Weekly Review: Ichiban brings experience but lacks flavor

Waco's new hibachi grill, Ichiban, has a delightful ambience and intriguing menu. Photo by Kamri Alexander | Reporter

By Kamri Alexander | Reporter

For people who spent the summer of 2021 in Waco, we saw the new addition to Waco’s restaurant scene being built when driving down Interstate Highway 35 or on the way to H-E-B, and I personally was very curious about what it would be. Hearing the restaurant would be Ichiban, a new hibachi restaurant, turned my curiosity into excitement.

As soon as I walked in, I was very impressed with the ambiance. You walk into its lobby and it’s lit by a gorgeous, crystal chandelier that stretches across the area. It really sets a mood that remains consistent throughout the entire experience. From the open-concept wine cellar in the middle of the building, to being able to watch the sushi chef work, experiencing a live hibachi chef or just dining with friends and family in its dining room, Ichiban’s concept is clean, cohesive and fun.

We dined in the dining area rather than doing live hibachi, which was surprisingly nice. The booth we sat in had a lighting fixture inside the wall of the booth, which kept reinstating the theme and ambience of the restaurant. It was different than watching a chef cook the fried rice — which is the usual and always fun hibachi experience — but I would recommend the dining room if you don’t have the time to enjoy the live cooking. It’s the same food as the hibachi grill in faster time, and I think it’s more conducive for enjoying their full menu.

Japanese fried rice has its differences from Thai or Chinese fried rice, however, there are a few things that stay consistent with all forms. The most important aspect is for the rice to truly be fried and not re-steamed. Unfortunately, I thought Ichiban’s rice was veering toward having a steamed and sticky texture that is the enemy of good fried rice. I ordered chicken fried rice, which came with pieces of grilled chicken mixed into the rice. To add to the rice problem, the chicken lacked flavor and color, which was unappealing.

For me, Japanese fried rice’s perfect sidekick is a good yum-yum sauce, but I was really let down when I tasted Ichiban’s because it was too sweet for my liking. Somehow, though, it leveled out well when mixed into the fried rice.

Another staple in Asian culture is the bento box. It features a small variety of multiple things rather than having to choose a larger portion of one item. Their bento box had a portion of fried rice, a side of grilled chicken, two tempura shrimp, two fried gyoza and four pieces of a Philadelphia roll.

The shrimp tempura was the item I liked the least. I think it would have been really good and crunchy when hot, but we received them colder than desired, which made the tempura batter gummy. It also lacked in seasoning. Tempura-fried foods shouldn’t be overly seasoned, as it’s about the unique frying style, but it seemed to just be missing salt.

However, I was really pleased with the fried gyoza. There’s a few different ways to cook them, usually steamed or pan fry, but these were deep-fried and I loved it. We also received them a bit cold, but you could still tell these were delicious and the traditional dumpling sauce complemented them well.

Our table also tried two of their specialty rolls, the volcano and dynamite rolls. The volcano roll was a fancy California roll. The base was a cut California roll with the pieces laid flat, then piled high with spicy salmon and tuna and absolutely smothered in sushi sauces. The mounds of fish atop made this roll gigantic but full of flavor.

I had never tried a deep-fried roll before, so I was very excited about the dynamite roll. This roll was rolled large and packed with sushi rice, cream cheese, crab, avocado, salmon and crawfish, then rolled in panko bread crumbs and deep-fried. The size of the roll was daunting, but it did not disappoint. It was topped with spicy mayo and eel sauce, but I wanted some spice so I added sriracha. Our entire table agreed that this was the best thing we tried that night.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend Ichiban if you’re like me and constantly crave good fried rice, but their sushi selection did not disappoint and would be worth it for takeout. Their prices also weren’t cheap. We didn’t pay under $12 for any of the meals and they include gratuity in the check, so it’s definitely for a week when you want to splurge on trying something new.