We were back in NJ on Sunday to do a little shopping (ok fine, a lot of shopping) and had dinner at Ichiban Japanese Restaurant in Hackensack. Ichiban is attached to a Best Western hotel but it has a separate entrance and is a far cry from mediocre hotel food. They serve sushi as well as regular Japanese food, but the hibachi tables are the highlight of the restaurant. The food is cooked on the flat griddle in front of you, and many of the chefs take the opportunity to turn it into a show. Depending on how interested the audience is, it can mean an onion volcano, a beating fried rice heart, or lots of ingredients being tossed in the air at various targets.
We started off our meal with a la carte orders of hand rolls – yellowtail and scallion for me, tuna for Josh. My yellowtail, though more reddish than normal, was fresh and tasty, and the little bits of scallion really go well with the fish. Josh’s tuna, though beautifully red, was tough and stringy. It was hard to bite through the fish, which is not a good thing. Oh well. This is why we come for the hibachi and not for the sushi.
Hibachi dinners start off with soup, either miso or clear. I prefer the clear, which is a peppery and salty broth with mushrooms and scallions floating in it. There are also little bits of fried onions, similar to the kind that tops off green bean casserole. Yum!
Next up is the salad, which is a bowl of mixed greens topped with delicious carrot ginger dressing and one sad cherry tomato. I can’t get enough of the dressing though, and my attempts at replicating this at home have failed miserably. Does anyone have a good recipe to share? Ichiban’s version is light, sweet and tangy, and there’s no mayo in it, so it doesn’t come off like a watery thousand island dressing. I could drink this stuff, so I don’t mind that they use such a heavy hand in dressing the salad.
Now this is usually time for the show, when the hibachi chef comes and shows off his skills (I’ve never seen a female hibachi chef. Why is that?). Our particular chef this evening didn’t seem to keen on entertaining though, and stuck with straight cooking. We didn’t even get an “egg roll” joke out of him when he was making our fried rice. This has never happened before (the lack of entertainment) so I was surprised but I didn’t really mind. Usually I can’t stand when they bang utensils around, but I do enjoy an onion volcano once in a while. Nevertheless, he prepared our food in front of us methodically, only pausing to ask if we liked garlic in our fried rice (of course), and how we wanted our steaks cooked (rare).
First thing off the grill is fried rice, which I think costs about $3 extra (the hibachi dinners come with white rice). It’s just eggs, diced onions and carrots, garlic, soy sauce, salt and pepper – you can make this easily at home and it’s very tasty.
Next up were our shrimp appetizers, which are three big pieces that come with your set dinner.
Then come the mains, which for me were sirloin steak and chicken. He cooked my steak well past rare, rendering it a bit tough, but the chicken was cooked perfectly and still juicy. I guess it’s hard to regulate temperature when everything is cut into little squares. Josh’s order of filet mignon was cooked better and much more tender. The mains are quickly followed by cubes of vegetables that have been grilling on the hibachi, and noodles quickly sautéed with soy sauce and garlic. The portions here are enormous; I could barely fit everything onto my plate.
What makes the meal complete for me are the sauces, ginger sauce and mustard sauce. I’ve been to lots of hibachi places that don’t offer mustard sauce, and it completely detracts from the experience. Mustard sauce is to hibachi as ketchup is to fries. I don’t enjoy one without the other (though I’ll still eat it!).
Finally, after most of my food has been placed into takeout containers for future meals (seriously, I can stuff myself silly and still have enough leftovers for at least two lunches at work), we get ice cream. They offer green tea and red bean, as well as chocolate, vanilla, and sherbet (usually orange). I always go for the green tea. Josh likes to mix it up and chose the red bean this time. The ice cream is always just a bit icy but it’s included in the meal, so that just makes it a bit more forgivable. I wouldn’t pay extra for it though.
Overall Josh and I both love the hibachi dinners at Ichiban. It’s one of our more frequently requested dinners when we’re in NJ with his family. The prices are reasonable, especially for the amount of food that you get. I usually order steak and chicken because it’s only about a dollar or two more than just getting steak, and you get full portions of both (I’m a pig, but like I said, I also take home a lot of leftovers). Josh’s filet mignon is pricier, but most dinners top out at under $30, and that includes the soup, salad, white rice, shrimp appetizer, noodles, vegetables, and ice cream. For us, it’s always a nice treat since there aren’t many hibachi restaurants in the city (Benihana doesn’t count), and the food at Ichiban is consistently good.
Ichiban Japanese Restaurant
414 Hackensack Ave.