Cherry on top of the ridge
New Japanese restaurant is worth the drive to Paradise
After having several people rave to me on separate occasions about a new Japanese restaurant in Paradise, I decided it was indeed time to head up the hill and try the place out. Knowing that Shige Kojima, the former sushi chef at the now-defunct Annie’s Asian Grill in Chico, is the sushi chef at the new Ikkyu Japanese Restaurant, as well as its co-owner (along with his wife, Momo), certainly was a part of what enticed me. After all, memories still linger in my mind and mouth of the delicious, artfully presented “Shige’s Specials”—sumptuous, surprise sushi dishes made according to Shige’s particular mood on a particular day—that I would order on a regular basis at Annie’s.
Even on the outside, Ikkyu—named after the eccentric, rebellious 15th-century Zen Buddhist monk Ikkyu Sojun—is inviting. Its sign is embellished with pretty pink cherry blossoms, a theme echoed throughout the interior of the eatery.
After being seated at a glass-topped table that featured a lovely cherry-blossom-patterned cloth runner beneath the glass, I was greeted by my friendly waitress, Nickie. I ordered green tea, which arrived in a small cherry-blossom-covered teapot with a cup that matched.
As for my meal, I took the advice of the fliers on Ikkyu’s foyer bulletin board and ordered a couple of local favorites: the takoyaki appetizer—deep-fried octopus dumplings (six for $5)—and the Ikkyu roll ($15.50), consisting of deep-fried tofu, red bell pepper, avocado, carrot, cucumber, brown rice and kaiware radish wrapped with seaweed and soy paper. And, since I’d never eaten sushi made from tilapia, I also opted for nigiri-style izumi dai, featuring two pieces of raw tilapia filet perched atop the requisite clumps of sticky white rice ($3.95).
My octopus dumplings arrived hot out of the deep-fat fryer on a bed of leafy salad greens in a square white bowl, with two small sword-like bamboo skewers. I pierced one of the golf-ball-size dumplings with a skewer and took a bite. Mmm, crisp and delicious. The soft mochi-like interior of the dumpling (which I learned was made with flour, not glutinous rice) contained chunks of chewy octopus, and was perfectly complemented by the tang of the gingery soy sauce and white, aioli-like sauce criss-crossed over the top of it.
The izumi dai—served on a long, asymmetrical and curved white plate, with a ball of wasabi served on a carrot slice cut to resemble a flower—arrived next. I’ll say this: I like tilapia as a sushi fish. Somewhat chewy (not as soft as, say, tuna or salmon), tilapia offers a pleasant earthy taste.
The Ikkyu roll made its grand entrance next. A visual party-on-a-plate, it came beautifully arranged on a square white plate and featured a striking centerpiece of a martini glass containing ponzu (citrus-soy) sauce and a tiny, flowered cocktail umbrella.
The warm tofu, smooth avocado and flavorful ponzu sauce made for an utterly delicious and heartwarming meal on what was a cold night. (I even helped warm things up a bit more—accidentally—when I ate an entire cherry-sized ball of blazing-hot wasabi that had gotten stuck beneath a piece of my Ikkyu roll. Totally my fault, and the first and last time I will ever do that!)
Ikkyu has been open only since Oct. 1, but it is already a gem, featuring top-notch sushi—including a create-your-own bento box ($21.95, or adjusted according to your budget)—as well as a number of innovative deep-fried items, such as the Nickie roll ($14.50), made with shrimp tempura, garlic and serrano peppers, and named for my server (who invented it). Ikkyu offers satisfaction for every sort of patron, from the sushi connoisseur to Japanese-cuisine newcomers.
I was pleased to find out, upon talking with the sweet Momo (whose name, fittingly, means “peach” in Japanese), that Shige’s Special is also available at Ikkyu, though it is not yet listed on the menu. Just quote a price and he’ll make you a scrumptious, eye-pleasing surprise!