Teppanyaki—a post-war Japanese style of grilling small bites at the table with showy flair—forms one of my favorite “fancy” meal memories from childhood. I was captivated by the spectacle of flashing knives, juggled seasoning mills, and flames bursting forth. Thus, it was fun to relive old memories—with four young kids in tow—for a birthday dinner at Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar.
Its start back in 1980 was in a pagoda-esque building, torn down in the ‘90s. It moved a couple of times, finally settling into its current casino digs. The kids were pretty fascinated, asking, “They’re really going to cook on the table?” Our talented performer provided all the classic jokes and teases, showing off tricks not found in culinary school. I’d say we lucked out with Chef Raphael for the kids’ first experience. He didn’t miss a beat.
All dinners include miso soup, cucumber and crab salad, steamed rice, sauteed veggies, and an appetizer of either sauteed shrimp or calamari, with several substitutions—including sushi—available at extra cost. I went with calamari, and paid an extra $3.75 to swap the steamed stuff for the chef’s fried rice. It’s worth it.
There are various protein combinations from which to select, including filet mignon, shrimp, teriyaki chicken, scallop, lobster, salmon and ahi tuna. Combo prices vary from $30 to $65, and single entree meals from $22 to $36. One kid chose a child’s serving of tempura chicken and veggies ($12), another filet ($17), both including the same additional items as adult meals. The other two ordered along with the adults, and I lost track of who ordered what. I went with “The Shogun” ($50), featuring filet, shrimp, chicken and scallop.
The miso soup was served piping hot and had decent flavor, though I wished it had more scallion. The squid and shrimp were fairly tender—and the crab/cucumber salad was tangy, crisp and a little sweet. The delicious fried rice held my full attention until it was gone, and the veggies were done just right. My one dislike with teppanyaki is I’d like to enjoy the veggies with the meats, but they cool off too fast to wait. Best to eat everything in succession and enjoy each element on its own merits.
My filet was done to order, the shellfish perfect. The chicken was a bit dry, perhaps on the grill too long while the chef regaled the kids by drawing smiley faces in cooking oil, juggling eggs on a spatula, and firing up an onion volcano. Their mother, the birthday girl, was just as entertained. He paused to joke that my sake bottle seemed light, then refilled it from his cooking stash—definitely warming my heart a bit.
The boy decided he’d had enough of his tempura chicken and veggies, so I helped out. The deep-fried fingers were actually pretty good and surprisingly moist, although I didn’t bother with the rest. A variety of dipping sauces ranging from sweet to hot are provided with all meals, and I entertained myself by trying everything in all of them. It was ginger and hot mustard for the win.
The experience ended with a choice of ice cream, and the birthday girl got a special dessert with a round of singing. The kids got to feel more adult, and the adults got to feel like kids again. Happy birthday, indeed.