Saturday, February 9, 2013

Ichiban Japanese Cuisine- Edmonton, AB

If it isn’t obvious by now, mine and my companion’s go-to dinner places are generally – if not exclusively – sushi restaurants. One of our favourite sushi places in Edmonton was discovered almost two years ago when our good friend, a native of Edmonton, took us to Edmonton for some “after-hours” sushi. After our first outing there, Ichiban did not pop up on our list of regular restaurants until almost a year later when we “rediscovered” it while perusing Urbanspoon for new sushi restaurants outside of the University area. We remembered Ichiban being excellent that first time and were only too happy to try it again. Since the rediscovery, we have been to Ichiban on multiple occasions including casual date nights, large group gatherings, and family dinners and no occasion has ever turned out to be a disappointment.

We were having a particularly rough week on our internship and decided what we needed as a nice, relaxing dinner out of the apartment. It wasn’t hard to pick which restaurant to visit, as we were both desperately craving sushi and had some errands planned on the west side of Edmonton anyway. We promptly made 7PM reservations and set off to satisfy our sushi craving. For a Saturday night, Ichiban was surprisingly empty, which was contrary to almost every single time we have visited Ichiban in the past. It could have been that we were dining out just after the New Years and a majority of Edmontonians had not yet returned from their Christmas Holidays. We were seated in a small table of two in the middle of the restaurant. Since we were fairly familiar with the restaurant and menu, we had a number of regular orders we made; however, on this occasion, we decided to go after a few items we had never tried at Ichiban including – baked oysters, red salmon sushi, salmon sushi, Fuji Maki, Lava Lava Maki, Maki Maki, and Sunshine Maki.

Complimentary Miso Soup
As soon as we ordered, a larger, four-person table in a more private – and warm – corner of the restaurant opened up. The manager quickly came up to us and asked us if we would like to move to that table instead of our current two-person table. We didn’t even think of asking about a table switch after we ordered, but I definitely appreciated the switch later on that night as Edmonton was a chilly -30°C that night. Big points for friendliness and service to Ichiban! One of the best and my favourite things about Ichiban is their complimentary Miso soup. Miso soup is a simple tofu and seaweed soup, and coming from Ottawa’s all-you-can-eat scene where I would routinely order 2-3 bowls of Miso soup during a meal, it was extremely disappointing to see any sushi restaurant that charged $3 for Miso soup. The Miso soup was served steaming hot and was extremely quickly followed by our orders of baked oyster and sushi – very impressive service, especially for peak dining hours on a Saturday night.
Baked Oysters

I have had the baked oyster appetizer numerous times before and usually it is served in a large oyster shell filled with mayonnaises cream, cooked egg whites and layered over with baked cheese. Ichiban’s version was served in a small sauce dish, which was a little disappointing because I really did like the decorative points of having an oyster served to me in an oyster shell. My disappointment was quickly abated as to  my surprise, the baked oyster dish included two oysters! With baked oysters at other restaurants, the oiliness and greasiness tends to sit heavily in your stomach for a while; at Ichiban, the mayonnaise-egg-cheese sauce was silky smooth, creamy, but surprisingly light and complimented the oysters excellently. The only complaint with the dish was one oyster was cooked considerably better than the other, leaving the smaller oyster (there was a larger oyster and a smaller oyster in the dish) a tad chewier than the larger one. Either way, a must try at Ichiban, even if it’s simply for comparison to other restaurants.

Left to Right: Salmon Sushi, Red Tuna Sushi,
Sunshine Roll,  and Maki Maki
Our sushi and maki rolls came out almost instantaneously (more service points!) as we were finishing the last spoons of the baked oyster sauce (I can honestly say Ichiban is the first place I actually finished the baked oyster sauce). We started off with one of our favourite regular rolls – the Lava Lava Maki. The Lava Lava Maki consists of a soft shelled crab roll layered with unagi and avocado. Just as delicious as it sounds! I’ve had this roll many times before and it has never disappointed; however, on this particular occasion, I found the Lava Lava Maki had a little bit too much crunch and not enough of the sweet crab meat. The sweet, BBQ unagi and fresh avocado, however, were excellent. Next we tried the Maki Maki – a roll consisting of salmon, tuna, and red snapper in an inside out roll. The Maki Maki was our substitute for a sashimi order that night and was a disappointing of a substitute. We both found the Maki Maki roll a little plain and though the fish ingredients themselves were fresh, the mix of rice in the roll just made the roll all the more plain. Perhaps the Maki Maki roll would have been a better substitute for a Chirashi bowl than our usual sashimi order.

In between our sushi orders, we tried our salmon sushi and red tuna sushi. The salmon sushi was fairly good and had a nice amount of fattiness, though nothing special compared to salmon sushi at other restaurants. It had been a while since I tried red tuna sushi and I remembered red tuna being a favourite of mine in the past. However, red tuna sushi at Ichiban was much drier and a little flakier than I remembered it and was much below par in comparison to its salmon sushi partner.

Left to Right: Fuji Maki and Lava Lava Maki
The last two rolls of the night were the Fuji Maki and the Sunshine Roll. Mount Fuji is the tallest mountain in Japan and was a once an active volcano. It is an iconic land mark located on Honshu Island and can be seen from Tokyo, Japan on a clear day. The Fuji Maki is probably Ichiban’s tribute to the famous Japanese landmark and consists of spicy tuna in an inside out roll with chop chop on top. For the fiery volcano peak / lava, the Fuji Maki featured red tobiko mixed in with the chop chop. With an iconic symbol like Mount Fuji behind its name, the Fuji roll was sure to satisfy – and satisfy it did! The spicy tuna was fresh, had a nice – but not too spicy or overwhelming – kick to it and was complimented excellently by the chop chop, mayonaises, and tobiko combination. The Fuji Maki was easily our favourite roll of the night and we were glad we ordered it, as this was one of the “new” rolls we tried that night. The Sunshine Maki was an inside out roll featuring chop chop layered with smoked salmon. Usually, on any occasion other than sushi, I am a huge fan of smoked salmon. Perhaps I am too much of a traditionalist, but I always find these new North American fusion ingredients, such as smoked salmon, cream cheese, salsa (what?! Salsa on sushi you say?! I promise this will come up in the next few posts) always ruins the simple, clean flavour of sushi. However, Ichiban makes the smoked salmon work in the Sunshine Maki and the chop chop – the same one used in the Fuji Maki – really saves the dish.

Overall, it was another great night at Ichiban, with amazing service (one of the best I have had), excellent dishes, and more than reasonable price (our bill that night came out at $56 tax incl.). This unassuming restaurant tucked away in the West corner of Edmonton, in a beaten down strip mall, does not even have a website (or logo!) but is a definite must-try pit stop for those of you who are native to Edmonton or those who are just visiting for a day.

Top Pick of the Night: Baked Oysters and Fuji Maki

Rating: 4/5 Erics'

Ichiban Japanese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

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