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SpecialsIn a word: Wir ess'n ess'n ess'n auf der Ichiban.

The specs: #0757  
Address, hours & details via Isthmus; reviews at Yelp, 77 Square, Isthmus, Wisconsin State Journal; Ichiban on Urbanspoon

Latest Ichiban news and reviews

Doug, JM and Nichole ate the 8 (Sichuan style cucumber), 30 (dandan noodles), 65 (braised vegetable with shiitake mushroom), 116 (thin wraps with pork in sauce), and D14 with tofu (Singapore mei fun).
The bill was about $15/person, plus tip (thanks, Doug!).
We all gave Ichiban an A (see our grading rubric).

Ichiban is like the open play area in a board game store. It caters to a niche audience that really knows what it's doing. It may be hard for the Level 1 Eater to gain a +1 foothold (n00b). And it has a distinctive aroma. But make no mistake, Ichiban is doing exceptionally well at what it sets out to do, and it probably doesn't need new fans.

What you fail to realize is that you need Ichiban. So here's how to play.

Goal: The object of dinner is to get the most total points for your table. There are multiple paths to victory and many ways to score points.

Set-up: First, place the menus in the center of the table. Whoever ate crab rangoon most recently orders ("makes a bid") last.

The table shall, by majority vote, select one appetizer for every two players, rounded up. (Five players should select three apps, for example.) Each player shall also, without conferring with other players, select a drink simultaneously with this. These two orders (appetizers and drinks) should be passed along to the waitron.

NOTE: You cannot win with appetizer selection but you can argue, in case of a tie, that you swayed enough votes to your choice and it was excellent.

Turn: Each player, in sequence, shall make a bid by finding an item on the menu that seems to suit them. Other players may either "raise" the bid, by finding another similar menu item and recommending, they may "call" the bid conferring on the diner their aptness of the choice or they may "bluff" the bid by suggesting something totally and completely different. Once the first player has been called and refuses to raise their own bid, play passes to the left until each player has settled on a bid (order) which is then conveyed to the waitron.

NOTE: The menu may seem to contain many errata (e.g., pork may be listed on the vegetarian section of the menu) and much that is apocryphal. Note that these may be clues as to the highest-scoring meals. 

EXCEPTION: Any player who overrides others' bids by stridently arguing that He Knows Best (either the menu or the dish) may result in revocation of bidding privileges by majority vote. Such practices are not allowed by the rules of simple etiquette and good cheer. (Exception: if someone of Jonathan Gold™-level-experience or higher is playing, his/her bids should be solicited for the entire table's bid.)

SPECIAL RULE FOR 2-PLAYERS: Each player should start the bid for the other player, which may then be "raised," "called," or "bluffed."

End of Game: The player who brought the victory to the table "wins the meal" as determined by all players.  In case of a tie, use appetizers. If the player's victory is large enough, no one should care that he or she won.

Sample turn:

Sichuan style cucumberSichuan with dandan noodles

Player 1 orders Sichuan style cucumber for the table. It is spicy. Cucumbers peeled in strips to retain some skin, seeded, and sliced on the bias have been heated with sesame oil and hot chili sauce with pepper flakes on top. It has the perfect cool/hot balance. Many points are scored for the table.

Player 2 goes for the dandan noodles starter. Player 3 asks "what is this?" and she replies "spaghetti with pork sauce." It is not so much hot at the beginning of each bite as much as lip-burning afterwards. It has small, pale bits of ground pork, plus green onions and a wee bit of fresh ginger. Some leftovers went home (negative points) but did not see the next sunrise (notional victory).

Thin wraps with pork in saucePlayer 3 is highly fortunate (with "style") when his "thin wraps with pork in sauce" appear. Instead of moo shu pork, as easily misread, it is a breathtaking platter of sweetly sauced ground pork with ginger and onion served with steamed buns.

Singapore mei fun with tofuPlayer 1 also requests the Singapore mei fun with tofu. It is a simple preparation of thin noodles fried in oil and egg with red pepper, purple onion, green onion, and seared firm tofu. There is only a hint of curry, the ingredient that makes it Singapore mei fun. Player 1 may repurpose some chili oil from the cucumbers if more spiciness is desired.

Braised vegetable with shiitake mushroomPlayer 2's second choice is for the braised vegetable with mushroom. It turns out to be a large bowl of prettily presented halves of perfect, small bok choi, face down, leaves in, around a lake of beefy brown sauce and mild, meaty, plump shiitake mushrooms.

Meanwhile, player 3 is scoring huge points for the table by assembling faux McRibs.


DSCF6980At the end of the meal, calcluate how much win the table has achieved. If your server brings you a plate of cool, juicy orange slices, you've won.

Postscript: Ichiban also gets bonus points for hanging on to our camera case in their lost and found so we could retrieve it the next day.


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The Spicy Bean Curd Fish was the equivalent of passing go and collecting $200.

I will have to try this soon. I finally tried Dumpling Haus recently. It was mighty tasty.

The cumin beef (or lamb) is mighty tasty too. As is the "poached [meat] in spicy sauce." The last one is my barometer for a good sichuan restaurant - it can easily be overly greasy, stacked with filler vegetables, or mis-seasoned - so getting the right balance is tricky. They do it pretty well.

While the menu is nominally sichuan, the preparations seem to lean slightly hunan in a lot of ways - not much of the numbing sichuan pepper, the "dry wok braised" dishes, etc.

Regardless, it's damn tasty.

Tell the Isthmus to get Noodle Express (E Wash) on the list quick! Tried the dinner buffet a few weeks ago and it was outstanding.

I love this place! One time I went with a friend from Hong Kong, and the next time I just sort of giggled and pointed at things.

I remember meaty dumplings of awesomeness, and big piles of noodles, and amazing hot pot. Now I must try that fish-bean curd thing. LOVE.

The Isthmus link still goes to Hometown Buffet, fyi.

Thanks, Heidi - fixed.

Ate here last night and it was quite an experience. We ordered the three ingredient pot stickers, which were very good and quite unusual and there was a dozen of them. Recommended.

I ordered the Cumin Flavored Beef with Chili Sauce, which was recommended by a couple of people on Yelp and also in the above comments. It was as good as advertised and spicy hot. Not too bad at first, but it tends to build.

My wife ordered the Spicy and Crispy Whole Shrimp, which is basically a bunch of shrimp on a bed of red chilies. That one was really hot. Now, we like hot spicy food, which why we went, and in retrospect, should have ordered only one hot dish, but this was a little beyond the pale for us. Both dishes were good, execpt my wife didn't like a taste of something in the shrimp, but otherwise it was more our fault than theirs that we had less than a stella experience. The combination was just too hot. I was sweating like crazy half-way through the meal and both of us had a hard time sleeping because we were so hot and that's with air conditioning.

By the way, the portions are quite large and we could have weasily ordered just one and the appertizer. I would recommend Ichiban if you like hot spicy food, but buyer beware and know what you're getting into. My wife may not go back, but I'm thinking I'd like to try the Hong Kong seafood soup.

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