Sushi Ichi, like so many other Southern Californian restaurants, seems unassuming on first visit. It occupies a fairly standard space in a typical mini-mall near the corner of California & Arroyo Parkway in Pasadena. Its neighbors cannot be more ubiquitous in the merchant landscape - a massage parlor, dry cleaner, tanning salon - you get the picture.
Upon entry, one is warmly greeted by the staff, with the faint music of a local radio station in the background. The décor looks to be from the school of Zo (West LA) - kempt, but wholly unremarkable.
“Omakase please”, I inform my server. The sushi bar seats about eight people (though I was the only one apparently showing any interest for the counter that night). Once seated at the bar, Chef Ichi-san smiles brightly as he greets me. He is friendly but otherwise a quiet chap, diligently plying his craft. A sign informs customers that at Sushi Ichi, the counter only serves omakase, and that reservations are recommended. Again, it appears that my visit fell upon a rather slow, mid-week evening, as I was one of only four total customers I saw that night. And that’s a shame, because the sushi at Sushi Ichi is really, really good.
The sake selection is brought forth. Listed are lots of solid, affordable (!) choices, and a few unfamiliar names as well. My affable server recommended an Otokoyama “Hiyaoroshi” sake, which they just received in a limited batch from Japan. At $10 a glass, it felt like a great choice: Sold. And, true to her word, the Hiyaoroshi was refreshing, with a slightly fruity finish.
Let’s start with the food! Itadakimasu!
Hotaru ika (firefly squid), with oroshi daikon (grated white radish): Great salty taste; perfect with my sake…
Amadai saikyo zuke (miso-marinated tilefish): An unusual fish to see in L.A.; the taste was delicate and (again), paired well with sake…
Time for some beer: Orion sounds swell.
Buri toro (wild yellowtail belly) & mirugai (geoduck clam): The buri toro was “rico, suave”, while the mirugai was so fresh and “crunchy”…
Suzuki usuzuruki (sea bass, thinly cut-style), served with shiso seeds: Suzuki I’ve had before, but shiso seeds?! That was a first for me. The seeds pack a ton of flavor, and really added to the extremely mild nature of the white fish…
Baigai (Japanese ivory shell): Gently steamed in its own shell. I thought this was good, but for some reason the liver (which I would have liked to try) was taken out of the preparation.
Kanpachi (amberjack) & tai (sea bream):
Uni (sea urchin roe), from Santa Barbara & chu-toro (medium fatty tuna belly) from Spain: In a bit of a lackluster year for sea urchin in general, Ichi-san’s uni was actually the best I’ve had so far this summer!
Sawara (Spanish mackerel) & hotategai (giant scallop):
Ika (squid) & kohada (gizzard shad): Isn’t that ika gorgeous?
Shigoku kaki (oysters), shucked and served with ponzu: Sinfully smooth and decadent!
Renkodai (yellowback sea bream): Hmmm - Another relatively rare (and yummy) fish makes an appearance. This is not your typical sushi-ya…
Ikura (salmon roe): The mouthfeel and very hard “pop” of these super salmon eggs were amazing.
Seared kamasu (baby barracuda) & anago (sea eel) served with sea salt:
Mentaiko (marinated cod roe) & seared kinmedai (golden eye snapper): Beautiful.
Saba (mackerel) & aoyagi clam: The aoyagi was at the height of its season - Truly tasty.
At this point, Ichi-san asked if I wanted more (meaning BONUS ROUNDS!!!) - Oh yeah.
Hirame (halibut) & seared sake (salmon): Doesn’t the salmon look like an autumn leaf?
Seared geso (squid legs) & engawa (halibut fin muscle): I’ve never had seared geso nigiri before - Yum!
Ankimo (monkfish liver) & madai (sea bream):
Sanma (mackerel pike) & hamachi suna-zuri (albacore belly):
Akami (lean tuna), from Spain: A bit cold(?), but the texture was quite good…
Watari kani temaki (blue crab handroll): Decent, but I’ve had better here in L.A…
Tamago (egg omelette):
Too full! No space for dessert (I’m not even sure of they serve any dessert)!!!
This was a tremendous omakase in a highly unlikely locale. Don’t let the “dressed down” vibe at Sushi Ichi fool you - The chef tells me he keeps over 40+ different type of neta on hand just in case shmucks with giant bellies (like me) walk through their door on any given night (my words, not his). A word about the shari - It was solid, and definitely did not distract at all from my meal.
Service was cordial and very good.
Price before tip (remember I went into bonus rounds AND had a glass of sake and a beer): $202.
633 S. Arroyo Parkway
Pasadena, CA 91105