Address: 189 Carlton St
The first teppanyaki dining restaurant in North America opened in New York in 1964, and in short order the entertainment/dining crossover had spread across the continent.
In Winnipeg, Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse opened its doors in 1973. The longevity of this downtown hub has proved that this concept has staying power. The secret lies in the quality of the food and in the cultivation of showmanship, something that most chefs have only recently begun to nurture with the growth in popularity of open kitchens.
Today’s diner easily reads the teppanyaki grill as a chef’s table, and though trends come and go, the acrobatic feats of the grillmasters continue to illicit “ooh”s and “aah”s.
An expansive dining room effortlessly blends modern decor with touches of kitsch that set the stage for enjoyment. Servers here don yukatas and lead guests over a wooden bridge to a U-shaped table curled around a shiny teppanyaki grill. This is the place to please both gourmands and culinary neophytes, each with a fruity cocktail in hand, equally enjoying themselves.
After a warming bowl of soup and a tangy cucumber and crab salad to prep the palate, the show begins in earnest. A lively chef, armed with a sleek holster of gleaming silver knives and sake bottle never far from hand, makes his intro around the table with a series of jokes and tricks, some of which include egg-tossing (a tip to the less-than-coordinated, avoid the seats squarely in front of the grill).
At breakneck speed, chicken livers are flipped, sliced, and diced into tender bite-sized pieces, mixed with chopped mushrooms, and left to sauté under blocks of butter that melt and caramelize into a succulent, rich sauce.
Alongside a mountain of veggies, a parade of high quality meats are methodically chopped and fried to perfection. Filet mignon is especially good, the juicy and plump cubes of steak lightly pink and zinging with sweet teriyaki.
The highlight of the show behind the grill involves a stack of onion rings and a liberal dousing of sake, which is soon lit and balloons into a column of flame. With staggered dining times, bursts of fire and happy shrieks are peppered throughout the evening at nearby tables, as are calls of, “Who wants to do a sake bomb?” radiating from the room’s most spirited gatherings.
It is this atmosphere that sets Ichiban apart, reveling in fun rather than standing on ostentation.
A menu of enjoyable appies and stuffed sushi rolls is available in the sushi lounge and pub area for those grabbing a quick drink or waiting for a table. Items like Japanese poutine show a fusion-happy sense of play. A cornmeal battered and deep fried twist on a California roll—papered with avocado and topped with batons of cream cheese and glittery roe—is served on a (chop) stick under the winking moniker Japanese corn dog. Sushi nachos, puffy triangles of fried wonton laden with cubes of bluefin tuna and lashed with spicy mayo and unagi sauce, are a perfect pub snack.
As the chef bows out, the meal is completed with a hearty scoop of ice cream—green tea, mango, or ginger—leaving the ring of diners-turned-companions well fed and happy in its wake.
Reservations are recommended.