...if the Cabot community will support it long enough for it to find its feet, anyway.
Our family ventured out on the opening night of the new Kopan Bulgogi & Sushi restaurant in Cabot. We know it's conventional wisdom that you don't go to a new restaurant on its first night, but I have personally been on pins and needles waiting for this place to open--I'm still grieving the loss, a couple years ago, of the only sushi joint in Jacksonville.
Good news first: Though the outside of the building is nondescript (it's the old Hunan), once you step through the door, the atmosphere is polished and pleasant, with much attention to detail (artfully folded napkins, decorative tableware, wait staff in long sleeves and bow ties, moistened finger cloths, etc.). The layout is a dining room centered around a traditional sushi bar, with the chefs working furiously behind it.
The food, almost every single thing we had, was excellent. Our table sampled beef/asparagus and crispy crab appetizers, bulgogi (marinated and sauteed thin strips of beef and vegetables), miso soup, salads with ginger dressing, kim chee cucumbers, teriyaki chicken and broccoli kabobs, and a variety of sushi. The only thing that disappointed in this dinner was the salad, but you don't go to a Japanese restaurant for salad, so I didn't hold it against them.
The sushi was exactly the way we like it--bursting with fresh flavor, tightly rolled, and of the ideal size for seasoning and popping whole into your mouth with wasabe and/or pickled ginger, via chopsticks. We didn't get all the sushi we ordered, so we were unable to sample too widely that first time out, but my husband and I liked it so much that we actually ordered takeout sushi from Kopan the following night. (I feel obliged to report that my sister's family did not share our good experience with the sushi a couple of days later, telling me of California rolls that fell apart and were difficult to eat.)
Like I said, all of our food was just delicious, which makes the service we experienced especially painful to report. Hopefully it will get better over time, but it apparently didn't improve over the first three days. The root of the problem seems to be the young, inexperienced serving staff. I hate to even criticize them, but the teenage servers, while polite and helpful, just seemed to be in over their heads and very unfamiliar with the menu. We got lots of blank, deer-in-the-headlights expressions in response to any questions, and the poor dears honestly seemed to be frightened to death. I can't say I blame them--this place is an extreme departure from anything else currently available in Lonoke County or Jacksonville, with its more meticulous (but by no means formal) atmosphere and menu.
Adding to the confusion was the fact that the place was PACKED. I'm hoping that this is a good sign, and that the community can continue to give Kopan a chance, though I was disheartened at the table I saw getting up and leaving after waiting in vain for 45 minutes after beverage service for someone to take their food order, as well as members of my own family who finally walked out after standing at the front waiting to be seated--or even noticed--for a good 15 minutes. Incorrect orders were rampant, and people were frustrated. At our table, our daughter did not receive her meal (chicken and broccoli kabobs) until at least a half hour after the rest of us had been served, and we're talking 30 preschooler minutes, here. And even when her kabobs finally arrived, we had to ask for the accompanying rice noodles and then wait for those. It was excruciating.
After reporting all that, let me reiterate this: Despite all the problems--and there were MANY--with the service, our food was so good that we went back the very next night for more. We just carried it home with us rather than suffer through the service again, and according to the later report from my sister, we chose wisely there.
The reason that I'm writing about this here is in the hopes that Kopan will make it. I was kind of surprised to see such a packed house on opening night, and hope that the turnout meant that there is a market for good sushi in this area. I mean, it's right there on the sign out front, "bulgogi & sushi," so surely everyone who went inside was expecting...well, sushi. I hope that the owner/managers of Kopan will work out the service problems quickly, before too much negative word of mouth is built up about it. If I could make a suggestion to them, it would be to maybe have a couple more "work days" with the staff, sans customers, familiarizing them with the menu and standardizing service so that the servers feel competent to answer questions and tend to their tables as best they can.
Kopan has the potential to really be something special in Cabot, if it doesn't collapse beneath the weight of its own high expectations. I'm pulling for you, Kopan.