The Brunch Dish: Rodan is a Pleasant Asian Surprise in the a.m.
Asian gastropubs and brunch may not seem like the most seamless of bedfellows, but here they are jiving in tasteful tandem at Rodan. Popularized as a late-night Wicker Park watering hole—the only other time I've been there is a foggy twilight memory shrouded in liquor—Rodan also serves up a zesty brunch, much more ambitious and inventive than it probably needs to be, but very much appreciated.
The best way to brunch at Rodan is obviously with the more offbeat, Asian-y selections. Skip the fried chicken & waffles and save that for another day at another restaurant. Rather, direct your gullet to the steamed bao bun, preferably one filled with tomago ($4.50 each). This is the closest you'll get to an egg sandwich here, and since the petite omelette is stuffed inside pillow-soft bao it's infinitely superior to a vast majority of egg sandwiches. Striated with pickled onion slivers and fresh herbs, this little guy packs a wallop of flavor in a hot pocket-sized portion.
The can't-miss entree is the Pinoy breakfast ($11). It's a Filipino feast laden with garlic fried rice, fried egg, tomato, cucumber, and choice of meat. It's basically an epic rendition of the continental breakfast template, each element dutifully honed. Nothing on the plate is a throwaway afterthought, not even the out-of-season tomatoes, which still manage to sing a fresh, summery tune as they juxtapose the onslaught of heavy fried fare. The fried, mildly greasy rice is the stuff of hangover-stifling dreams, especially when topped with a luscious egg and served with a side of rich sausage. Meat options include Filipino longanisa sweet pork sausage, grilled hanger steak, and sweet chili chicken breast. There's no erring with any selection, even the vegan sausage is surprisingly solid, with a pâté-like smoothness and heady, soy sauce-esque flavor.
Something to appreciate about Rodan is that even their limited sweet selections aren't too cloying. Take the chai spiced French toast ($11), a dish that has the wherewithal to be debilitatingly indulgent, yet here is balanced and wholesome. The bread is dense but not too poundcake-y, enrobed in a delicate sheath of chai'd batter and flecked with candied walnuts and fruit. Lemongrass butter adds a dose of herbal Asian oomph, while a woodsy maple syrup makes the whole dish taste more savory than sweet with its smoky undertones, accentuating the spicy notes in the chai batter.
A place with an Asian gastropub ethos can be a bit of a question mark when it comes to brunch. But Rodan manages to turn that question mark into a gleeful exclamation point with its thoughtful stylings and handy incorporation of Asian ingredients.