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

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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!!)