Inventive Maki Rolls at Ichiban in Asheville

If you’re into sushi and you haven’t heard of Ichiban, listen up. Ichiban is the hibachi-cooking cousin of Asheville’s number one sushi restaurant, Wasabi, and although the menu is different, the sushi chefs here are equally talented. I’ve been wanting to review this place for a while – it was actually the first thing we ate as new Asheville citizens thanks to Valet Gourmet – but it took us a while to actually dine in.

My boyfriend loves the hibachi, so if you like hibachi, I’d definitely recommend it. I’ve picked at the scallops and veggies, and they’re cooked surprisingly well. Not too chewy, and definitely not undercooked. They also give you overflowing proportions, so lunch tomorrow will be taken care of.

But here’s what I really love. Browse the sushi menu, particularly the chef’s special rolls, and you’ll find some of the most unique combinations I’ve come across. Although there’s a good bit of deep frying and eel, neither of which I’m fond of, the rolls are still quite creative. And then there’s my favorite: the Colorful Roll.

What a weird name for a sushi roll, I initially thought. Until I saw it. With chunks of bright orange mango and three different colors of tobiko, colorful is the ideal description considering the Rainbow Roll was coined long ago.

Here’s what makes it so cool: spicy lobster on the inside, white tuna and mango on top and a sprinkling of various tobiko all over. It’s mild, with just a slight sweet spice to it, almost reminiscent of a Thai red pepper and mango salad recipe I came across. Add to that a side of the best spicy mayo I’ve found in Asheville and a bit of fresh ginger (like, non-pink ginger) on top, and this is one of the best sushi rolls I’ve ever had.

It’s filling, too, although at $12, I’d hope it would be.

I hate to gloat over a condiment, but this place definitely has my favorite spicy mayo in town, which is big deal for me. Some people add shrimp sauce to their food. Well, I add spicy mayo to anything and everything. Not to overpower but to enhance, and there’s has a perfect combination of creamy spicy flavors. The consistency is a bit on the thin side, but the taste makes up for it.

I honestly can’t remember the other roll I ordered because I was so infatuated with my Colorful Roll. It really is that good. And they’ve got some great miso soup as well that has a lot of substance; not the kind that skimps on the seaweed or tofu. The broth is potently flavorful and is the perfect start on a chilly day.

After finding my perfect roll, I’m fully convinced Ichiban isn’t the ugly stepsister of Wasabi when it comes to sushi. It’s not better or worse, just a little different, and I think it deserves a fair amount of praise for its sushi, not just the hibachi.

Food: 9/10

Value: 8/10

Overall: 8/10

My First Poached Egg

It may come as a surprise (it does to me) that with all the cooking I do, I’ve never poached an egg. Maybe because I went several years without eating eggs, or maybe because I only recently discovered my love of eggs benedict, but whatever the reason, I decided that this morning, I would conquer that experience.

I did a bit of research and found a few really helpful tips online. Smitten Kitchen, a blog by a woman who loves poached eggs but claims to not make them well, had the absolute best advice I could possibly find. What was the advice?

1: Break your egg in a bowl instead of straight into the water. It’s much easier to slip your egg from bowl to pot than to try and crack an egg over hot water without dropping any shell bits.

2: Make a whirlpool out of the hot water by quickly stirring the water before sliding your egg in. Bonus – it works especially well when you’ve followed Tip #1 and have the egg prepped in a bowl.

I did, however, go against what many websites say and left out the vinegar. It’s supposed to help the egg form it’s shape, but I believed the whirlpool would do a good enough job.

So I heated my water to just below boiling. I cracked my egg into a bowl. I stirred the hot water until it whirled around like a little cyclone. And I slipped the egg into the hot water. I stared down into the pot, and to my amazement, the egg stayed almost entirely in tact.

Not to brag, but it was a beautiful poached egg.

My toast was all nice and toasty, with a bit of herbed goat cheese and two slices fake bacon, when I started to wonder: How the hell do I get the egg out of the water?

I began to panic: I don’t have enough time to look it up or enough time to clean my tongs. So I panicked. And I scooped it out with a big spoon and dumped it on my toast.

Of course there was water everywhere. The toast was ruined. The facon was soggy. But the egg was still perfectly in tact.

So I pulled myself together, threw away the soggy mess and made some new toast. I had a perfect piece of toast and a perfect little poached egg. How did I transfer my poached egg to the new toast?


I couldn’t.

After all that, my egg broke open as I tried to wiggle a fork underneath it to prop it up onto the toast. The good news is that the yolk soaked into the toast from the bottom and I salvaged the white and plopped it on top. I guess you could call it a deconstructed poached egg.

Still, I’d count it as relatively successful for my very first poached egg. And it was delicious.




(the photo is from stock.xchng and is only what I wish my egg had looked like!)

Chocolate Cake and Nutella Icing

I’ve never been a fan of icing, but when I made some out-of-the-box chocolate cake the other night, I realized it was pretty bland without any icing at all. The problem was, my chocolate cake was a late night craving, so I couldn’t go to the store to get any. But there’s one chocolatey thing I always have around the house: Nutella.

I’m not sure if anyone has ever tried this, but it’s absolutely delicious. And so easy. The best part is, if you do it right out of the oven, the Nutella melts onto the cake. And if you like Nutella, then you know how well it goes with fruit.  It may not be the prettiest cake ever, but I can’t think of anything better than banana-Nutella-chocolate cake.


Praise Krishna! Mela Indian Cuisine in Asheville

Why Krishna, the embodiment of love and joy? Because that’s exactly how I felt after trying Mela.

I’ve walked past Mela a hundred times in downtown Asheville, either on my way to Izzy’s Coffee Den or after eating at somewhere further up on Lexington Avenue. I’ve always wanted to go, but I guess after falling hard for Chai Pani, I felt like it was the only place to go for Indian.

I still love Chai Pani and its Indian street food, but Mela is real authentic Indian cuisine. There’s something about Indian food when made properly that just kind of leaves me in awe of the delicate alchemy involved in combining so many spices into something completely unique.

Mela is everything that is good about Indian food.

The funny thing is, I still have yet to set foot in Mela. We actually ordered our food from Valet Gourmet because I was busy working and couldn’t leave for any long period of time. The picture of Mela’s food on Valet Gourmet’s website was just too delicious to pass up.

Oddly enough, in addition to trying a new restaurant from home, I also tried something completely out of the ordinary. I’m the type of person who finds a dish and sticks to it. I don’t think it’s that I’m boring, I’m just afraid of missing even one single opportunity to eat my favorite dish. Like maybe I will never eat it again, and I wasted my chance to do so. Crazy, yes, but true.

Chickpeas are my go to Indian dish, chickpeas and masalas. And Mela had two dishes that sounded just like what I normally get. What did I get?

Not chickpeas.

Malai Kofta is a mixture of ground cashews, almonds and paneer cheese. The mixture is mashed up into little balls and them simmered in a delicious almond spice mixture. Served with basmati rice, it’s hearty, filling and has a unique, sweet yet spicy flavor.

I guess since it’s my first time ever trying malai kofta, I can’t say with certainty that this was the definition of good malai kofta, but it definitely was for me. The texture of the cooked nuts and cheese added that extra bit of heartiness that made the meal satisfying. I got that slight taste of paneer cheese, but for the most part, it’s just a total melding on flavors into one complete and satisfying bite.

As with all good Indian cooking, the flavor hit my tongue softly at first, sweet and subtle. Chewing it, more of the spices made themselves known, and it wasn’t until after the bite is finished that the real explosion happened in my mouth. It wasn’t potent or overwhelming, it was just this gradually increasing heat that peaked around a 3 or 4: just enough to make me want to drink some water to wash it down. But the lingering flavor in my mouth made me kind of hold on to it a little longer.

This meal was so delicious that I not only finished way more than my stomach wanted me to, but when I got up the next day, it was all I could think about. Our meals also came with a lovely lentil stew that was a very slightly spiced broth – maybe a bit of curry seasoning? – with ground lentils that formed a sort of powder that could be scooped off the bottom. It added heartiness and an almost nutty flavor to the stew.

Note: it’s not listed as this on the menu, but it may be called dal shorba.

Overall, I’m super impressed. Searching for photos appropriate to this post, I actually came across so many fantastic looking malai kofta images that my stomach is growling for more.

It’s a weird feeling, but for once, I’m actually happily anticipating going back – not to have my favorite dish again, but to try more of their amazing (different) concoctions.

I almost forgot, if you couldn’t tell from this rave review . . .

Recommended: Obviously

Rating (food only): 11/10

Value: 8/10. (My dish was $16 with soup, a bit higher than most Indian restaurants, but it is so very much worth it. And the leftovers!!)

The Perfect Slider Bun

As a child, I never ate sandwiches. Ever. I would eat the meat. I would eat the bread. I would even eat the condiments. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized my aversion to sandwiches was due to the disproportionate ratio of bread to other good stuff. So along with the rest of the world, I’m kind of in love with the idea of a slider.

I guess it’s just the idea I’m in love with though, since I’d never really gotten to try one. They seem to be reserved for real beef burgers and other meaty things I don’t eat. So the other day when I was picking out buns for some chickpea burgers, I got an idea of making them into sliders.

But not just any sliders. Those miniature-sized slider buns they sell still have a disproportionate ratio of bread for the amount of stuff you put inside. So instead, I found some really great mini dinner rolls – to slice in half.

I found them in the fresh bakery section, so the flavor is outstanding and there’s no high fructose corn syrup (yay!) They’re called “steakhouse dinner rolls,” and I’m sure you can find something similar at just about any grocery store bakery. They’re thicker than a slice of bread, but thinner than a bun, so when you slice it in half, you get a really quality  little sandwich suit.

Plus, if you’ve ever bought veggie deli slices, you know that the slices are quite a bit smaller than regular meat slices. Which totally sucks on a regular sandwich, but almost perfectly fits these little buns. I just got a second use out of these awesome buns by making a veggie ham sammie.


(PS – I’d add photos, but my bluetooth isn’t working. So hopefully later because they’re adorable)

Midnight Macaroni

Despite posting about how much I love prepping and cooking food, I can’t help but occasionally indulge in the processed, no-good-for-you, artificial-cheesy-goodness of Kraft mac & cheese. I can’t tell if it’s my compulsive hunger after a long workout, or the fact that my mind is inundated with those Kraft insurance commercials, but I can’t help myself.

I know. It’s not real cheese.

Real cheese is not orange powder.

But for someone who doesn’t eat half of her former favorite childhood foods, this is the closest thing to comfort food I have.

The only thing that would make this better is even more of that delicious fake orange cheese powder.

The Foundation of Cooking

If prep work is the foundation of cooking, why is that so many who cook seem to hate prep work? When I used to watch Hell’s Kitchen, the punishment for not winning challenges was prepping all the food for the upcoming cook-off, and it really throws me off. Personally, I don’t know any other time in the kitchen when I am so intimately close with my ingredients as during my prep work, so how can anyone who loves food hate this special moment of preparing it?

Whenever I’m in the kitchen, the time when I feel most active in manipulating my ingredients is when I’m cleaning, chopping, dicing and slicing whatever’s on the menu that night. Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a whole foods nut, but there’s nothing better to me than handling fresh herbs and veggies, raw seafood and the simplest forms of food. I like knowing where my food comes from, and handling it is a reminder of what I’m putting in my body.

Of course this is not to dismiss the act of cooking. I love cooking. I love the sizzle in the pan, the fragrant aroma of flavors being released and that wonderful moment when my sauce suddenly thickens and I’m not just stirring runny broth in a pot. But isn’t it just as important to acknowledge and appreciate all of the work that goes into preparing the raw materials before they become something more than just ingredients?

I can’t be the only one who loves chopping and mincing and dicing.

Can I?