Ichiban: Experience dinner, a show at hibachi

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On past trips to Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse in Houma, I’ve sampled sushi rolls and other fare from the extensive menu. But the party across the spacious dining room, over at the hibachi, always left me wishing I’d given it a try.

Smiling, laughing guests, enormous flames and flying food are enough to catch anyone’s attention, after all.

With that in mind, my guests and I head to Houma’s Ichiban.

Situated on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the restaurant does a fine job of transporting guests to its motherland. A paved bridge – below, koi, blooming lotus plants and a waterfall share pond space – leads you to arched glass doors and, inside, some of the best Japanese food south Louisiana offers.

We arrive at the start of the evening service, ahead of most guests. Ichiban opens mid-morning for lunch, closes briefly, then reopens for the dinner service. The bonus for us on this particular visit is all the special attention.

We’re immediately seated at a hibachi grill, and our waitress Carly takes our drink orders.

Carly is very friendly, attentive and helpful in prepping us on the menu selection.

Because I’ve had a peek at meal sizes on previous visits, everyone’s been alerted that we’ll likely be leaving with go-boxes. It’s for that reason only that we opt out on sushi rolls to accompany our meal. Ichiban’s sushi rolls are art – an edible blend of beauty and freshness.

But we’re here for the fire.

Our meal begins with a clear soup, a bold, beefy mixture with mushrooms, shallots and bits of crispy fried onions. The soup is satisfying – not too salty or too filling.

Our salads arrive next, a combination of lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber slices. I enjoy Ichiban’s homemade honey mustard dressing on mine, while my guests dine on freshly sliced ginger atop theirs. The ginger earns big thumbs up all around.

A honk of a horn announces the arrival of our hibachi chef, Deni. Quickly, I understand what all the smiles were about in past visits.

Deni is a one-man comedy show, quick with a smile and a one-liner. He keeps the conversation – and the laughs – going, all the while expertly wielding his spatula and knife.

Hibachi, I’ve come to learn, actually means “fire bowl.” In Japan, the open-topped ceramic bowl contains burning charcoal and is used for heating purposes. America translates hibachi into a small cooking stove. At Ichiban, it is a state-of-the-art iron grill, surrounded on three sides by a wooden counter at which guests sit for a front-seat view of the show.

“Back up,” Deni warns us moments before our grill bursts into huge streaks of flames. With the grill lit, it’s mealtime.

Over the next several minutes, Deni spins eggs, tosses them high into his chef’s hat and, once cooked, flings them at us in hopes that we’ll catch it in our mouths. (Don’t want to brag here, but I was the only one in our crowd to successfully snag my piece from midair.)

We’re treated to flaming towers of onions – “Fire in the hole,” Deni shouts – and a fireworks show when sprinkles of seasoning are added to the mix. Then there are water spritzes when the fire needs to be doused. And there are plenty of quips. When one person in our party asks for well-done steak, Deni responds, “Oh, you want beef jerky?”

Without missing a beat, Deni prepares my chicken teriyaki ($16.95), another’s salmon ($18.95) and an order of steak ($21.95) to perfection. A blend of vegetables, fried rice and noodles also top the plate. After the soup and salad, it was more food than we could ever finish. And every bite was flavorful.

Compliments to the chef followed by a query into his experience led to this exchange:

Guru: “Deni, how long have you been cooking hibachi?”

Deni: “This is my first night, ma’am.”

Turns out Deni has actually been perfecting his craft for nearly eight years. His humor, I’m guessing, comes naturally.

As we begin digging in to our meals, hibachi grills are lighting up around us as more guests arrive. We can’t help but think our hosts, Carly and Deni, are a great addition to their evening.

Typically, we try to include a few words about desserts, where available. Ichiban does have a selection of tantalizing choices, at least they sounded great on the menu, but we were too full to even talk it. Maybe next time.

And there will be a next time. After all, where else in Houma can you enjoy dinner and a show?

Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse’s hibachi chefs deliver a memorable meal with their non-stop quips and expert knife skills. Our chef, Deni, delivered scrumptious food and plenty of laughs.

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Hibachi Salmon ($18.95)

GUMBO GURU | Gumbo Entertainment Guide

Hibachi Chicken Teriyaki ($16.95)

GUMBO GURU | Gumbo Entertainment Guide

Hibachi Steak ($21.95)

GUMBO GURU | Gumbo Entertainment Guide