Last year a landmark dining estabishment in Concord, NH closed its doors. The Cat & The Fiddle had hosted prom night dinners, rotary club banquets and hungry geezers for about 50 years. Its decor hadn’t changed since it opened and neither had it’s wait staff. We went there twice for dinner. Both times we were by far the youngest patrons in the sparcely populated dining room.
This summer Ichiban, a new sushi and hibachi restaurant, opened in it’s place. This is the third sushi restaurant in Concord. I had no idea the population here had such a lusty appetite for Japanese cuisine! Who knew? We’ve eaten at every restaurant in Concord and the vast majority of them aren’t worth multiple visits. So we thought we’d give it a try.
The new owners had done quite a bit of rennovation. Where once stood a massive outdated dining room and salad bar, a glitzy lounge with a tile bar welcomed a robust assortment of local drinkers. We were lead to the main dining room, which was completely empty. The light fixtures, boiths and carpets were the same as the old place. The new owners apparently slapped up a coat of fresh paint and some Japanese fans and masks in the hopes it would create an air of authenticity. It didn’t work. There are three dining areas in Ichiban, two of which we never saw. The hibachi grill area is located where the banquet hall used to be. And there was a sushi bar off to the side that we only saw on our way out.
Our waitress Suki didn’t have a very good command of the English language, which made it quite difficult to get any substantive information about the menu. We ordered some hot tea, miso soup and fried calamari. Half an hour later, we asked Suki to bring us some water. This is a pet peeve of mine. I think all diners should get water as soon as they sit down. Is it so difficult to bring people a glass of water? I mean, c’mon, we’re thirsty out here!
The calamari was…interesting. It was not the typical rubbery rings of squid we’re used to seeing. These slices of squid were breaded in panko crumbs and fried until they curled up into little upside down canoes. It was tasty enough and the gingery sweet sauce was quite nice. But overall, I’ve had much better.
We ordered a couple of Ichiban’s signature rolls and a few pieces of tuna, albacore and yellow tail. Oddly, each orders of sushi consists of a single piece at $2 each. When our dinner arrived, we rubbed our eyes in disbelief. In the center of the big square platter, surrounded by the sushi, was a mound of shreaded dicon that was hiding a flashing lighted object. The mound was flashing blue, pink and green!! What the hell??!! I dug around to the center of the mound and found a flashing plastic cube, which I immediately turned off and set aside. It was as if the chef was trying to distract our attention from the mediocre food by using this ridiculous device. And the really sad thing is that it probably works wonders with the locals. People probably walk out of there every night thinking they had the best sushi they’ve ever had. Accross town, Moritomo serves excellent sushi, sashimi and Japanese specialties with no flash or glitz, yet Ichiban will probably get return business based on this obvious trickery. It is truly insulting to those of us who appreciate well prepared food.
The sushi was not horrible, but left much to be desired. The two rolls we ordered were disappointing. We couldn’t find any real salmon in the salmon lovers roll. We think it might have been canned salmon salad in the middle. The Fuji roll, which was supposed to have tuna in the center, was a glorified California roll covered with eel and avacado. The filling was made of surimi. And the bill was outrageous. We might try Ichiban one more time to see if they have the power to redeem themselves. But we will certainly ask to be seated in the sushi bar next time.
RATING: Relatively Weak.