Smile Politely

Sushi Man on Green has notable takeout sushi

Sushi Man is an interesting beast. First of all, not many restaurant websites proudly advertise that they are located in the lobby of an apartment building. Admittedly, probably not that many restaurants are located in lobbies of apartment buildings. Secondly, it shares its name with a movie about a sushi chef who starts considering a change of careers after falling in love with a mermaid. I love this kind of realistic art.

I wondered what awaited me at Sushi Man on Green. A desperate chef pining after his mermaid lover? Or a lobby concierge cutting fish straight at the check-in desk?

At night on Green Street in Champaign, Illinois, an illuminated sign reads

Photo by Melkior Ornik.

To provide some background for my fish devotion before starting the review: I spent a good chunk of my life in Toronto, a Canadian city where ridiculously expensive housing is only outweighed by the abundance of sushi places. In fact, my first real memory of Toronto is that of an all-you-can-eat restaurant named Kyoto House across from the bus station, where for $11.99 I could fill myself full of rolls. 

Having moved south with a longing and unending desire for raw fish, I have been looking to fill the fish-shaped hole in my heart. Sushi Man goes a long way towards filling it. It would fly in Toronto and easily goes toe-to-toe with any place in Campustown.

Inside the apartment building, there is a Sushi Man, a Champaign restaurant. Photo by Photo by Melkior Ornik.

Photo by Melkior Ornik.

We got takeout which is, I imagine, the standard Sushi Man strategy; there is a total of one table and a few seats at the window. Our repertoire for the day consisted of a salmon roll, futomaki, a salmon tempura roll, white tuna nigiri, an Alaska roll, a monster roll, and a summer roll.

Photo by Melkior Ornik.

If you feel like that’s too much for two people, so did the people at Sushi Man — because they provided chopsticks for three. I felt judged.

One piece of salmon sushi sits on a blue plate. Photo by Melkior Ornik.

Photo by Melkior Ornik.

Starting with the simple things first, the Alaska and salmon rolls were solid. Of course, these are the yardsticks of American sushi — just something to help us understand the restaurant’s standing in the great sushi tree of life. Sushi Man does not disappoint. The salmon ($5) felt fresh and tender; I stand by my claim that it can fight with the best in Champaign.

One piece of Alaska roll sits on a blue plate. Photo by Melkior Ornik.

Photo by Melkior Ornik.

The Alaska roll ($6.50) came with salmon, cucumber, and avocado. The Alaska roll was tasty and full of avocado as expected. It’s not clear if Alaska is the right name for an avocado-heavy roll, but those are the mysteries of sushi nomenclature.

A piece of white tuna nigiri sits on a blue plate. Photo by Melkior Ornik.

Photo by Melkior Ornik.

With Sushi Man’s basic sushi credentials established, I dove into the other five items hoping they would impress. First, I tried the white tuna nigiri ($3 per piece). White tuna is a mysterious animal whose biggest problem is that it does not exist. There are two animals that are often sold as white tuna: albacore (which is tuna but is not truly white) and escolar (which is white but is not tuna). In this case, I believe we were dealing with escolar or a related species as the mouthfeel on the fish was decidedly buttery and beautiful.

A salmon tempura roll and futomaki fill an entire black takeout container. Photo by Melkior Ornik.

Photo by Melkior Ornik.

Second, I tried the salmon tempura roll ($7). This roll straddled the border between Japanese standards and delicious gibberish. It was excellent! It was a bit on the fatty side, but that was the point for this roll.

Third, I tasted the futomaki ($5.50) on the right. While there are no specific ingredients for futomaki, the idea is that it is a vegetable-heavy roll. Sushi Man’s version had cucumber, avocado, oshinko (I believe pickled daikon in this case), asparagus, and egg. I am an oshinko guy through and through, so I felt like I could have done with less egg and avocado. It certainly made for a mild, smooth roll. 

In a takeout container, there are two saucy sushi rolls from Sushi Man. Photo by Melkior Ornik.

Photo by Melkior Ornik.

Finally, we get to the two feature presentations for the evening. At the bottom of the photo, the summer roll ($14.99) is one of Sushi Man’s signature rolls, and — while it was not bad —I wouldn’t call it a showstopper. The summer roll had spicy salmon, salmon, avocado, and mango sauce. The spicy salmon was, of course, the usual tasty mush, and the salmon and avocado on top were excellent. Presumably the motivation for the roll’s name, the mango sauce didn’t really provide the needed explosion of flavor. So much so that, later my wife mentioned later that she was unaware that there was even a mango sauce altogether.

We thought the summer roll would be the favorite, but a worthy underdog took its place: the monster roll ($9.50). The monster roll was a deep-fried roll with cream cheese and fish. Now we’re talking. In particular, we’re talking amazing, flavorful, cream cheese, and sublime deep frying. It was covered in delicious sauce and scallions. Was it ridiculously over the top? Yes. Will I order it again? Of course.

All in all, Sushi Man makes a fine product. The rolls generally vary between solid and excellent. Their service was wonderful. While the packaging was slightly suboptimal (my hot deep-fried monster roll was packaged with a cold summer roll and twelve tiny packages of soy sauce made the environment weep) plus the wasabi did not provide the full-fledged slap in the face that I expected, these are minor issues. Sushi Man is good. Hopefully he doesn’t fall in love with a mermaid anytime soon.

Sushi Man
308 E Green St
M-Th 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
F-Sa 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Su noon to 10 p.m.

Top image by Melkior Ornik.

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