In Japanese, the word “ichiban” means “number one” and can be used either as a superlative (as in the highest of quality or the very best choice) or to denote precedence or numerical order. The fictional Chinese-American detective Charlie Chan, for example, called his eldest son “number one son.”
Whether meaning to denote the highest quality or precedence (ranking) among other restaurants, any dining establishment calling itself “number one” is making a pretty audacious claim. Even in a landlocked market like Albuquerque where fresh seafood isn’t walked off the dock and onto a restaurant’s kitchen, there are enough “passable” or better sushi restaurants that it is disputable as to which is really number one.
After several visits to Ichiban over the past few years, I’m not always inclined to agree that the “number one” designation is always earned–at least insofar as the Korean menu items are concerned! The Korean entrees, including bulgogi and galbi would be much improved if Ichiban used better meat. There’s just something about gristly, sinewy beef and chicken that most diners find unappetizing no matter how well marinated and grilled that beef may be. At Ichiban, the bulgogi marinade is available as both “hot” and regular and can be applied to either beef or chicken. Unfortunately, that wonderful marinade isn’t applied to better poultry or beef.
Perhaps Ichiban’s “number one” designation has to do with the steep bill of fare patrons receive at the end of the meal. It’s obvious the restaurant owners realize their proximity to Corrales and Intel. The sushi is priced somewhat above average for Albuquerque which wouldn’t warrant a mention if the quality of the sushi justified the extra cost (it’s as pricy as some sushi I’ve had on the west coast).
Situated in the Corrales Shopping Center (Coors and Alameda, N.W.), Ichiban is owned by the good folks who own the A-1 Oriental Market. It opened in the fall of 2000 and has developed a loyal following on the city’s Northwest side, which has seen several other sushi restaurants open in the past few years.
Even though the shopping center experiences a perpetual cavalcade of motor vehicles, Ichiban is like a shelter from the din of the outside world. The huge dining room allows for privacy and intimacy through the strategic placement light blond wooden screens. The sushi bar is one of the largest in the city. A seat near that bar provides unfettered views to the fresh fish offerings of the day and to highly skilled chefs deftly wielding their razor-sharp knives and making precision cuts that make your sushi meal esthetically pleasing and delicious.
That deliciousness begins with Ichiban’s stand-out appetizers. Would it be gauche to say the Viagra salad “rises to the occasion” or that it “stands out?” In any case, it’s a very nice way to start a meal. This salad is fashioned from wonderfully fresh crab meat and thinly sliced tuna steak served with fresh greens and a spicy mayo sauce with a tangy bite that impresses itself on your tongue and lips, two erogenous zones to be sure. It would be interesting to find out what Amy Reiley, author of Fork Me, Spoon Me, would think about Viagra salad considering her terrific tome is a sensual cookbook which celebrates the power to cook up passion with recipes for your favorite natural aphrodisiac ingredients.
One other appetizer might easily elicit a Freudian slip. That would be the Oh Shin (tempura fried jalapenos, cream cheese, spicy tuna, shrimp with spicy mayo and a “special” sauce) which might just have you uttering a variation of the appetizer’s name–as in “Oh shin, that’s good stuff” even as your eyes are watering and your lips tingling.
The Oh! My God, an appetizer of spicy tuna dip with fried wonton chips on the side isn’t nearly as mention worthy. In fact, the tuna dip reminded us–on two distant occasions–in both texture and taste of canned bean dip.
New Mexicans who can’t get enough green chile might order the green chile tempura in which a long green chile is sheathed in a light tempura batter. The chile has a nice roasted taste, but isn’t especially piquant. This appetizer is served with a light and sweet dipping sauce that complements the chile nicely.
A steaming bowl of miso soup is complementary. It’s somewhat watery and could use both more miso paste and green onions. Still, it will warm your tummy in anticipation of other specialties of the house.
No sushi restaurant in Albuquerque serves a wasabi quite as tear-inducing as Ichiban where just a dab will do you. If you like your eyes and nose running during a meal, apply Ichiban’s wasabi liberally. Sure, its nasal-passage clearing effects are short-lived, but it’s strong enough to mask the flavors of the seafood which after all is what sushi is really all about.
You definitely want your sensation of taste unscathed so you can enjoy Ichiban’s Super Crunchy Roll to its fullest. This stand-out roll includes tempura fried shrimp, crab meat inside and shrimp avocado on top with a special spicy mayo sauce. It’s a Maki rolls for which wasabi is wholly unnecessary.
The New Mexico roll with its fried green chile roll provides palate pleasing emanations of roasted green chile with a tongue titillating effect. It always amazes me that the green chile used in sushi throughout the Duke City area features better green chile than you’ll find in many New Mexican restaurants. That’s an indictment of the state of green chile in the city. It may also be indicative of the sushi chef’s skills in drawing out the finest qualities of the green chile.
Among Ichiban’s best nigiri (vinegared rice topped with seafood) style sushi, is the grilled unagi (eel) which is said to have stamina-giving properties. Containing 100 times more vitamin A than other fish, unagi is believed to heighten men’s sexual drive (not that it takes much). Japanese wives would prepare unagi for dinner to suggest to their husbands that they wanted an intimate night. After waddling out Ichiban’s door, intimacy might be the last thing on your mind.
Included in the boatload of sushi pictured above are Unagi, New Mexico Roll, Calamari Tempura Roll, Spicy Tuna Roll, Unagi Roll and a Super Crunchy Roll. It’s good sushi served by a pleasant and accommodating wait staff in an elegant and expansive ambience featuring delicate paintings of Japanese scenes. There are many things to enjoy at Ichiban and many Albuquerque diners do indeed consider it their number one dining destination when they crave sushi.
10701 Coors, N.W.
LATEST VISIT: 28 March 2009
# OF VISITS: 16
BEST BET: Super Crunchy Roll, New Mexico Roll