Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Ichiban - Sheffield, Alabama
In the Japanese language Ichiban means “The Best” or “Number One.” This is presently one of the newest Asian Cuisine locations in the Quad-Cities and has rapidly become one of the most popular restaurants in the Shoals area. Being a Sushi fanatic, when I travel throughout the Southeast I invariably attempt to find the best Sushi spots at least once on the trip. Over the years I have experienced some of the best and some of the worst of that particular cuisine. Thus, I have come to recognize there is an extreme difference between what is bad, mediocre, average, good, excellent, and at the top of the game Sushi.
I never thought I would be able to say this, as I was born and lived a good many years in this area, but for me to even think about, much less say that Sheffield, Alabama, is the home of one of the finest and talented Sushi Chefs in North Alabama would have never crossed my mind a year ago. But I firmly believe that you will not find any better Sushi or experience any better Japanese or Asian style food than at this little building directly across from the Helen Keller Hospital.
I have learned as I travel if I really want to know where the good eateries are, I start looking at the parking lots of the restaurants. In rural areas I look for how many pickups are parked in front, for those farmers know where the farmhouse tasting grub is located. If it is lunch time in an urban area, then I simply look for the place that has the most cars along the side or parked along the street because their parking lot is already full.The locals have found Ichiban is one of those places. Either through experience or through the grapevine they have learned you can get a dining out experience at eating out prices here. It is not unusual to see the place packed with hospital staff taking their lunch break there as it has become one of the favorite places for the HKH employees to grab a delicious meal and be back at work in the allotted amount of time.
It has been my experience there are many things that go into a good dining experience. The atmosphere of Ichiban, including the décor, cleanliness, sound, demeanor of wait staff, dress of the wait staff, service of the wait staff, and of course the appearance of the food is exceeded only by the taste. I assure you the attention given by their wait staff, dressed in their colorful attire, is beyond question one of the best in the Shoals area.
We arrived at Ichiban on a Saturday afternoon around 5:30 p.m. as we wanted to get in and be seated before the evening crowd started to arrive. This being our third time there, we were as usual met at the door by a very pretty waitress, and immediately taken to a table. She took our drink orders and while we waited we began to go through the menu that offered Teriyaki entrees, Katsu dishes, Tempura, Select Noodle and Rice entrees, the usual Chinese Dishes, Bento Box combinations, and for those who want to really spice up your evening, Thai cuisine. Phew! And I have not even got to the Sushi selection which contains the usual Nigiri pieces, Spicy rolls, Tempura rolls, and Sushi combinations. Then we get into the Specialty Rolls, various Sashimi and Sushi Combos and an allotment of hand rolls. It is by far a Sushi Lover's dreamland.
The first Appetizer to arrive was “The Red Snapper Sashimi ” ($6.95). The beauty of the display alone was pleasing to the eye, but when the freshness of the snapper met the taste buds it was a match made in heaven.
This was followed by the second Appetizer “The Jade” ($6.95) on which I walked over and watched the Sushi Chef apply his trade on. The Jade is a whole avocado cut in two, then stuffed with a mixture of fresh crab, various sashimi, avocado pulp and a variety of sauces that created such a wonderful medley of flavors complimenting each other well.
The first entrée to arrive was the Chicken Teriyaki ($9.95). I bet you have never really thought about what is Teriyaki Sauce or even how it is made. Well! I knew that you were just dying to know, so here goes. The noun “Teri” refers to shine or luster. “Yaki” refers to the style of grilling or broiling. The Sauce is simply a combination of soy sauce, mirin or sake along with honey or sugar. This mixture is then cooked into a thick sauce which is then used as a marinade or brushed over the meat of choice such as chicken, beef, lamb, pork or various species of fish. This dish was served with steamed broccoli, sautéed onions, mushrooms and several pieces moist and tender chicken breast. The dish is well worth the price, and I highly recommended you give it a try. It is served along with a choice of Miso Soup or a Ginger Salad. We ordered both with the Ginger Salad costing a $1.50 extra.
The Lobster Roll ($10.95) is a beauty to behold for any Sushi Lover. It is a mixture of Sashimi Salmon, Tuna, Yellow Tail Snapper, Avocado on the layered over a huge portion of Spicy Lobster and Tobiko Fish Egg, then layered with a spicy sauce which is the crowning taste that places it up there with one of the best Sushi dishes I have ever tasted.
The Volcano Roll ($9.95) is a large California roll in the center topped with lots of Spicy Tuna, Snow Crab, Masago, Scallions, and a then layered with a very spicy sauce. The name is perfect for this dish that is a delight to the person who likes a kick to their food. I highly recommend it as it met every expectation I had regarding this dish.
So the next time you crave a unique treat where not only your eyes and taste buds will be delighted, but your pocket book will still have funds when you leave, think of “The Ichiban.” I believe it will be placed in that category of your favorite places to eat.