Smile Politely

Make your way to Moki

Moki Sushi in Champaign (in the space plaza as Harvest Market and Champaign Outdoors) is in a brand new building, and it comes as no surprise that the decor is trendy and inviting: Lots of wood paneling, natural light, neon signs, and various posters dot the walls. The tables are spaced out enough that you don’t feel like you’re going to trip on your table neighbor. Even the restrooms have modern fixtures and decor.

We were presented with a large, laminated menu that showcased photos and descriptions of the more unique signature rolls and offerings. However we also got two blue paper menus — that’s the all-you-can-eat order form. You just check next to the items you want and hand it to your server. One form can be used for the whole table, so those extra forms can be used if you want to order more later on. We knew we had to try their miso soup, agreed on crab rangoon as the staple appetizer for any asian restaurant, and selected a few specialty rolls to share.

The all-you-can-eat sushi lunch for $18.99 per person. This does include soups and appetizers, but drinks cost a couple bucks extra. There is one stipulation: you will be charged $0.50-$1 per piece for any uneaten sushi at the end of your meal. This seems fair since the sushi is prepared on demand by skilled chefs. I can’t blame them for wanting to cut down on waste, especially if they’re offering an all-you-can-eat menu.

The miso soup came out quickly and was warm and hearty. It was somewhat denser than other miso soups I’ve encountered, which was welcome on a blustery day. It did have a good depth of flavor. I probably could have made a meal out of the miso and an appetizer.

Speaking of appetizer, we had to go with the crab rangoon. It’s my go-to at any Asian eatery with it on the menu, and for good reason. Moki used a very thin, wonton style wrapper, which really accented the plentiful creamy filling. The filling had a nice ratio of cream cheese, crab, and onion. It came out piping hot and served with a fruity, spicy dipping sauce. The fruity acidity and mild spice of the sauce paired well with the intense creaminess of the rangoon.

I’m a big fan of yellowtail nigiri, so I ordered one piece to see how theirs stacks up. The rice was perfect: simple, fresh, and light. This is important because rice can make or break sushi if too much vinegar is used, or if it’s too dry and doesn’t stick together. Moki’s rice hit just the right notes, so the focus is on the fish. The piece of yellowtail I had was cool, refreshing, and just a tiny bit chewy. I think the cut could’ve been a bit better, but it was tasty and I’d definitely order it again.

There are so many rolls to choose from, and we narrowed it down to the Tiffany, the Angel hair, and the Rainbow. The Tiffany is basically a deep fried California roll with spicy mayo and eel sauce on top. In my opinion, deep frying a California roll is the way to go. In this case, the crunch from the tempura is softened a bit by the sauces, but they do add a hearty flavor. This roll is a bit heftier, since it is deep fried and all, but the flavor is solid.

The Rainbow roll is pretty standard: crab, cucumber, and avocado topped with a rainbow of assorted fish and more avocado. This balanced out our choices with it’s smooth and crisp palate — nothing in this roll is deep fried. The flavor of the fish stood out, complimented nicely with the expertly prepared rice and rounded out with the fattiness of the avocado.

The Angel Hair was new to us, so we took a chance. Shrimp tempura (fry all the things!) and apple are wrapped up and topped with finely shredded crab (hence the name Angel Hair, as the thin strips of crab meat look like angel hair pasta), avocado, spicy mayo, eel sauce, masago, and scallions. If you’re thinking that’s a busy roll, you’re absolutely right. However it works really well. It’s a substantial roll with a hearty crunch from the tempura shrimp. That pairs well with the cool crab wrapped gently around the exterior, so you really get a unique mouthfeel in each bite. The Angel Hair was the favorite of the day.

Our order didn’t sound like that much food, at least not to me. But two bowls of miso, one order of crab rangoon, 3 specialty rolls, and one piece of nigiri was more than enough for two hungry adults. Admittedly a lot of it was fried, so felt heavier than one might expect. And it was a tad on the pricey side for a lunch order at around $50 (after tax + tip), but if you consider how much you would pay ordering those things individually it basically evens out.

Moki Sushi
2017 S Neil St
M-Th 11 a.m to 9:30 p.m.
F + Sa 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Su noon to 9 p.m.

Photos by Sarah Meilike

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