Ichi Maki: Become one with the bento

Ichi Maki

11291 Folsom Blvd.
Rancho Cordova, CA 95742

(916) 635-8880

Entering Rancho Cordova’s Ichi Maki in office attire leads Ray, one of the sushi chefs, to ask if this is a visitor’s first visit to Sacramento. Located around the corner from a few hotels, it’s a safe bet to assume that a suited person sitting alone at the restaurant’s long rectangular sushi bar is an out-of-towner.

Ichi Maki—which literally means “one roll” or perhaps,“No. 1 roll”—seems incongruous; an oasis bordering on a chain-link fenced parking lot filled with freight-truck trailers.

Ichi Maki looks deceptively small from the outside, but enter through the front doors and look past the sushi bar into a lengthy dining room, and the restaurant reveals itself as a large and open space.

Here, the crowd is larger at lunch with the denizens of the nearby business parks eager to escape their tilt-up environs and become one with bento, deluxe or standard. Or the nigiri. Or katsu, udon, teriyaki, tempura, donburi and all the other stalwarts of Japanese eateries.

Given the maki in the name, it’s no wonder there are more than 50 types of rolls, along with a sizable selection of sashimi: Hamachi, salmon and tuna being the most obvious. In the maki bull pen there’s everything from avokyu—a bargain-basement $3.50 avocado-and-cucumber roll—to the aptly named Sumo—featuring shrimp tempura, spicy tuna, bell pepper, hamachi, avocado and more, with the whole kit-and-caboodle landing near the $14 mark. Most of the rolls lie within the $10 range.

Ray tells one patron that Ichi Maki goes through a case of avocados each day. Not surprising.

So here’s the question: To what standard should a Japanese restaurant be compared? Bento seems largely to be bento wherever it’s found. An artful teriyaki is neither syrupy, saccharine nor salty. Sashimi in its glorious nakedness can only be sullied if stale, and that’s something a diner understands straightaway. So in places where a sushi bar is a major component, as it is at Arigato Sushi or Mikuni Sushi or Nishiki Sushi or Miyagi Bar and Sushi, part of the judgment call rests firmly on intangibles such as the bonhomie and the chefs’ snappy repartee, the servers’ attentiveness, and the caliber of freebies such as miso, edamame or sunomono. (At Ichi Maki you’ll get a tumbler of miso.)

But back to the snappy repartee: This genial bantering can occur either between the chefs or with the patrons or both. The venerable Tony at Miyagi expends most of his energy on the patrons, while Nishiki and Mikuni offer some entertaining give-and-take among the chefs. The team at Ichi Maki consists of Ray and “Q.” There’s plenty of good-natured back-and-forth between them and plenty of attention from them to patrons at the bar. On one visit, the ponytailed Q is asked for a maki that won’t be found elsewhere. He dices hamachi (yellowtail), mixes in garlic, some onions, and then lays on a cloak of avocado topped with roe, thin jalapeño rounds and dots of siracha. No other sauce—better to stick mainly to the flavors of the fish and vegetables, Q says.

So what is this creation called? If it earns two thumbs-up then its name is “Something Special,” Q says. Thumbs-down? Then, it’s best forgotten.

It’s enough of a thumbs-up to order it again on a subsequent sit-down meal. The poki, on Ichi Maki’s list of specials, lives up to its billing. It’s a crunchy combination comprising tuna chunks smothered in daikon, onions and a sprinkling of scallions—no wakame—in the midst of a moat of tomatoey ponzu.

Service here is a little uneven. Not that everyone needs to hover to instantly act on every customer whim, but there are moments when no eye can be caught for water or to rustle up some saba nigiri for desert. Still, overall, a good value and a good time.