There was a time when sushi was perceived as exotic and foreign. Raw fish? Isn’t that down-right un-American? Today, sushi is available everywhere in Champaign-Urbana – even at your local grocery store (i.e. Schnucks and County Market). So who serves up the best sushi in town? The answer, according to our niece Allison and her best friend Anna, is Yellowfin.
The foodie world is divided between sushi virgins and sushi connoisseurs (with very few people in between). In the quest to convert more people to sushi lovers, we decided to start early with our niece Allison. When she was 8 years old, we started taking her out to eat at sushi restaurants. Over the years, she has tried sushi at just about every restaurant in town. So when a new restaurant named Yellowfin opened a few months ago, she insisted that we go there as well.
Yellowfin is a Korean restaurant that also serves Japanese food. Owned by the same people that run Lee’s Oriental Groceries next door, this intimate little hidden gem turned out to have the most talented sushi chef in town. Sushi is sushi, you say? Put some raw fish on top of vinegared rice and there you have it. So what could be the difference between one sushi establishment and another? The answer turns out to be the artistic creativity of the sushi chef.
At Yellowfin, the chef has invented an assortment of maki rolls that we’ve not even seen in big-city $100-per-person Japanese restaurants. His craziest creation is the Pizza Roll. Surely designed to be marketed to students, this roll is served flat and cut into pizza-like slices. He uses white tuna and a special red sauce to imitate the look of melted cheese and tomato sauce. But when you bite into the Pizza Roll, the similarity ends. The rice is crunchy (it’s been pan-fried) and the tuna is spicy and luscious with just a hint of sweetness in the sauce. It’s brilliant.
At a recent dinner, Allison and Anna chose to share the Chicago Roll and a combination platter. The Chicago Roll is another signature Yellowfin creation – a combination of red and white tuna (both spicy) spread on top of a maki roll stuffed with avocado, cucumber and masago (smelt fish roe). The Combination Sushi Platter is different every time we order it, and this time the chef gave us conch, octopus and eel in addition to the standard selections. The presentation on each sushi plate was exquisite – a balanced composition of colors, shapes and textures. Every dish was also decorated with precious little carvings of flowers and birds delicately sliced out of carrots and radishes. It’s these little visual touches and the attention to detail that makes Yellowfin the number one sushi restaurant in town.
A great benefit of eating sushi in a Korean restaurant is that if you also order a Korean entrée, the table is instantly filled with a wide selection of exotic side dishes like mung bean jello, glazed sweet potatoes, marinated burdock roots, kimchi (spicy picked cabbage) and much more. So I ordered the Kalbi prime rib barbecue and my partner Bonnie ordered the Salmon Teriyaki combination. My dinner was a healthy pile of sliced bone-in rib meat that had been marinated and grilled to perfection, then served on top of a selection of sautéed veggies. Bonnie’s dinner was served in a Bento box complete with rice, salad, marinated cucumbers, three pieces of sushi and a California Roll. The combo dinner also comes with miso soup and a free dessert, so this may be the best deal on Yellowfin’s menu.
We’ve been to Yellowfin four or five times now and we love their appetizer selections. Highly recommended are the Oshitashi (chilled spinach), Agetashi Tofu (deep fried and served in a seasoned soy sauce), Sunomono Moriwasi (mixed seafood salad), Squid Salad, Octopus Salad, and our favorite—the Kanisu Roll (a maki roll made with thinly peeled cucumber instead of seaweed). In the summer, we love the cold soba noodle selections. But we keep coming back for the sushi chef’s special maki creations. So far we’ve tried the Champaign, the Caterpillar, the Mayflower, and the Fireworks – each one presented as extraordinary art and each one with distinct and surprising flavor combinations.
So did these two 12-year-old girls pick the best sushi place in town? In this case, we absolutely agree with Allison and Anna.
303 Cedar St.