Last time I looked, there were at least twenty sushi restaurants in the Champaign-Urbana area, so we definitely have a lot of options when we want a sushi fix. Recently, I checked out the second location of Sushi Man, located on Prospect Avenue near Target. The original Sushi Man, located on Green Street, is pretty much only takeout, but they have one or two tables for people like me who insist on eating sushi immediately. The second restaurant is table service, with a twist: order a la carte or choose all-you-can-eat (AYCE).
Fear not, foodies — this is not the Golden Corral of sushi. AYCE diners pay a flat rate ($24.95 for lunch, $29.95 at dinner) and can order anything they want off the very diverse menu. A la carte diners may have to ask for a menu with prices, as the default is AYCE, but I did confirm that both options are available.
The Prospect location has been custom remodeled — it was formerly a seafood boil restaurant — and has a casual and modern feel. Fun graphics on the walls and a lot of natural wood gave the place an inviting vibe, and it’s surprisingly spacious. I brought my husband along as a control subject, and we were immediately seated at a comfortable and private booth along the perimeter of the restaurant. The server greeted us promptly, explained the process, and took our drink orders. We opted for water and tea, but they have several sake options and a modest selection of beer and wine. When she returned with our drinks, she also left us with a paper order form and a pen to mark our choices.
One thing to note: the restaurant has specific rules about food waste, and they are careful to explain this through posted signs at each table and verbally by the server. You must eat everything you order to avoid additional charges. This was not a problem for us, since we’re familiar with the options and relatively fearless eaters, but the AYCE option would probably not be ideal for a sushi newbie.
We chose four hot appetizers: miso soup, fried chicken gyoza, fried shrimp shumai, and mussels.
My husband is a miso soup fan and has sampled it at most sushi restaurants in town. He said it was a solid offering, with plenty of cubed tofu and tender strips of seaweed, but not notably different from other restaurants.
The fried chicken gyoza and fried shrimp shumai are longtime favorites of mine, though my standard order is steamed instead of fried. However, I really enjoyed both of these selections. The gyoza (four pieces) were super crispy, with a filling that was chicken-heavy and well seasoned with aromatics.
Deep frying the shrimp shumai (4 pieces) created a thin, crispy skin on the exterior of the bite while maintaining a moist interior that really brought out the sweetness of the shrimp inside. We both agreed these were worth ordering again.
The mussels were served in a pair, gently steamed and garnished with Japanese mayonnaise and a dusting of parsley. They pulled easily from their shells and the mayonnaise, which was richer and slightly sweet, was an excellent accompaniment.
For our main course, we chose two specialty rolls: Godzilla and Fuji Mountain, plus a classic spicy crab roll. They were served on a single platter, with lovely presentation like you expect from a table service sushi restaurant. The spicy crab roll (six pieces) is a longtime favorite of mine, and this rose to the occasion. There was plenty of spicy crab salad inside and each piece was a perfect bite. As with most things here, the spicy description was an oversell. I got a hint of heat after swallowing, but it was not the level of heat some places can deliver. If you’re someone who likes to feel the burn, you’ll want to lean into some wasabi paste, which was provided in small, ketchup-like packets on the table.
The Godzilla roll (six pieces) was unique in that it was a deep-fried roll with raw fish inside. The interior included spicy tuna, cream cheese, and avocado inside a blanket of rice, then rolled in a nori sheet, battered, and fried. The roll was garnished with spicy mayo, eel sauce, scallions, and beautiful orange fish eggs. Everything here hit the right notes: it was hot and crispy on the exterior but did not cook the spicy tuna or melt the cream cheese. There was a lot of texture and flavor without any one ingredient taking over.
The Fuji Mountain (eight pieces) featured raw salmon and avocado in a nori roll, blanketed in rice, then topped with lobster salad, plum sauce, and fish eggs. The portions of salmon and avocado were generous, and we both really enjoyed the lobster salad topping. The plum sauce on this was drizzled with a very light hand, and we both thought the roll would have benefitted from a bit more of the sweet-tart sauce.
For dessert, the lunch option is vanilla or green tea ice cream. The two-scoop bowls were garnished with chocolate syrup and were a sweet finish to a really enjoyable meal. With the dinnertime AYCE, they also have ice cream mochi in several flavors.
One additional fun feature at Sushi Man is the BellaBot, a server robot. While some restaurants do use these instead of servers, Bella was mostly a cute detail and always accompanied by a server while we visited. She played a happy little song as she travels, and it was hard not to grin when her digital face smiled at us.
2028 Prospect Ave
M-Th 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Su noon to 9:30 p.m.