Growing up in central New York, I’ve been to quite a few restaurants. Some of those restaurants don’t even exist anymore, such as Carmella’s Cafe, Galveston’s, Fresno’s and TJ’s Big Boy. Some restaurants have stood the test of time, like Twin Trees and Ichiban.
The Syracuse area is saturated by Italian restaurants, Irish pubs, and Chinese take-out. If you want a sandwich for lunch, I could name three places within walking distance of where you might work. We also have all the chain restaurants you’ll find elsewhere, so you can get your Applebee’s fix or hang out at TGI Friday’s. If you sneeze, however, you might miss one of the few Thai food places. And if you blink, it seems like another Japanese restaurant will open its doors.
When I was growing up, there was only one Japanese restaurant in the area. Perhaps there were others, hiding in neighborhoods that I never went through. If you asked a local resident where you could get Japanese food, they would likely tell you about Ichiban Steakhouse. The only time they wouldn’t tell you about Ichiban is because they couldn’t think of an answer, but they’ll remember Ichiban at 2 in the morning when random thoughts come to mind.
Ichiban is a hibachi-style restaurant which also serves sushi. You can pick up decent sushi from any of the Wegmans grocery stores in the area, so unless you’re going to try a particular sushi roll or certain ingredients, Ichiban shouldn’t be your destination. Instead, go to Ichiban for something else, like the hibachi.
Unfortuantely, hibachi-style dining is more of an American thing. Just like we made fortune cookies a part of the Chinese dining experience, we made hibachi a part of the Japanese dining experience. Way to go, America! What we know as hibachi-style is called teppanyaki in Japan. The style did originate in Japan, but us foreigners popularized it because of the entertainment value. Not to mention, the hibachi dishes were foods that were familiar to us.
If you want to avoid the hibachi, your menu options become limited. You can get yakisoba, which is going to be stir fried noodles like what you could have from the hibachi. There’s also udon, which is like ramen but the noodles are about three times as thick as regular spaghetti. Filet mignon and NY strip steak are on the menu as well, because Ichiban does refer to itself as a Japanese steakhouse.
If it’s another dish you seek, you’ll have to find a cookbook and make it for yourself. There is chicken katsu, but not pork katsu. There’s no rice omelettes, or omuraisu. You won’t even find onigiri, and personally I think rice balls would make an excellent appetizer. Since they serve udon, I would think that bowls of genuine ramen would also be on the menu.
I feel like Ichiban has been around longer than I have, so I really can’t complain about the decisions made by management if they’ve stayed in business. Another thing to mention is that most of the people who are from Japan and who currently live in Syracuse are probably Syracuse University students, because this area does not have a very strong Asian population at all. Therefore, most of the people going to Ichiban will be white people who probably don’t realize there’s more to Japanese food than just hibachi and sushi. If the management ever expands the menu, I don’t think the locals would equally expand their tastes.
For more information about Ichiban, visit their website at http://www.ichibanjapanesesteakhouse.com or just drive into Liverpool. Their sign is unmistakeably Japanese in its style, so you can’t miss the place.
I’ve noticed that a few other Japanese restaurants have opened in recent years. Not far from Ichiban is Koto, located near the carousel in Carousel Center. I don’t even care that the building is now Destiny USA, because I’m always going to call it Carousel. Koto is located in the space where Hooters once occupied along with the local comic shop Play The Game Read The Story (formerly Altered States), however Hooters and the comic shop occupied the space at different times. Koto is also a hibachi-style restaurant, but its location in the food court inspired the building designers to give it a section where they could sell take-out for diners who just want to grab a quick bite. There’s another Japanese restaurant in the Camillus/Fairmount area just off West Genesee Street, whose name I don’t recall. I was flipping through a booklet of coupons for the area and saw an advertisement for that restaurant and one or two other hibachi-style restaurants in the area.
Yes, every Japanese restaurant in the area is a hibachi restaurant. Surprisingly, we don’t have a Benihana in the area, but I’m sure there will be one in the expanded area of Destiny USA if I wait long enough. In the meantime, I’ll flip through the cookbooks I have and choose some non-hibachi recipes to cook for myself.