It seems like I eat Japanese food almost every week, but I'm not complaining. It's one of those things that I don't think I could ever be tired of. My mom ended up with the same day off as me so I decided to treat her with a mother-daughter lunch date. Her request? Japanese of course, which brings us to Ichiban in the west end.
Ichiban has definitely been around for a while now, staking claim in a pretty large strip mall on 149th street. Sometime during the summer of last year, the strip mall underwent extensive renovations and the exterior certainly looks a lot more clean and slick. I don't think there was anything done inside the restaurant, as it looked the same as it did during my first visit a couple years back.
Though it had been a while, I remember the food being okay, not great, but I thought it was about time to do a revisit. (The real reason for choosing Ichiban? Bon Ton Bakery just a few doors down...)
It was a surprisingly busy room when we walked in on the Tuesday, just 20 minutes into opening. Definitely a big lunch crowd following, with a couple of people coming in to pick up take-out orders as well. We managed to snag the last booth out of the row on the left.
Service was quick, and we were offered a complimentary bowl of miso soup to start. I thought we ordered quite a lot of food between the two of us, so we passed on it.
Off of their appetizers section, my mom ordered oyster motoyaki, or baked oyster as it's referred to on the menu ($4.50). In typical motoyaki fashion, the oyster is covered in misonnaise sauce (basically a combination of miso paste and Japanese mayo) and then given a quick broil in the oven to brown the top. Some restaurants keep the oyster in the shell, but given that this preparation somewhat masks the freshness of the seafood anyway, I forgive them for putting what I assume is an already shucked oyster from a jar onto the plate.
I'm not as big of a fan of oysters, so I went for the scallop version in the yaki hotate ($3.95). The scallop was pretty large, and baked with a generous amount of the misonnaise. The sauce was smooth and creamy, but it was almost too much of a good thing, as it was very rich and heavy. I prefer my mom's homemade version much more, in which she'll use oysters (or mussels for me!) and bake them with a light coating of Japanese mayo, sriracha, and a tiny sprinkling of shredded cheese. Sounds weird, I know, but moms are wizards in the kitchen.
We also shared one of their lunch bento boxes (served from 11:30-2:30), and decided on bento box B ($13.50) which had sushi or sashimi, tempura, agedashi tofu, rice, and green salad. We chose the sashimi, and were given three pieces of salmon and two pieces of tuna. I thought the sashimi was cut really strange, but they were okay in terms of freshness. The tempura was also nothing to write home about. The batter was a bit thick, but I did like how they included a piece of squid into the mix.
Moving onto sushi, I was surprised at the sheer variety of rolls that Ichiban has on their menu. They're also quite cheap (for Edmonton standards), capping at $9.95 for their more elaborate rolls. Granted, the rolls only come 4 to 6 pieces an order, and they're not exactly huge. Still, you won't feel too out of pocket for ordering a lot of them.
We chose two to try, starting with the lava lava maki on the left ($9.95). Advertised as Ichiban's best-selling roll, it has softshell crab, tobiko, and mayo in the middle, and then unagi, avocado, sesame seeds, and teriyaki sauce on top. It was a bit difficult to distinguish that the middle was softshell crab and nothing more than just a crunchy texture, but I did like the flavours of this roll. I'd probably order it again.
On the right is the fuji maki ($9.95), with spicy tuna inside and chop chop on top. The tuna had a very mild heat to it, and even that was tempered by the creamy scallops. Nothing too exciting going on with this roll.
Overall, Ichiban lies somewhere on the spectrum between average and good. The food certainly isn't winning awards for freshness or quality, but it's affordable fare that's halfway decent. If you're in the area (and don't have enough gas to drive a bit further to Kobe), it'll do to satisfy the sushi craving.