The original reason Ellen and I had decided to dine at Mikado late last year was two-fold: she had wanted me to try sushi (the raw kind), but we had also heard that they apparently offered okonomiyaki (a Japanese pancake) off-menu.
Though Mikado ended up not serving okonomiyaki, Ellen did finally track down a restaurant that does serve it – Ichiban on the west end, located in the same strip mall as Bon Ton Bakery. We made a date with Jill for dinner there two weeks back, mostly so we could finally share that elusive okonomiyaki.
It was surprisingly busy for a Monday night, but Ichiban had the vibe of being a go-to neighbourhood restaurant – nothing fancy decor-wise, but clean and comfortable, with a mix of booths and tables to choose from. We opted to share a number of small dishes, which, short of going the bento box/udon route, seems to be the ideal way to dine at Japanese establishments.
We started with a dish probably the furthest from my comfort zone – an order of sunrise maki ($9.95), rolls comprised of shrimp tempura, tobiko and fresh salmon and tuna. The battered shrimp was an interesting addition, and enveloped by a ring of rice, could have been the sort of one-bite appetizer served at an upscale cocktail function, but for me, the raw element was again a stumbling block. Here, the difference in temperatures between the tempura and the salmon just highlighted my aversion further. I hated disappointing Jill and Ellen though, especially knowing how much they love sushi, and want for me to love it too.
The rest of the meal was rounded out by other small plates that would definitely have a wider appeal. Kara-age tofu ($4.50) remains one of my new favourite Japanese discoveries – a lightly fried shell giving way to silky tofu within. The oyster ponzu ($6.50) was a little less successful, with a bit too much breading impeding on the taste of the oyster itself. And how can anyone not love tempura ($10.95)? Ichiban seemed to do a particularly good job – light and crisp, it didn’t feel like as much of a guilty pleasure as it should have been. We also thought the restaurant was quite generous in its serving, with a number of shrimp to go around.
But of course, the main event was the okonomiyaki ($7.95), a savoury pancake of sorts which could include a variety of fillings. In Ichiban’s case, it was dried shrimp, cabbage and bacon, worked into the batter, then fried. Given this was my first encounter with this dish, I chose to defer my judgement to Jill and Ellen. They said that they were used to puffier versions, and said the kitchen should have included more cabbage. They were also hoping for a drizzle of Japanese mayonnaise on top. In all, we enjoyed it, but we agreed that it wasn’t worth going out of your way to seek.
Service was good but nothing exceptional – food arrived at a fair clip, and our server checked in on us every so often. But while we enjoyed our meal at Ichiban, the experience left us with the same feeling that the okonomiyaki did – we’d likely only visit again if we were already in the neighbourhood.
Of course, I’m thankful to have friends that are willing to push me to try new things, friends that ultimately put up with my stubborn palate. We even have our next Japanese adventure already planned: shabu-shabu!
8750 149 Street