Smile Politely

Brunch at Miga: Burritos, bowls and benedicts

Miga has been reviewed as a chic and modern site of polished fusion cuisine, but with a price tag that might make some balk. Let brunch at Miga help you reconsider any misgivings, as its largely portioned and superbly executed dishes are around $8-$12, except for the New York strip steak, which is $26. If you’re curious about Miga’s Asian fusion style, Sunday brunch would be a fabulous time to introduce yourself to Chef Jae Lee’s wonderful craft.

The brunch menu is its own, except for a few dishes that have been reconfigured from the dinner menu. For instance, the Wasabi Caesar Salad on the dinner menu comes with roasted salmon for brunch, and the Chashu Bun starter is morphed into a dreamy eggs benedict dish. Miga also has a seasonal cocktail menu that incorporates tea and fruit flavors with gins, scotches, and bubbly.

I’ve visited Miga twice unofficially and once to review, and each time left with the languorous optimism characteristic of divine brunch sessions. Upon entering, one is first greeted by the quiet calm meticulously effected by the décor, and then Tomas, who is the head bartender. When seated, you notice black and white films projecting urban backdrops and vintage romance (Annie Hall, Roman Holiday, etc.) onto a wall. Echoed by the dark gray and light wood palette of the interior design, and combined with the relaxing music, they are visual invitations to imagine your experience at Miga to be set in the cosmopolitan worlds of the films.

In addition to the wonderful space, the food makes brunch at Miga a gratifying way to celebrate the weekend. The dishes balance flavors and textures to create complex yet primally satisfying affairs. I also appreciate how the same ingredients used across several dishes transform in flavor depending on their context. For instance, the soy sauce and reduced balsamic reduction dressing makes its appearance in salads and the Omelet Bowl. In the former, it is a nutty, sweet-salty and umami concoction. However, in the Omelet Bowl, the sauce also tastes strongly of citrus, and cuts through while unifying the moist egg and chicken. My point is that the flavors in these dishes don’t quit. They either remain as defined and delicious as your first bite, or evolve in delightful ways.

The first time I visited, I ordered the Cold Ramen Salad. Its spicy chili sauce is studded with small bursts of ground pork that provides a deep note to round out the piquancy. The pork is echoed in the nori’s nutty and briny umami flavor, and the soft-boiled egg brings a subtle creaminess to the dish. The noodles are chewy, and are contrasted by crunchy bell peppers, cucumber and onions. It is refreshing, though a dish for those who prefer spicy foods.

The second time I visited, I ordered the Wasabi Caesar Salmon Salad, and my dining partner ordered the Galbi Burrito. The Caesar Salad came in a very large wooden bowl, and could have easily fed two people. The roasted salmon was perfectly cooked and the sweetness of the rich, fresh fish complemented the crispy bacon and anchovy sauce. The wasabi provided a perfectly calibrated kick that kept fresh the indulgent serving of parmesan and creamy and briny flavors. 

When I took a bite of the Galbi Burrito, my eyes widened from the way the sweet and savory beef played with the kimchi and creamy egg. The dish was “substantially refreshing and satisfying,” according to my friend, and an elevated example of the dish popularized by Korean food trucks. 

The third time I visited, I ordered the Chashu Benedict and my dining partner ordered the Omelet Bowl. The Chashu Benedict is a rich and comforting taste of transcendence.  The dish combines the steamed pork bun and eggs benedict to create a dish for champions. The steamed bun is flattened and fried so that it has an umber crust. It is slathered with hoisin sauce, and topped with meltingly-tender slices of braised pork belly. The egg is perfectly cooked, and the hollandaise sauce is a satin swath of airy perfection. The green salad is fresh, crisp and dressed with the lovely soy and balsamic reduction vinaigrette.

While the Chashu Benedict’s superfluous lushness makes it an exceptional treat, my dining companion swore he could eat the Omelet Bowl everyday. The simplicity of the thick egg omelet, surprisingly studded with cucumbers, and the moist yet crispy chicken cutlet over a bed of rice was deeply satisfying. The contrasting flavors and textures from the chicken and the egg, and the wonderful soy, sesame, and balsamic dressing hit all the comforting and rustic notes. And while he was surprised by the heap of parmesan cheese grated on top of the bowl, I assured him the combination of rice and cheese is a playful incorporation of American food in some Korean dishes (like melted American cheese on kimchi fried rice — delicious). He agreed that the cheese gave a savory and salty kick to the egg and chicken, and like the sauce, helped bring them together.

In terms of the drinks, Miga has coffee and teas made-to-order from a Keurig brewer. Also, their cocktails are fabulous. I had the GinTEAni, which is a mix of Uncle Val’s Botanical gin, soju, green tea syrup and lemon juice. The soju fortified the gin to make the drink delightfully strong. The botanicals of the gin and lemon were the dominant flavors. The green tea syrup could be stronger, and the bartender says he’s working on it. Interestingly, while the GinTEAni started out as a gin-tastic lemonade, about halfway through, it started to taste of watermelon, which was something I found wonderful.

All in all, Miga has become my favorite brunch place. I would strongly recommend this for anyone who wants a calming, charming and deeply satiating dining experience.

Miga is located 301 N. Neil Street, Champaign, and is open for brunch Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. You can find more information at its website or facebook page.

All photos by Jean Lee.

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