The Hallmark store might be out, but a new staple is in: Ichiban Sushi and Hibachi has been drawing the curiosity of students and locals since it first opened on Jan. 24.
Not ones to be left out of the loop, the Collegian Features team and I decided to check out the restaurant Monday evening.
Ichiban ushers visitors from a bamboo-lined foyer into a brightly lit central room. Red-and-pink Valentine’s Day decorations spiraled from the ceilings and harmonica music floated toward us, occasionally interrupted by the hot sizzle of roaring fires from the private hibachi rooms.
Ichiban’s extensive menu offers a patchwork blend of Japanese, Chinese and Thai dishes. Grant Miner ’19 chose the tofu teriyaki and the rest of us settled for sushi: Frances Saux ’18 selected the cucumber and avocado rolls, Justin Sun ’20 chose the Dancing Eel roll and Lelia Joe Dusthimer ’19 ordered the Crazy Roll. Surprised to see a “Mt. Vernon Roll” on the menu, I decided to learn what happens when you slice Gambier’s closest neighbor into bite-sized pieces.
After we ordered, I headed to the bar to speak with Joe Jiang, Ichiban’s owner, and Bobby, a sushi chef who provided Chinese and English translations. Jiang has been in the restaurant business for 13 years, and Ichiban is not his first rodeo — he owns Osaka Asian Restaurant in Wooster.
Jiang is originally from China and now lives in Wooster. He said he moved to America to start his business and be closer to family; he chose Ohio because it seemed like a good place to own a restaurant.
“I like it here,” he said about the restaurant’s Mount Vernon location. “It’s outside the big city.”
Jiang said the staff comes from a diverse array of backgrounds, like Japanese, Indonesian, Thai, Mexican and American. This diversity is reflected in the menu.
The food arrived quickly and our chopsticks knew no bounds; we sampled each other’s dishes strategically and mercilessly. Sun’s Dancing Eel Roll held shrimp tempura, cream cheese, eel and avocado, a slimy but nevertheless appetizing mixture. Dusthimer’s Crazy Roll, with tuna, yellowtail and avocado, was topped with an orange sauce that added a spicy tang.
The Mt. Vernon Roll turned out to be a loaded combination of shrimp tempura, spicy tuna, avocado and caviar wrapped in soybean paper. It was delicious, though difficult to maneuver.
“You can definitely tell that they keep it a lot softer,” Miner said of the tofu teriyaki.
Sun found favorites on other plates. “I think it was the food that I didn’t order that I liked the best,” he said. “My roll had a lot of cream cheese. And I think I underestimated how much cream cheese I was gonna get.”
Halfway through the meal, Jiang sent us a round of rocking shrimp appetizers on the house — two martini glasses packed with the delicious fried crustacean.
For dessert, the waitress delivered another complementary course: this time, two slices of chocolate-drizzled, fried pineapple cheesecake. Fried pineapple was an unexpected innovation, but combined with the cheesecake it offered a sweet, refreshing reprieve from the salty meal.
Ichiban was lively for a Monday night. Intrigued by the noises emulating from one of the hibachi rooms, I stepped over just in time to witness a panic-stricken child, spatula in hand, ignite a three-foot-tall flame the length of the grill. “Watch him, he’s good,” Jiang said, coming over to where I stood. The hibachi chef continued with a series of antics, flipping raw meat into mesmerizing twists and turns and spraying sake jets into the adults’ mouths.
When I asked what distinguishes his restaurant from other local venues, Jiang smiled as he answered. “Because it’s a different style,” he said. “And the chefs put on a good show. It’s very fun.”
We weren’t the only ones to venture off the Hill for some authentic Asian cuisine. Last Saturday, another Collegian staffer spotted President Sean Decatur at Ichiban. “A nice addition to the local food scene, with a laid back/comfortable setting,” Decatur responded after I emailed him for more details. “We will be back to sample more choices from the menu.” Decatur and his wife, Renee Romano, ordered the Bento box and Thai basil with chicken and recommend both dishes.
The five of us enjoyed a delicious meal we were surprised to find just a few minutes outside of Gambier. The waitstaff was attentive and the dishes appealing. Ichiban prices can be steep for the average student budget — several of the special rolls and entrées range from $12 to $15 — and the restaurant does not deliver, but those who decide to trek down Coshocton will be greeted with excellent service and high-quality food.
“I would come back here,” Miner said, to general agreement. “I would eat more of this food.”
Ichiban Sushi and Hibachi is located across the street from Walmart at 1558 Coshocton Ave. They’re open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 11. a.m. to 11 p.m.