For me and many other Chicagoans who don’t live by Rush Street, the restaurant options in that area are thought of more as tourist-driven. Their formula seems simple—make it expensive, serve it in Great America gourmand portion excess, and throw butter, salt and rich creams on top.
What a pleasure then to find an alternative—Jellyfish—a gourmet haven perched atop Rush Street that satisfies a wide range of palates, from the wildly experimental to those seeking more familiar comfort foods.
Best yet, this beautiful hideaway destination restaurant gives you a 5-star meal at very reasonable prices. Or as manager and talented mixologist Dan Finnegan puts it,”We underpromise and overdeliver.”
Is it a romantic dinner spot? Yes!
Is it a place to bring the family? Yes!
But best of all, it’s one of those rare places where it would actually be fun to bring a large crowd with varying tastes knowing everyone will be happy.
This is largely a reflection of Executive Chef Jason Im’s work to put together an Asian menu that has very familiar touches such as bacon-flavored hush puppies paired with more exotic red chile flavored Szechuan style spare ribs, as well as fare for the more experimental such as its delicate hot stone Korean barbecue on your table.
As soon as you take the elevator or climb the stairs away from the clamor of Rush Street the exotic décor of Jellyfish takes over your senses to let you know you have arrived in a special place.
You may hear jazz or blues or pop music and on Thursdays through Saturdays you will be hearing live music or a DJ. Everything about the ambience is designed to arouse all your senses, and even the Jellyfish logo on one of the signature cocktails translates as “seduction”.
Open for less than a year, the generous sized sushi rolls quickly established Jellyfish as a going concern, especially to locals looking for tastier alternatives on Rush Street. What’s “new” is how the summer menu introduced only two months ago transformed the orders from 80% sushi/20% hot food to the 50-50% breakdown that it is as of the time of this writing. Why? The food is that good—plain and simple.
The cocktails are something else again too. All have Asian touches that make them not only exotic but exceptionally easy to go down and without that hangover potential. Dan Finnegan, the Manager and Mixologist, confesses that his creative juices are working 24/7 to come up with new ideas on how to combine some of the ingredients he finds in Chinatown and at Korean markets near his home into the cocktails he creates.
The Thai Beet Triangle, for example, takes three days to make—starting with roasting the beets that not only provide a puree component but explode as a Julienne garnish atop the tall glass.
It’s not only kumquats that make the Jellyfish twist on an Old Fashion so noteworthy. Certainly the imaginative use of Chinese five spice goes a long way to let you explore combinations of tastes that you’ve never had before.
Finnegan explains that the cocktail menu is designed to go with everything on the food menu.
Im’s work to take exotic Asian ingredients and put them into a more familiar context means that you can find everything from Buffalo Style Crispy Frog Legs to a Seafood Ceviche served with delicate taro chips. We tried the latter and were most impressed by the balance of mango and red pepper garnish that added to the freshness of the fish without overpowering it.
The Sizzling Stone, our tableside Korean BBQ with exquisitely thin beef served on a bamboo leaf and with an Asian fruit yuzu flavored wasabi was elegant and in sharp contrast to the meat locker feel of the typical Korean BBQ place which piles mounds of raw meat on your table.
There is much spice at Jellyfish, but subtly spiced, as in the Spicy Crab Mini Tacos. You don’t lose your tastebuds to an onslaught of red pepper as you might in some Asia town restaurants.
The Szechuan ribs might sound like normal Chinese restaurant fare, and the ease with which the meat fell off the bone with a fork was wonderful, but the touch of adding bacon bit hush puppies to the serving is absolutely inspired.
So too is the adornment of the ceviche with thin purple ringed Taro chips.
The small plate nature of the menu allows you to choose your price point and meal size easily.
You could easily make Jellyfish your first stop on a romantic evening where you don’t need to worry about food comas spoiling your night. Or you can take the children here for an early dinner, as several around us were doing, knowing that they are happily getting their palates expanded to appreciate the finer things without busting your wallet.
It’s difficult to advise you on how to do it—but save room for dessert.
The yuzu crème anglaise addition to the Strawberry shortcake made it more delicious than any prior I’ve tasted.
Chocaholics should queue up yesterday for the Belvedere vodka cream flavored brownie. It is more chocolate than chocolate itself!
Co-owner Joe De Vito has had many successful prior restaurants such as Moto in his CV and they all were like this, undiscovered gems, until eventually word got out quickly. As we walked downstairs to Rush Street we met two parties who said to us, “How’s the food?” , “How’s the Food”. “Excellent”, “Excellent” we said. Word is spreading that fast. My advice is to get there before the queue becomes too long. Certainly if your travels or home brings you to Rush Street often you owe it to yourself to check out Jellyfish before you return to their currently bigger name huge portion high price tag neighbors.
Photos courtesy of Jellyfish with added food, people and site photos from Peter Kachergis
1009 North Rush Street
Chicago, Illinois 60611
Sun - Weds: 11:30 am - Midnight
Thurs - Sat: 11:30 am - 2:00 am