Friday, January 6, 2012

Ichiban Sushi: Casual Japanese Cuisine

Ichiban Sushi is one of our favourite local restaurants — in fact, we're regulars. Nestled behind a modern brick arcade at the corner of Church and Wellington St. East in Toronto's vibrant St. Lawrence Market neighbourhood, Ichiban is a small, bright, bustling and narrow little restaurant which always seems to be busy, being enormously popular with local business people and neighbourhood denizens alike. And no wonder, with Itamae, or Sushi-master, Dong Hong Kim at the helm, the sushi and sashimi is always impeccably fresh, artfully presented and graciously served.

Ichiban Sushi at 58 Wellington St. East at Church Street

The interior features light wood throughout, accented with comfortable banquette and table seating, with privacy screens between many tables, and a long sushi counter where Chef Kim presides, providing front-row dining for lucky singles. Plenty of traditional choices line the menu, including teriyaki, donburi and U-Don noodle dishes and for those who like to mix and match, there's an extensive selection of sushi, sashimi and maki sushi à la carte.

Ichiban's menu features over twenty varieties of sushi as well as soup, salads, 
and specialties such as Donburi and U-Don

Ichiban Sushi has been around for a long time. Opening their first location on Bloor Street in the mid 80s, the restaurant has blossomed into over 20 franchises in the Toronto area alone. But each location has it's own personality. Ichiban's Yonge and St. Clair location is much larger and less personal than the intimate space that Mr Kim has created in our little corner of Toronto. And for that, we're grateful. His gracious hospitality and consistently excellent sushi and sashimi keep us, and may others, returning year after year.

A small complimentary salad arrives with some luncheon specials

A heart bowl of Chicken Udon with a sprinkle of Nanami Togarashi

One of our favourite condiments at Ichiban is Nanami Togarashi, a traditional Japanese spice mixture that can be used to season U-Don soups or noodle dishes. Nanami Togarashi contains seven aromatic ingredients: ground red chili and Sichuan pepper, orange peel, black and white sesame seeds, ground ginger and seaweed. Wonderfully flavourful, it warms you up from the inside out without being too hot. I'm intrigued by the blend, and wonder how I might use it at home. After all, it's available at the St Lawrence Market.

Nanami Togarashi: a fragrant Japanese spice mixture

Salmon, Hamachi and Toro Sashimi with Ikura and Spicy Scallop Sushi

Kim's Ikura Sushi with cucumber 'tails'

Having been regulars at Ichiban for many years now, we've become shamelessly addicted to Dong Hong Kim's wonderfully fresh sashimi and fragrant bowls of Chicken U-Don, with it's thick white noodles, juicy morsels of chicken breast and fresh vegetables. Every now and then, we begin our meal with a plate of gyoza dumplings, but without a doubt, we never leave without Kim sending over a complimentary plate of delectable Spicy Salmon Handrolls — his personal way of saying "Nice to see you again" and "Thank you for coming." But it's our pleasure. Domo Arigato Mr. Kim.

Being regulars at Ichiban Sushi for over 10 years, 
Dong Hong always sends over a complimentary Spicy Salmon Handroll for us to enjoy

The talented and gracious Dong Hong Kim at Ichiban on Wellington St. East.

58 Wellington St. East