The gulf between the colloquial sushi place and proper Japanese food is an ocean wide.
The gulf between the colloquial sushi place and proper Japanese food is an ocean wide. Sunk deep within said ocean is a cuisine rich in tradition, complexity and flavor. Ichidai Restaurant offers Japanese food that will please the gaijin and salaryman alike.
Ichidai is a destination strictly for the connoisseur. The restaurant’s location at Southeast 57th and Powell insulates it from all incidental traffic. It can be difficult to find, even if you know the address, for it lies within a small shopping center that would appear more likely to deal in discount dentistry and supplemental insurance for the elderly.
Nonplussed doesn’t begin to describe the sensation of crossing the threshold from the streets of outer southeast Portland into a well-lit, comfortable Japanese restaurant. Patrons may enjoy traditional group dinning or opt for a seat at the spacious sushi bar. Ichidai is always well staffed and the service is warm and friendly. The dining experience is somewhat traditional, but you don’t need to dress up.
The patrons of Ichidai are distinct from those of many other Japanese restaurants for one simple fact—many of them are actually Japanese. It is a regular haunt of the expatriated salarymen—a white-collar salaried Japanese worker—of our city, a fact that strongly suggests the authenticity of the cuisine and environment. East and West comfortably co-exist, each with their own customs and tastes and both with a serious appreciation for good food.
Ichidai is dedicated to one meal, and to doing it well. Its doors don’t open until 5 p.m., and they are closed for business on Sundays. Chefs the world over will strongly advise against eating fish at a restaurant on a Sunday. The most recent delivery of seafood will have taken place on Friday morning, and the leftovers will be served until Monday afternoon. Not being open on Sunday or until Monday evening, Ichidai offers only fresh fare when it comes to their sushi.
I recommend the Inarizushi, sweet sushi rice wrapped in a thin omelet of fried tofu. It is incredible and a must-try for anyone. In addition to making wonderful inari, Ichidai also specializes in another treat that will satisfy vegetarian diners: tamago. Tamago is a square of sushi rice topped with a thin egg omelet. Though a simple creation, it is one of the least consistent sushi pieces from one restaurant to another. And Ichidai’s tamago does not disappoint.
In addition, there is western-style sushi, such as the California roll. It is a westernized version of Makizushi without nori. This traditional western fare will definitely suit an American palette.
Any sushi-lover will know that the choice of fish highly depends on the group dining and how many are in the party. While I’m a fan of most of Ichidai’s creations, I particularly enjoy their tuna and salmon choices, as well as sashimi—which melts in the mouth in a melange of flavor will change the way you think about fish.
Sushi, however, is merely a prelude to a true Japanese dinner at Ichidai. With a wide variety of noodles, soups and tempura there are endless options for group dining. While everything on offer is excellent, there is one dish in particular that Ichidai does like no other.
Sukiyaki is a traditional Japanese hot-pot style soup, usually served with thin sliced beef, noodles and vegetables served in a shallow pot of delicious broth. Though there are options, the traditional beef sukiyaki is highly recommended. The broth is savory, earthy and overpowering in flavor, without relying on salty or sweet profiles.
The hidden treasures of traditional Japanese cuisine are not so well-hidden, as it turns out. They can be found right here in Portland at Ichidai—so long as you can find the place.
Before you go, know your sushi types. Here are the most common finds:
Nigirizushi, or hand formed sushi, are small squares of sushi rice, often with wasabi or other filler pressed into them, which are then topped with fresh fish, octopus or eel. The tiny sea creatures are fastened to the sushi rice with a thin strip of nigiri, wrapped like a bow. Servings are generally in pairs.
Makizushi, or rolled sushi, are what we more commonly see in the west. Vegetables, wasabi, or other fillings are rolled within sushi rice, and usually wrapped in nori, which is seaweed. These are then sliced and served in orders of 6-8 pieces.
Sashimi is sliced raw fish, served by itself. This is the stuff of sushi purists and those with adventurous palettes.
Restaurant & Sushi Bar
5714 SE Powell Blvd.