(Or, This Review Is Really Just About Sushi and I Wonder How Many Times You Can Say the Word Sushi in 644 Words?)
Let me start with a story: I once lived in a city without sushi. I found one Japanese restaurant that served ridiculously expensive sushi, and it was terrible, and I ended up spending five months without sushi. I love sushi so much that I resorted to looking at photos of sushi on the Internet, fantasizing about all the sushi I could eat when I came home. It was a miserable existence.
Thanks to Ichiban, it’s not so hard to live in Tuscaloosa when you really love, admire, and adore sushi. Although I still haven’t found a place in town that serves excellent sushi, Ichiban’s food is solid, their service is generally good, and their prices are appropriate. I go there often, with friends or by myself with a book, because the place is also low-key. There’s usually a television on above the sushi bar, but it doesn’t have sound, and on the whole Ichiban is a quiet place in which to carefully mix your wasabi into your soy sauce, making sure that every smidge of green dissolves evenly—no? Just me? My friends have joked that I have it down to a ritual.
On the particular visit that I’m reviewing, I had a spring roll, some shrimp tempura, the scallop tempura maki, and a salmon maki. Everything I’ve ever ordered at Ichiban has been prepared fresh, and the spring roll and shrimp tempura fit that bill perfectly. The spring roll was surprisingly peppery—which I count as a good thing—but came accompanied by a spicy mayonnaise that didn’t match at all. The shrimp was cooked perfectly, with crunchy panko and a light brown sauce on the side. I also managed to steal a bite of my friend’s seaweed salad, which was of standard quality, with a strong sesame flavor that I enjoyed. Ichiban serves large portions of the seaweed salad, large enough to split without fighting over.
I order scallop tempura and salmon maki almost every time I’m at Ichiban so I knew what to expect: both decent rolls, but the scallop tempura could always use a little more scallop and a little less breading. In terms of taste and texture, I’m a big fan of the warm tempura crunch contrasted with the rice and nori. Their sushi rice has a lovely sticky-but-not-too-sticky consistency, the grains holding together without any trace of gluey-ness. The salmon was, well, salmon. I’ve had fishy, gummy salmon and I’ve had creamy salmon that practically melted into the rice, and Ichiban’s salmon falls somewhere in between. It is not wonderful, but it is not fishy at all, and tasty enough that I keep ordering it.
Ichiban also has a small menu, with teriyaki, tapanyaki, and yakitori versions of all the familiar proteins. I haven’t tried this standard Japanese-American fare, but it’s priced well enough and there are lunch combos that include a few menu items. The sushi menu has more exciting options, although I’d stay away from the octopus, which is too chewy. Their nigiri are generously portioned, with that standard-quality fish and that good, good rice. The eel is particularly delicious, as are the vegetarian sushi options. The asparagus roll, with steamed asparagus, almonds, and a light mayo, is one of my favorites. The chef willingly does substitutions, and will leave off the mayonnaise. It’s nice, for stricter vegetarians and vegans especially, to have a couple of interesting, non-fish vegetarian options.
Let me end with a story: I live in a city without many ethnic, vegetarian food choices. In a sea of barbecue, Ichiban is a small island that exceeds my expectations for sushi in Tuscaloosa. Is it the best sushi I’ve ever had? No. Is it the worst sushi I’ve ever had? No—the sushi from the Ferguson Center deserves that honor. Ichiban is a solid restaurant, and the quality of the food does not waver.
Ichiban is located at 502 15th Street next to Bama Lanes. (205) 752-8844
Lunch: Tuesday-Sunday 11am-2pm
Dinner: Monday-Thursday 5-9pm; Friday & Saturday 5-9:30pm