I feel like my sushi eating experiences have really evolved over the past decade or so. First, my family and I went to wherever was closest to home (what did we know from sushi?). Our order would usually consist of california rolls with some chicken teryaki, and if we were feeling adventurous, some spicy tuna rolls. After a few of these types of trips, the chicken teryaki turned to tempura and the california rolls turned into boston and spider rolls. Finally, we've turned to unagi, a variety of hand rolls, specialty maki (you know, the one's that are either deep fried or have fish on the outside), and a lot more sashimi.
With the greater interest in sushi variety came a greater hunger and a greater bill. This seemed to be a pretty common issue among sushi goers, and a few years back a bunch of all you can eat sushi buffets (i.e. Todai in Woodfield mall) opened up. The problem was that the key to sushi is freshness, not exactly a match for buffet style, and really all you ended up with was a bunch of soggy sushi and a stomach ache. Not to fret though, cause soon after I discovered the key, all you can eat, made to order sushi. With restaurants like Sushi Para (arlington heights and lincoln park) and Taste of Tokyo (buffalo grove), I had a new sushi eating norm. For those of you that don't get how much I love these places, let's just say that my family (Jewish) went to Taste of Tokyo on Christmas day in lieu of a Chinese restaurant (for those of you that don't know, some might say more Jews observe eating Chinese food on Christmas more than fasting on Yom Kippur).
So on to this Friday night when the Finkle family invited me out with them to Ichiban Sushi Cafe (www.ichibansushicafe.com). For those of you that don't know them, the Finkles have been my neighbors and close friends since I was in third grade, and there's no other family I know as well versed in sushi as they are. Hungry and eager for a free meal (at least free for me, thanks again Finkles), I was so excited when I stepped into this tiny sushi restaurant around the corner from UIC Med.
First of all it's important to understand how all you can eat, made to order sushi works. Basically, you pay a flat fee ($19 in this case) and order off of a pre-set menu. You can order as many times as you want, but when you're finished you can't leave too much food on your plate or else they'll charge you. This is to prevent people from eating the fish and leaving the rice or from ordering way too much at a time and causing a large waste of food. This is actually where bringing me becomes a valuable asset (my plates are usually cleaner after my meals than before). But enough about that, on to the restaurant itself.
Ichiban is small. There's a sushi bar and a few tables with some space for outside seating in warmer weather, but I would not suggest bringing a group of any more than 5. We sat at one of their only group tables, but I was back to back with a seat from the sushi bar and had to get up for people trying to get to the bathroom. They do take reservations though, which I recommend, even though we only waited about 20 minutes for a table. However small, the biggest issue with these, order as many times as you want places, is that sometimes it takes a while to get your order. At Ichiban, between the quick chefs and lack of overall seating, we got our orders pretty quickly. Finally, in order to save money, restaurants often won't include their "premium" rolls with the all you can eat deal, but Ichiban let you order off the whole menu (a major plus).
Really there's not to much to great sushi. Fresh, crisp fish along with good rice (not too mushy or stale) in the proper proportions is all you really need. Some people go for the fancy sauces and the deep fried sushi gimmicks, but gimmicks are all those are, not to say that Ichiban doesn't have those too (if that's your thing). Ichiban's sushi was pretty good, not great. The color of the fish wasn't as vibrant as I would've liked. The flavor was good, but the fish wasn't as crisp as I would've liked. The biggest problem was that they used far too much rice in most of their rolls (obviously to get you to fill up and not eat as much fish). If I had to recommend anything specifically, It'd be to stick to the sashimi so as to get the biggest bang for your buck.
Of the three places I've been to of the kind (other two mentioned above), I'd rank this third, but that's not saying I didn't eat beyond my heart's content and enjoy almost all of it. Also, despite the theories of sushi guru Scott Finkle, rice does expand in your stomach after some time, making you even more full (even if you eat enough other items to theoretically keep the rice compressed). If you're in the city, try Sushi Para, and if you're lucky enough to be in Buffalo Grove, go to Taste of Tokyo (they even have a moat that the sushi floats to you on). Either way, I had a good meal with some great company.
Look forward to two more posts from this weekend although they may be delayed due to an upcoming exam (or expedited depending on how sick I get of studying): Sweet Mandy B's and Lao Sze Schuan.