I am pleased to report that outstanding sushi has finally come to Richmond. Well, almost. Ichiban, in the far, far West End, inhabits that edge-city west of Gaskins Road that technically qualifies as Richmond but seems like another world entirely to those of us who live closer to the center. The sushi, however, is worth the trip. With chefs imported from New York and an enthusiastic and conscientious owner, Ichiban brings fish in daily from D.C. and Maryland to guarantee quality and freshness.
With lots of pale wood, unusual paper lanterns and nary a fork or knife in sight, this strip mall space is effectively transformed into a little bit of Japan. Ichiban closes the gap between formal and casual Asian dining with attentive service, detailed explanations thankfully free of pretension, and the bubbly, effervescent personality of the owner.
Such attention to detail shows. My alligator eel roll was a fanciful concoction of eel, salmon, avocado and "crunchy" (that would be the flaky shell created by tempura, although in this case, it's added later instead of cooked with the food) surrounded by contrasting edamame and sweet and spicy pepper sauces. The remarkable presentation was matched by the delicious, melting softness of the roll and was outdone only by the spicy lobster roll that arrived next. Steamed lobster with white tuna, avocado and tobiko (flying-fish roe) was wrapped in soybean paper and topped with caviar, creating an even more pronounced seafood flavor and memorable mélange of complementary tastes. And although I enjoyed Ichiban's eponymous roll as well, with its spicy tuna and Maryland blue crab wrapped in a special cream- and green-veined nori I'd never seen before, it simply couldn't match the two rolls that preceded it.
Regular sushi was impeccably prepared as well. The fish was fresh, fresh, fresh, and the rice soft and cool without succumbing to the stickiness or chewiness that's so common in most sushi. Even the tempura was worth ordering. Generally I avoid cooked food in a restaurant specializing in raw food, but here the tempura was impossibly light and greaseless, accompanied by a light soy and vinegary sugar sauce.
Dessert a course I think usually fails to straddle the cultural divide between East and West was delightful as well. Tempura-fried banana with vanilla ice cream made for a yummy Asian take on the trusty banana split, and in another dish, red bean and grapefruit ice creams came in molded, frozen shapes that could each be eaten in just a bite or two.
For many, it's a long trek to Ridgefield Parkway, and sometimes I felt like I was going all the way to Japan in my car, but my selfish wish to transport Ichiban downtown is, I'm afraid, just an idle dream. The owner lives nearby, and so do lots and lots of other people, judging from the full tables at dinnertime. A little bit of traveling is well worth it, however, for the warm, welcoming atmosphere and the fresh and beautifully presented food in this small and unassuming Japanese restaurant. S
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