I suppose that I should start with this: I am not completely impressed with the so-called "revitalization" of downtown Champaign.
Of course, there are many parts of it that I do enjoy, very much. But, the list of what I find to be simply annoying to downright reprehensible about downtown Champaign is fairly broad. But this article is not about that. It should, however, help to illustrate the coming words on the page.
One of the aspects of our new downtown Champaign that I happen to really enjoy is the One Main building, both conceptually and in reality. It's exactly what we needed when we needed it. It provided much needed office space for a world-class tech company. It provided the downtown with residents with a couple of bills in their back pocket as well. And even one who is famous — albeit, for the wrong reasons, sadly. It now houses the only true retail record shop in town (not counting Parasol, but that gem is a whole different type of place), an all night diner that serves meals like The Railsplitter and the Hangover Stack, a highly decent locally-owned sit down fancy-pants restaurant, and, arguably the most popular spot in town: Kofusion.
When it first opened in 2005, my intial reaction was... not good. For a fella like myself, who really enjoys good, old fashioned European-style peasant food, cooked well and served with no frills, upscale sushi restaurants tend to simply turn me off.
But don't get me wrong — I love that sort of food as well. Sushi. I love sushi. I love different types of rolls, I love nigiri and I especially love sashimi, which is essentially just slices of raw fish served with little more than shredded daikon radish and some pickled ginger. I love edamame, and I love miso soup. Essentially, I really enjoy this type of food as well. In fact, I would say that I love it. Yes. I do. I love it.
So, it wasn't the food they were serving that initially turned me sour on the place. It was really just the atmosphere and the overall demeanor of the space that had me creased. I'll be the first to admit it: I was being a bit pompous and judgmental. I am, in fact, a bit of a snob when it comes to most anything. I try not to be, but then — I think. Can't help it.
The whole blue-lit, sparkly-floor, fishtank-for-walls, heavy-beads to get to the bathrooms, designer cocktails, hot waitresses and waiters weighing in under a hundred; in hindsight, I think it was a classic case of social intimidation. These types of joints get under my skin because it's so far removed from any place that I would ever consider to be a place that I would just "hang out."
No, my style is more Black Dog for dinner and Mike N' Molly's for drinks. It is what it is.
So, initially, I wrote it off. Never even really went in, save for a moment to meet a friend, further confirming my unqualified judgment. The place wasn't for me.
And then, they introduced the Dollar Sushi nights on Sunday and Monday. My wife-then-girlfriend happens to have a penchant for sushi, so when she finally convinced me to give it a shot, I prepared myself to scoff at all of the things that I knew to be annoying to me.
I went, reluctantly, but with the knowledge that these are things you do when you want to keep a gal in your life. I did it for a woman.
But something happened that I wasn't expecting. I had a good time. We laughed a lot. I loosened up. And for some reason, the perpetual groove music that sounds something like The Gotan Project kinda grew on me, and the next thing you know, I was ordering six more $1 pieces of a spicy tuna roll and another expensive cocktail. I had totally bought in.
Since then, we've become semi-regulars. It's a date spot for us. For whatever reason, when we go to Kofusion, we have a great time. And yes, it's fairly expensive. You can get sushi that is arguably better and better priced just up the road at both Sushi Kame and YellowFin for sure — but there is something about KoFusion that inspires a damn good time. Neither of the other two will do the same. They are quite good, but both are simply utilitarian. To me, I feel like the upcharge at Kofusion, which isn't much, is like paying the cover at a good nightclub. It's something you sacrifice in order to make a drab night into a dance party.
A few weeks back, we decided to dine out with fellow editor Caleb Curtiss and his wife, Sarah, to celebrate the purchase of their new home and/or lament his ankle injury sustained from simply walking. That's Caleb for you. One way or the next, we knew we needed a good time, and so Kofusion made perfect sense.
We ordered a mighty array of different selections, from both the Dollar Menu and from the regular menu available nightly, as well. Seen in this article are fantastic photos of their seaweed salad, dollar sushi Big Rolls, Dynamite Rolls, sashimi, edamame, and green tea ice cream.
In all, our check totaled less than $100 before tax and tip, but for the amount of food we had, and the sheer volume of laughter and enjoyment, it seemed like a bargain.
I am still kinda annoyed by certain aspects of the restaurant, but that's just me being the snobbish fella that I can be at times. I often forget that my tastes and personal stylings are popular with very few people in this world, and going to Kofusion serves as an excellent reminder that I should likely shuck my perceptions at the door — not just when dining out, but when evaluating most anything from people to politics. I look to it as my center; my zen place.
After all, everyone needs something to balance themselves out.
Photos by Justine Bursoni