The food is not so important when there is some much needed catching up to do with friends. The chatter around the dinner table is much more amusing and requires significantly more attention. However, great food certainly makes everything better all of a sudden. That is what happened at Ichiro Japanese Restaurant with three of my friends. After a long and tiresome biking trip – that included a heron, two dragonflies, and two coyotes – chilling over sashimi, sushi, and Japanese noodles was just what we needed.
We ordered the generic but incredibly fresh Salmon Sashimi. Six pieces of super red sockeye salmon for $7.95 was not exactly cheap. However, it was so fresh and tender. The fish was not too fishy. Each piece was very consistent in size and quality. The presentation was neat and pretty but not overly exaggerated. I also enjoyed the mini bite of seaweed besides the lime slice. This is definitely the best sashimi I have had in a long time.
Next came the rolls. As recommended by Amanda, we ordered the House Prawn Roll. It was avocado and cucumber wrapped in the roll and topped with tobiko, mayo sauce, and two prawn tempura. Despite the fact that the prawns needed to be cut up in order to have a small bite in every piece, I loved the roll. The avocado was creamy and the cucumber refreshing. All of it was topped in more than enough of the deliciously tart and creamy mayo sauce, which did not appear to be spicy at all. It was not a strong flavour, quite mellow and soothing although still distinct. The sweet and sour levels were just right. The rice was also good; it was vinegary and soft but not mushy at all.
The Steveston Roll was bright and pretty. Inside were sweet shrimp, salmon, tuna, and cucumber with more salmon on the top. The sashimi was again very fresh and the cucumber made it even more refreshing. The shrimp were tender and slightly sweet, adding to the sweet and acidic flavour of the rice. This roll had to be eaten with wasabi and soy sauce since its flavour was quite bland; none of the ingredients have a very strong taste and there was no sauce. However, the quality of the roll was undoubtedly very high and with so much salmon, I was satisfied.
The best roll, however, was the Dragon Roll, which was a whopping $14.95. It was a roll with imitation crab, asparagus, and avocado on the inside, all topped with a very thick piece of BBQ eel or unagi. The presentation was superb. The dragon’s head, including the eyes and horns – made from sunflower seeds and fried soba noodles respectively, and thus very creative – actually resembled a dragon very closely. The amount of unagi certainly justified the price. Each piece was thick, perfectly grilled, and very flavourful. There was a fatty layer on the bottom but that was expected. Inside, the crab was slightly sweet and creamy, with the avocado even creamier, and the asparagus added a refreshing crunch different from the usual cucumbers. The entire roll was drizzled with BBQ sauce, one that was sweet and full of great flavour. There was hardly any rice around the roll, which I really appreciated. What was there was also top quality. This roll is definitely worth getting again.
For some more filling food, we first went with Beef YakiSoba. It came sizzling hot, with nicely grilled and thin slices of beef. I loved the slight char on the vegetables, which included bean sprouts, cabbage, onions, broccoli, and carrots. The noodles were tender with a slight chew. They were on the thinner side but still not overcooked. The slight char on the dish was great as the smokiness seeped into everything. The soy sauce flavour was good, but I prefer my yakisoba to be slightly sweet, perhaps made with a little teriyaki or barbeque sauce. This one was just savoury.
Amanda ordered the Unagi Omelette, a whole piece of BBQ eel wrapped in a tender omelette made from three eggs. The portion was quite large, justifying the $8.95. I thought it was quite reasonably priced. The unagi was tender and flavourful. The eggs were incredibly soft but still cooked. It was drizzled with more BBQ sauce, which gave it a lovely and strong BBQ flavour. Soft, tender, sweet, what is not to love?
Finally, we had the Chicken Udon, which was also the best udon I have ever had. The slice of fish cake was tender, as were the small pieces of chicken. They seemed to me like chicken thigh meat and I was glad they were not overcooked – almost but not yet. The little bit of spinach was good and I could definitely use more of it. The soup was delicious and slightly sweet and I could down a whole bowl of it no problem. What surprised me were the noodles. I do not usually like udon because they are so often overdone and become mushy instead of ‘al dente.’ These were perfect though. Each long strand was incredibly bouncy and chewy even though they came in a bowl of soup. This definitely changed my whole perspective on udon noodle soup.
Ichiro can be a bit pricey, but the food is definitely more top notch than many of the Japanese restaurants around town. I would certainly bring friends back here, especially for something a little nicer or more formal. It may not be the best place for cheap, casual, and filling comfort food, but the service is great and the ambiance is friendly and relaxing. The restaurant was also quite clean. From the food to the atmosphere, I know I will be back when I need some great Japanese food close to home.