouds," Lancha says. "It's a very fun menu for both the table and the bar."
There will also be a wine list with bubbles, gran reserva wines not typically seen on menus in the U.S., and an extensive sherry selection.
"I'm very excited for the opportunity to showcase real Spanish flavors presented in a fine, elegant, way, with the drink menu designed specifically to go with the ham," says Lancha. "It's very unique, and the team we've got here is great, and the fact that we're doing it in Chicago is special."
Pigtail opens on October 15 at 500 N. Clark Street in Chicago. Reservations (available on OpenTable) and walk-ins are accepted. Following Pigtail, Bazaar Meat and Bar Mar will open later this year in the Bank of America Building, a partnership between ThinkFoodGroup and Gibsons Restaurant Group.