Ichiban - an old favorite

Tonight I celebrated "Jewish Christmas" with my friends by going to Ichiban, a Chinese-Japanese restaurant with two locations in Albany: one on 338 Central Avenue and one on 1652 Western Avenue.  My friends and I met up at the one on Western Avenue, near Guilderland. 

Ichiban is one of my favorite restaurants.  I went there a lot when I first moved to this area seven years ago.  I frequented the Central Avenue restaurant then, since I lived in the Pine Hills area of Albany and did not have a car.  It was one of the few quality restaurants I could get to on foot.  I do not eat at Ichiban a lot any more.  I do a lot of my eating out with the "Dining Out" meetup.com group, and we go to different restaurants all the time. 

Christmas Day was an ideal time for me to visit one of my old favorite restaurants.  Ichiban is one of the few restaurants open on Christmas Day.  Once I pulled into the parking lot, I saw the place was packed.  The front desk told us the wait was five minutes;  however, we waited at least fifteen minutes to get a table.  The waiting area at Ichiban is not big; however, they do have a TV for those who want to catch up on local news. 

Once we got our table, it took awhile for us to get menus and finally, to get drinks.  Our waitress definitely had her work cut out for her tonight; there were a lot of tables that demanded her attention and she dealt with it the best she could.  Unfortunately, there was a bit of a language barrier between us.  She had difficulty understanding us, and we had difficulty understanding her.  This is typical of my experiences with the wait staff at Ichiban.  To her credit, she put in the orders correctly and gave all of us separate checks as we requested. 

When I go to Ichiban, I typically get one of the bento boxes.  I find them to be a good value.  They come with soup, salad, and the entree and typically cost under $15.  Usually, I get the Executive Box, which comes with chicken or salmon teriyaki, a california roll, vegetable and shrimp tempura and crab rangoon for $12.99.  This time I did not want the tempura, so I ordered a different bento box.  This one included salmon sashimi, a salmon skin roll, eel, and scallops for $13.99. 

First I got up to get my salad.  The Ichiban salad bar is not particularly impressive, but I suppose Chinese-Japanese restaurants are not known for their salads.  The salad bowls are quite tiny.  I filled my bowl with whatever was left of the lettuce, kim chee, Korean bean sprout salad, and ginger dressing.  It was very tasty and satisfying.  The miso soup was good.  Miso soup is a pretty consistent product though -- I have never had a bad miso soup. 

The entree was excellent.  The portion of salmon sashimi was quite generous.  There was maybe an eighth of a pound of very fresh salmon on my plate.  The salmon skin rolls were crunchy and delicious.  They had a sweet sauce poured over them which was very good.  The little scallops were also tasty, especially with the sweet red sauce that was provided on the side.  I do not like eel, so I gave that to my friend, and she seemed to like it. 

I wish I had ordered some Chinese dish so I could evaluate that too.  My friends ordered Sesame Beef, House Chow Fun and Dragon and Phoenix and those all looked good.  The portions were large and the dishes looked colorful and tasty. 

Ichiban has a lot of competition in the area.  Less than a mile down the road from the Guilderland location is Hana, which is a much bigger restaurant serving mostly Japanese food.  The Albany/Colonie area also boasts Emperor's on Wolf Road, Koto in Latham and others.   Ichiban rates well with its competition, offering a solid product at a reasonable price.  The service could be a little better, but I still consider enjoy going to Ichiban, even with so many other good Chinese/Japanese restaurants in the area.


Anonymous said...

This has to be said.

Chinese food and Japanese food are two entirely separate things. I know in the northeast they have been commingled for generations, with chicken teriyaki available at almost every Chinese restaurant.

Japan, a small island nation with fewer than 130 million people still has a variety of regional cuisines. But China has ten provinces with populations greater than 50 million a piece, each with its own culinary identity.

If you wanted to combine cuisines, why not Chinese with Korean (which it borders on the east) or Chinese with Vietnamese (which it borders on the south).

This Chinese/Japanese thing is a mystery to me.

We need more regional Chinese restaurants that are devoid of Japanese staples. Even otherwise solid Chinese restaurants like Shining Rainbow cave and offer Sushi to those in Albany who demand it from any Asian restaurant.

It's insulting to everyone involved. And it needs to be stopped. Ichiban by virtue of its name alone is Japanese, and I will never consider them a Chinese restaurant. This is their decision and not mine.

If I named a place Dan's Donuts and served donuts and $50 prime grade dry-aged steaks, at the end of the day, the place is still a donut shop. If I wanted it to be a steak house, I should have called it Dan's Steaks (or at the very least Dan's Steaks and Donuts).

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