Serious Eats: Chicago
The Brunch Dish: Eel and Nori are the New Eggs and Bacon at Jellyfish
I used to think I've seen it all when it comes to brunch, but then eel Benedict happened, followed swiftly by a nori omelette. One of the latest entrants to Chicago's brunch scene, Jellyfish makes waves by incorporating its sushi-focused repertoire into a brunch format, eschewing typical brunch gimmickry in favor of thoughtful dishes true to Jellyfish's integrity. The result is one of the most refreshingly unique brunch programs in town, albeit a tad outré and puzzling at times. But I'll take outré over typical any day.
A prime example both of Jellyfish's philosophy and their ingenuity is the eel Benedict ($14). I've had many Benedicts, and short of stacking fried unicorn on top of an English muffin, I thought I'd exhausted all there was to try. Jellyfish managed to astound even the most jaded of Benedict-eaters, and that's quite the feat. Of course, it should be said that the eel Benedict should be book-ended by heavy quotations, because this is a very loose interpretation of the Benedict norm. Frankly, it's maki. So yes, it adheres to Jellyfish's vision as a sushi restaurant, and that's laudable, but it's a bit confusing to advertise something as a Benedict and not incorporate some sort of English muffin element. However, hollandaise is present, drizzled over soy paper-wrapped eel, avocado, and tamago, which is a nifty way of adding eggs to the mix. Very clever Jellyfish. It's all somewhat randomly flecked with white corn and beans. Is an English muffin-less Benedict actually a Benedict? It's a curiosity on par with the Amelia Earhart mystery. This dish is delicious for what it is, and hollandaise and eel marry surprisingly well, with the buttery mother sauce tempering the smoky quality of the fish, so Benedict or not it gets a thumbs up.
One dish that is no less exotic but much more in-bounds is the nori omelette ($11). Finally, an excuse to eat seaweed for brunch! As omelette filler, it actually makes perfect sense to lace eggs with something as salty and saline as strands of dried seaweed. Its innate potency permeates the eggs, bolstering an otherwise ho-hum hodgepodge of mushrooms, onions, and bell peppers.
The real sleeper hit of the brunch menu at Jellyfish is the ethereal togarashi home fries served as an a la carte side, or alongside items like the omelette. Not only are they a textural dream, as tender as cubes of butter with just a hint of crackle around the exterior, but the flavor is unreal. Heady chiles lend just a hint of heat to the spuds, making them pop more than most brunch potatoes do.
Kudos to Jellyfish for going big and bold with their brunch program, and for sticking to their sushi-centric guns. However odd some of the resulting dishes may be, flavors are memorable and unique, proving that brunch can be as diverse and imaginative as any meal period.