MIGA is, perhaps, the most attractive restaurant in C-U. The chic, contemporary aesthetic — concrete, wood, metal — creates a decidedly cool and cosmopolitan atmosphere. The outdoor seating, while limited, is lovely, and extends indoors when the large, glass accordion window is open. Like it’s more affordable sister restaurant, Sakanaya, when you enter Miga, you feel like you’re really in the big city. And when you catch a glimpse of the prices, you really feel like you’re in the big city. That being said, though, Miga isn’t out of line with its peers in Downtown Champaign: bacaro, V. Picasso, Radio Maria, Big Grove. But how does Miga distinguish itself from those other fine(r) dining establishments in Downtown Champaign? The Smile Politely Editors decided to find out.
I was happy to see that Miga had recently updated and adjusted its menu. We ordered a wide variety of menu items, including several cocktails, some appetizers, an entrée for each, and all the desserts. (No, really, we ordered all of the desserts.) As a self-touted “Asian Fusion/New American” restaurant, Miga makes heavy use of Asian ingredients. Among the starters you’ll find ingredients and items such as wasabi, pan-seared dumplings, steamed buns with pork belly, and ssam. Parmesan cheese is a non-Asian ingredient used in several dishes, and not without a heavy hand. Other “fusion” ingredients include capers/caper cream, lentils, and white truffle oil. I’m not sure that all that was fused was done so successfully.
Despite some missteps, there were some tasty menu items. In short: you can have an affordable meal of appetizers and soups, and it might be a little more satisfying than ordering an entrée. The cocktail list isn’t huge, but they were pretty good, and priced similarly to other places downtown. And even though some of the entrée price tags are hefty, the portions sizes more or less matched them — you’re definitely getting a lot of food for the money. Below you’ll find each editor’s take on her or his meal. — Jessica Hammie
Reviews were completed by Jessica Hammie, Rebecca Knaur, Sam Logan, Tom Pauly, Rebecah Pulsifer, Maddie Rehayem, and Patrick Singer. All opinions are their own (mostly).
I’m a bit of a sucker for anything with either St. Germain or muddled ingredients, so this vodka/St. Germain/cranberry juice/muddled strawberry and cucumber/lemon zest cocktail spoke to me. This brightly hued beauty was served in a martini glass. It was a little sweet, as you might imagine from the list of sugary ingredients, and was a nice little cocktail to begin the night. I only had one—any more and I’d have had a seriously uncomfortable hangover the next day. This is definitely a cocktail to savor, and at $11 a pop, that’s probably best for the budget, too. (JH)
House Salad $8
This salad didn’t make the BEST list for no reason. It’s delicious, and quite generously portioned. The wild mound of parmesan on top will most definitely kick your Lipitor into overdrive, but the dance between it and the sweet-tangy balsamic dressing is divine. (JH)
These dumplings were, like everything else at Miga, beautifully served. They were quite tasty, too. The dipping sauce was tangy and sweet, and complemented the pan-fried meat-filled dumplings well. This could be an appetizer to share, or if you’re looking for a light dinner, pair with the house salad. (JH)
Chashu Buns $4 each
The actual buns were quite tasty, but I was not at all a fan of the mayo-smothered fillings. The fillings were presumably good, on their own, but everything was covered in mayonnaise, which not only grossed me out, but took away from the flavors of the individual components. I’d skip this one, unless you like a mouthful of mayo. (JH)
MIGA Crunch Fries $4
These shoestring French fries were fried to perfection, and then smothered in a half-pound parmesan. I haven’t quite figured out the reasoning for such heavy-handed use of Parmesan, but in this case, the parm was delicious. It got a little metly on the hot fries, making them all that more desirable. The sweet and sour ketchup was also tasty, but there was so much Parmesan, it wasn’t really needed. (JH)
I was pumped about the appetizers that we ordered. Frankly, I could’ve gone for ALL of the appetizers — I love ceviche and their new ceviche sounded awesome. Anyway, since this is about what we ate and not what we didn’t, I’ll say that the Crunch Fries were outstanding. The fries were fries, but with they were served with a perfect crunch and a very wonderfully tangy ketchup. I’d eat that ketchup with a spoon. (TP)
Miso Ramen $8
I can’t say that I’m a ramen aficionado by any means, but from the looks at our table and the taste of this app, it was one of the more well-received dishes that we were served the entire evening. Of course, Miga shares ownership with Sakanaya, which has been a huge hit in Champaign-Urbana since it started up here. Priced at just $8, this could easily serve as someone’s main dish, honestly. Pork broth and braised pork mixed into the helping of noodles, topped with greens, onions and scallions, it was delicious. (PS)
Buddhism Bi Bim Bap $18
I’m a big fan of bi bim bap and have sampled it at several other restaurants in town. Miga’s rendition had tasty elements but was, for the most part, underwhelming. The presentation was gorgeous: I loved the enormous bowl and the fact that the tofu was served on the side. The fermented sun dried chili pepper sauce was amazing and the marinated mushrooms were heavenly. But the “crisp greens” were really just (slightly wilted) romaine, which overwhelmed the dish with its bland and watery flavor. The rice tasted ever-so-slightly soggy, and the crispy egg was a bit overdone, which made it difficult to mix in with the rest of the dish. Overall, the flavors didn’t justify the $18 price tag.
Soy Cream Chicken Pasta $16
The portion size for this dish is on point, and one that is totally justified with the $16 price tag if you’re wanting an in-between dish that’s not in the entree section of an appetizer. Listed with a single pepper to denote the spice-factor, if you will, the Soy Cream Chicken Pasta definitely comes with a small kick — though a totally reasonable one at that. Admittedly, my palette is a bit weak when it comes to cranking up the spice level, but for anyone else, this would probably be considered mild at most. With a crispy parmesan cut of chicken, the piece sits upon a dish of bowtie noodles, bell and crushed peppers. The breading of the chicken is terrific, crunchy and stayed together quite well despite being mixed into a sauced-up dish (especially after a few bites), and overall a dish I’d recommend for pasta lovers out there looking for a moderately priced dish during a visit. (PS)
MIGA Bold Noodle $15
I’ll admit, I love the novelty of being served a dish that appears to be moving, but the true appeal of the bonito flakes that top MIGA Bold Noodle is that they moderate the sinus-clearing heat. When built as an entire bite, the udon noodles, shrimp, bok choy and shaved dried fish create a balanced and savory taste that I do not want to stop eating. The portion is large enough to share, or to take home for another meal, and pairs well with one of the off-menu sweet Korean wines (again for the heat). (RK)
Galbi Rib-Eye Steak $30
My meal was not the prettiest. The colors were very warm. The cabbage was yellow with oil, the meat was dark. It could have used something green or red sprinkled on top of it to make it look prettier.
The rice was delicious and there was plenty of it. You needed to eat it with a spoon. It wasn’t spicy, but it had a kimchi flavor.
The meat I think was a ribeye. It had some fat on it, which I chewed. I don’t mind it but others will. It was probably a hair overcooked. It was recommended to be cooked at medium and it was probably medium well. (SL)
Dirty Martini, Ketel One $10
I also had a dirty martini. I liked that I had a choice of olives either plain, or with blue cheese. Of course I did the blue cheese. They were good. The drink, I asked for in a tumbler instead of a stem glass, and what I got was what looked like a giant martini. I am not sure if it was more, less, or equal to a standard martini. It was tasty. (SL)
Chef’s Garden Steak $38
The most expensive item on the menu, the Chef’s Garden Steak was a cut of beef tenderloin, topped with a caper salsa and garlic chips. Served on the side was a puddle of potato puree. The dish was presented on a slate slab—what looked to be a fancy cheese board. This was beautiful. The portion was quite generous, and at $38 for the dish, I was pleased that I was served a hefty cut of meat. My meat, though, was cold, which was a great tragedy, especially because it was the last dish to come out, minutes after everyone else had received their entrées. I ordered it medium, and medium it was. There is no greater crime than overcooking a lovely cut of meat. The caper salsa was distracting. It was fine, but unnecessary, especially alongside such a high quality cut of meat. The potato puree — also cold — was thin, not at all potato-y, and completely disappointing. The rib-eye steak—also smothered in unnecessary stuff — was actually more tasty and satisfying as an entrée, so opt for that as your steak option. (JH)
White Butter Fish $27
I’m a bad vegetarian — I “break veg” for the occasional smoked catfish sandwich at Black Dog or sushi-related indulgence, so I had no problem devouring the beautiful piece of fish and bok choi on my “plate” (it was served on a circular slab of rock) at Miga. The actual cut of fish was as white and buttery and not fishy as white fish should be, but there was an added fishy flavor of seaweed and tobiko (flying fish roe) on top that made the dish come full circle. The bok choi was tender and flavored with a balsamic reduction that provided some nice acidity, but it did feel like a bit of an afterthought to the fish/seaweed/roe combo.
Miga 75 $9
Fizzy, sour, dry. Good. (MR)
Tuna Steak $25
I had the sesame-crusted, seared bluefin tuna as my main dish and it didn’t disappoint. There was some shaved onion and kimchi rice that added a bit of acidity to the meal. Also on the plate was a small amount of a soy sauce reduction that paired well with the fish. The tuna was well cut and well seared. My one complaint was that the rice it was served on was warm which ended up kind of cooking the tuna a bit. All in all though, it wasn’t a huge complaint because the quality of the meat overcame any issues there. (TP)
Mochi Ice Cream: Red Bean | Espresso, $3 each
These portions seemed unusually small, considering the sizes of everything else we’d sampled up to that point. The mochi surrounded the ice cream (each was served separately), and was chewy. It didn’t lend much in the flavor category; that was the responsibility of the ice cream filling. The creamy, rich espresso was my favorite. (JH)
Apple Pie $6
This deep-fried apple pie was served with a scoop of lime-sour cream ice cream on top. This ended up being a hierarchy of dessert components, because the apple pie paled in comparison to the delicious ice cream. The pie filling seemed to be missing a crucial ingredient — perhaps salt, or something acidic — to bring the flavors together. As the only hot dessert on the (verbal) menu, this was a disappointment. Except for that ice cream. (JH)
Lime-Sour Cream Ice Cream $3
Because I insisted on ordering the second scoop of lime-sour-cream ice cream, I present a scene from my end of the table:
(Tom is talking rapidly to Maddie and pauses to ask me)
Tom: which one is this?
Me: lime-sour-cream ice cream, take some, your life will be changed.
Tom: (getting some with a spoon while returning to his conversation, tasting, then pausing to look back, eyes wide, shining)
My life IS changed
(Tom exhales slowly, as sighing)
Annnnnnnnd scene. (RK)
This ice cream was the best dessert item we sampled, hands down. If you can order without the apple pie, go for it. Sour cream might sound gross, but it had the same effect as yogurt, so perhaps you can think about it as lime frozen yogurt, but less gross than frozen yogurt. This ice cream was creamy and rich, but the bright tanginess was a refreshing way to end the evening. (JH)
All photos by Sam Logan.