Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse, Syracuse NY (Liverpool)

Superficially, Ichiban looks like a lot of other Teppanyaki/Sushi restaurants, however Ichiban is so far ahead if the others, it’s like comparing Peter Luger’s with Ponderosa when you think “steak”.

They have the usual cooking/floor show on the hibachi tables, with lots of flames, flipping shrimp, bouncing eggs and even some jokes from the chefs, however the real difference is that the food is excellent! Not just one or two things, but everything. The steak would be at home in the best steakhouses in New York City and shrimp, scallops, veggies and all the rest are absolutely top notch. The menu is a little misleading, since the descriptions don’t do justice to the food.  For example, it says “Steak Hibachi Dinner,” not “Incredibly tender, delicious, juicy, perfectly cooked steak,” which it should.

The appetizer menu also contains a number of gems that aren’t obvious at first, and really deserve to be tried even if you don’t usually order appetizers. Some of my favorites are:

  • Matsu Age; These are chunks of fried chicken liver done in a curried batter with a really nice dipping sauce. Even if you hate liver, you’ll love these. They’re addictive (like popplers on Futurama). We get them almost every time we go and I hate liver.
  • Tebba Karaage; Japanese Chicken Wings! They’re not spicy, there’s no sauce and you won’t want any. They’re crispy on the outside perfect on the inside and taste exactly like Fried Chicken is supposed to. The last time I had chicken that good, I was south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
  • Fried Soft Shell Crab; This is another amazing treat. Just like everything else they serve, it tastes exactly like it’s supposed to, and not like anybody else makes it. Several half-crabs arrive with a great dipping sauce and taste exactly like crab is supposed to taste! I know it sounds strange to mention that, but so many places hide the flavor of their food, while Ichiban really enhances and showcases it.

The sushi is always fresh and beautifully prepared, and a few times a year they’ll introduce something novel like Chris’s Crunchy Roll, or the Crystal Bubble Roll. You really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, and the Deluxe Sushi give a nice sampling of nearly all of their seafood.

And even better than the food is the service, it’s always good (not so fast that you feel rushed and not so slow that you want to leave) and the staff is very friendly. If you go there more than a few times a year, they’ll probably even remember your name and what you like to order. Something else that speaks volumes is that the staff doesn’t “jump ship.” Most of the servers and cooks have been there for years or decades. Staff turnover in restaurants is typically huge. But not at Ichiban.

Here’s another topic you don’t see much of in restaurant reviews: The place is clean!

The vent hoods over the tables are so shiny that they look like they were installed this morning. The tables are clean, the floor is clean, the plates and silverware are clean and the place never has the “old nasty grease” smell you find in so many Teppanyaki places. The restrooms are so clean I feel like I should take my shoes off before walking in.

We’ve been eating at Ichiban’s for decades and even though we know what to expect, it’s always a pleasant surprise and something is always new or a little nicer than we remembered.

Give it a try and let us know what you think!