Anytime an old restaurant location is replaced by a new concept, there is the potential for trouble as diners remember the location as a failure.
The new concept should transform the location visually to erase the past and signify something new is here. This will get customers through the door, where it is up to the chef to deliver on the food.
Ichiban Japanese Steak House in Houma has done just that.
They have erased what was once Lone Star and replaced it with the classy look and fresh feel of a totally new eating establishment with an extensive menu and tasty food.
Immediately, I noticed the Asian details to the building and sculptures in the courtyard at the front entrance. My guest and I entered the large wooden doors with etched glass to reveal a transformed interior space designed with efficiency.
We were greeted – and allowed to pick our seat – by the hostess who was friendly and accommodating. I chose a large, elevated table with a nice view of the dining room.
The restaurant is broken up by walls with glass to separate a few hibachi grills from the rest of the dining areas. There is another room totally dedicated to hibachi grills, a small bar, a sushi bar, an elevated nook (where I sat) and a main dining area in the center with tables and chairs.
During my time living in Asia, most eateries have low tables with diners sitting on pillows on the floor. Here at Ichiban they have two private dining rooms with rice paper and wood lattice doors that utilize this style of dining. However, they have Americanized the seating so customers’ legs have a place to dangle – like sitting on a bench.
These two spaces would be nice for a large family gathering to enjoy each other’s company behind closed doors.
Service was a bit slow at first. It took 10 minutes before we were visited by our server, but it was ample time to review the entire several-page menu and to be ready with our choices of appetizers, maki rolls, sashimi special and an entrée selection.
The menu has a good selection of items in various categories. Offerings from the hard-bound menu are appetizers, grilled items, sashimi specials and desserts. Some are the usual fare found at similar restaurants in the area, but others are totally unique to Ichiban. These caught my interest.
First, we ordered a Shrimp Lagoon ($7.95) and an Ika-Popo ($11.95) along with two maki rolls. The Shrimp Lagoon looked like a fried spring roll – filled with shrimp, cream cheese and asparagus – that was cut in half diagonally and served with a mayonnaise-type sauce. The Ika-Popo was a rather large squid that was grilled then sliced perpendicularly into rings and accompanied with a wonderfully sweet and mild spicy sauce.
The maki rolls were delivered with the appetizers and were a Rock-n-Roll ($10.95) and another with yellowtail. The yellowtail roll was forgettable, but the other was quite nice. It had shrimp tempura in the center with snow crab, cucumber, avocado, masago and some crunchy tempura batter sprinkled on top.
The highlight of the entire experience was the Yellowtail Sashimi ($13.50). It consisted of six ample slices of yellowtail topped with diced Maui onion and tomato and a thin slice of jalapeno. The fish pieces were sitting atop a masterful yuzu ponzu sauce.
Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit about the size of a mandarin orange. Ponzu is a sauce made with citrus juice, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and other flavorings.
In this dish, the sauce was the star element that achieved the delicate balancing act between sweet, sour and salty. It balanced the richness of the fish and the aromatic onion with a nice kick of spice from the jalapeno to achieve success. I would highly recommend it to all.
Ichiban offers Yakisoba and Yakiudon ($11.95). These dishes are stir fried with the only difference being the noodles. Soba noodles are made using a mix of buckwheat and wheat flour. Udon noodles are made using wheat flour. Either can be stir fried with vegetables and the protein of choice.
I chose Shrimp Yakisoba. It was a hearty dish with plump, tender shrimp stir fried with the soba noodles and some julienne vegetables. There were some subtle flavors I could not identify, which kept me digging in for more. Soul satisfaction!
The Japanese steak house concept is not new to Houma, as the area sees more and more sushi/hibachi themes popping up. There is a sign currently on Martin Luther King Boulevard that is advertising another “Japanese Steak House coming soon.”
What separates all of these similarly themed restaurants for diners? For me, it’s the food!
I look for a variety of unique dishes that showcase the talents of the kitchen as advertised on the menu. I long for an establishment willing to push the limits with ingredients and combinations of flavors combining just enough of the recognizable to entice patrons to stretch past their comfort zone when ordering.
I realize there has to be standard offerings such as hibachi grill and maki rolls with familiar words in the title like “Houma” and “California,” but please don’t stop there. Bring some technique or ingredient from across the Pacific, some Japanese comfort food, and then bridge the gap with what is evolving here in America.
Ichiban is a nice addition to Houma’s restaurant scene, offering unique dishes as well as proven classics.
Ichiban Japanese Steak House 1639 Martin Luther King Blvd, Houma (985) 868-1688 Hours Monday thru Saturday: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday thru Thursday: 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday: 5 to 10:30 p.m. Sunday: noon to 9 p.m.