Awhile ago, my favorite date night spot was Yellowfin. I loved the understand elegance of the restaurant, and I was very sad when it closed in February of 2017. There is no shortage of great sushi in C-U, but I think there is always room for a new unique restaurant idea.

ISHI is a brand new gem in the old Yellowfin location. Run by Chef Ken Ishibashi and his wife Kaori, the sushi spot has a chalkboard menu that changes each week. The restaurant is currently only open for lunch on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Last weekend, the kitchen sold out of many menu items before the end of Saturday lunch, so if you have a craving for Chef Ishibashi's creations or Kaori's fluffy cheesecake, you need to go on a Friday or early on Saturday before they sell out.

I shared a little bit about the sushi from ISHI in my September list of foods to try, and now I want to share all of the ISHI details about the ordering process, the sushi menu, and (of course) the adorable baked goods from Kaori's Oven.

From the parking lot, there is an exterior of a brick building with no signage. The roof is a beige color, and the doors are glass with no logo or writing. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The building has no signage to let you know what's inside, but go ahead and park in the (free) spots in front. Currently, the restaurant is operating as a soft open with shortened hours while they finalize remaining details.

Inside ISHI, there is a sushi bar beyond wooden dividers. The front room has two wooden stools and a black office chair with no one sitting in them. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Inside, there is a divider between the main dining area and the sushi bar. The main dining room has no tables yet, just an array of various chairs to wait for a table or wait for a takeout order. You can see Chef Ishibashi working behind the sushi bar to prepare dishes for the diners.

There were six chairs at the sushi bar when I visited for Friday lunch, and I was hoping to eat at the restaurant, but the three couples occupying the chairs were just getting started with their meals, so I ordered my food to go.

On a large black chalkboard, there are two sides of available options. On the left, there is ISHI and a handwritten list of sushi dishes and the price. On the right side is Kaori's Oven which has desserts listed by Sweet, Savory, or Animal. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The menu is on this giant blackboard, and the offerings rotate each week. The sushi menu included a lot of salmon and tuna which are two of my favorite fish, so I was delighted. I'd never had anything from Kaori's Oven before, but everything she had listed on the menu sounded pretty good, and they were all priced (very) low.

Ordering was simple: wait in line and tell the staff what you want, then wait for your order to be called out. There were three people in line before me waiting for to put in a takeout order. I ordered my food, and the staff wrote it all down by hand on a notepad. She calculated my total for everything, and I paid. It's a small operation and already pretty popular, so we had a bit of a wait. After about fifteen minutes, my food was packaged and ready to go.

An above shot of the author's dinner:  Starting on the left: okonomiyaki, five piece nigiri, choice roll, seared toro nigiri, salmon poke, fluffy cheesecake, red bean paste sweet, bacon shiso cream cheese, turtle sweet, porcupine sweet, and another fluffy cheesecake. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

What all did I order? Starting on the left: okonomiyaki, five piece nigiri, choice roll, seared toro nigiri, salmon poke, fluffy cheesecake, red bean paste sweet, bacon shiso cream cheese, turtle sweet, porcupine sweet, and another fluffy cheesecake.

An overhead photo of takeout rectangular dishes on a black table with two chopsticks packs. There are okonomiyaki, five piece nigiri, seared toro, marinated salmon, and a tuna sushi roll. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Let's talk about the ISHI items first. The sushi and okonomiyaki were packaged in individual rectangular containers which helped the dishes carry out well. Chopsticks, wasabi, ginger, and soy sauce were all included.

On a rectangle carryout tray, there is seared tuna in a very light pink color beside pink marinated salmon chunks. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The seared toro nigiri with jalapeño ($15) was a light-colored sear. The chewy tuna was on top of jalapeño and a small mound of rice. I really enjoyed this dish as it felt like an elevated version of nigiri that I'd not experienced before. The addition of the jalapeño gave a great peppery flavor and a veggie crunch. The sear wasn't crispy, but it changed the color and texture of the toro tuna. It wasn't overly spicy, and I loved the deliciously fatty piece of tuna. Also, peep that a-freaking-dorable teeny tiny soy sauce bottle with a yellow top! 

From the side, the rectangular takeout tray shows marinated raw salmon chunks with specks of green onion. Behind the salmon poke, is seared tuna. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Next was the salmon poke ($5) served in the same container as the seared toro nigiri. Two ounces of raw salmon didn't sound particularly exciting to me, but my husband insisted we try it — and I am so glad we ordered it. This was my favorite dish from ISHI. The pieces of salmon were amazing and melted in my mouth. The fish was marinated in a light soy sauce with diced red onions and sesame oil, then garnished with thin green onion. It was phenomenal; the fatty salmon was smooth in texture and just incredible in taste.

Two okonomiyaki are in a rectangular container with drizzles of yellow and dark brown sauces. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Okonomiyaki, a Japanese savory pancake, is not something I've tried before, and I'm glad it is something I can try here in C-U. This savory patty was made with more than just potatoes; it was a mixture of egg, flour, dashi, naga imo (mountain potato), green onions, and cabbage topped with bonito flakes and aosa (seaweed). There were two sauces on top: a light orange mayo sauce and a dark umami sauce. The okonomiyaki had sliced, smoked bacon just beneath the saucy drizzles, and it was a delicious surprise to bite into bacon. The salty bacon paired so well with the savory cake. This dish was not spicy, so if you like potatoes and sauce on them, you'll love okonomiyaki.

From above, there is a rectangular container with five pieces of nigiri. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

What I really, really wanted to try was the five piece nigiri, chef's choice. The five fish were: tuna, salmon, shima aji (Japanese horse mackerel), toro-ikura (tuna and roe), and uni (sea urchin). The tuna was fantastic: a perfect slice of raw tuna. This one was a thick, beautiful piece of quality tuna that tasted so good. Next, the salmon was so amazing and melted in my mouth just like the poke. It had a soft texture and a great taste. The shima aji was mild and delicate with subtle and pleasant flavors. The white fish was silky with chewy skin, and it would be a great starter nigiri for its wonderful, mild taste.

Then, I tried the toro-ikura which was wrapped in a bit of seaweed. The roe pearls gave a big burst of saltiness when bit, and I thought the tuna was understated in this one, but perhaps I just love tuna too much — and always wish for more. Lastly, I tried the uni, and it was quite soft and salty like seawater which tracks for a sea urchin. The uni was gooey and runny, a texture so unlike the other fish. This five piece nigiri was a great sushi sampler that I recommend trying if you ever see it on the chalkboard at ISHI.

From the side, a tuna sushi roll sits in a rectangular takeout container with pickled ginger beside it. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

I wanted to try the choice roll, too. The menu said "Your choice roll ?" and I figured if tuna and jalapeño were both on the menu, then I could have a tuna-jalapeño roll. The staff checked with the sushi chef, and he said yes. The staff informed me the price ($12) before charging to make sure it was fine, and I thought it was.

The custom roll was simple and amazing. The tuna was cut into thick, pinky-red chunks, and I could taste the freshness of the fish in the simplicity of the roll. Clearly, ISHI knows how to find quality fish. The quality of the tuna, the slight spiciness from the jalapeño, the chew of seaweed, and the great sushi rice made for a tasty roll.

On a teal plate, there are several Japanese baked goods including two that are shaped like animals. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

ISHI doesn't just serve sushi and savory Japanese dishes. Chef Ishibashi's wife Kaori offers a variety of baked goods from $1.50 to $5. At prices that low, how can you not add some treats to your order? I may have gotten carried away, but I know you, my dear readers, like a thorough review, so perhaps this was the right amount of baked goods to order.

A single slice of cheesecake sits on a small rectangle of tin foil. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The first baked good I tried from Kaori's Oven was the fluffy cheesecake because my friend Dane (who had tried it before) said it was fire. For $2 a slice, I had to have two. Kaori's cheesecake was so fluffy! I'm used to very sweet cheesecakes, and this one had a restrained sweetness which made it elegant and very much a grown-up dessert. The cake was spongy and soft like an airy cake, and I liked it a lot. It was room temperature, too, not like the cold, thick cheesecakes to which I'm accustomed. The flavor was very simple and one note, but it was good. This dessert was unique, and if it's not sold out, you should definitely try it because like my friend Dane said, it is fire.

On a light blue plate, there are two animal shaped yeast rolls: a porcupine and turtle. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

I can't even with these little animal sweets ($1.50 each). How cute are they? So cute! The porcupine and turtle were the only ones available; all the panda sweets had been bought by the time I arrived. The porcupine was a soft yeast roll with a cranberry and white chocolate filling, and I had to fight my husband over it. It was insanely good. The flavors were contrasting in the best way: a sweet middle and a savory exterior. The shape was adorable, and the fact is, they could've made this roll without the cute animal shape, but the baker didn't — and C-U is lucky for it.

The turtle had a similar yeast roll base, but atop the roll, there was a cookie-like shell with large sugar crystals. There were four little legs, a tasty tail, and a delicious head to this turtle sweet. The very center had chocolate chips not melted but chunky, chocolatey bits. The top was like a very soft sugar cookie, and the yeast roll reminded me of an unfrosted doughnut. These animal sweets were truly wonderful and so yummy. These are a must try, friends.

A long beautiful breadstick has many circles stuffed with bacon, cream cheese, and spinach. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Another baked good that I tried was a savory baked good called bacon shiso cream cheese ($3). We lovingly called this a bacon branch. It was a lightly baked stick of pastry compartmentally stuffed with bacon, spinach, and cream cheese. The little circles made good break points, so it was easy to share this. The pastry was soft like a breadstick, and the bacon was smoky. The spinach was soft, wilted, and not bitter. The cream cheese gave a decadent texture and flavor to the bacon branch. I think it would be smart as a brunch appetizer or a fancy, sharable breadstick at any time of day.

A Japanese sweet roll sits on a blue plate with a few sesame seeds on top. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Lastly, I tried the sweet roll with red bean paste ($1.50). Wow, this roll was awesome. It was a yeast roll that had a sweetened red bean paste, truly a sweet filling. The bean paste has an unusual but fun texture, but the flavor in this sweet was great.

ISHI and Kaori's Oven are a fantastic addition to our food scene. I love that the food is so unlike what we can already find in Champaign-Urbana. At the time of my visit, there were no drinks available apart from bottled water, so do understand that this is a restaurant in the early days and be graceful (or get your food to go and drink what's in your fridge). The restaurant has a small staff to take orders and very limited seating. You should know that you will have to wait to eat at the restaurant and for takeout orders, but the food is absolutely worth the wait.

The restaurant does not yet have an online prescence, so keep an eye on the chef's Facebook page for menu previews or photos of fish.

305 Cedar St
F+Sa noon to 4 p.m.
Su noon to 2 p.m.

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.