The Joint Experience
When you visit Ichiban, be prepared for a wait unless you go before 11:30. It is small and crowded. You can usually find a seat at the bar, but total seating for the entire Joint might be 35. Also, it is not fast food. Typical wait after ordering Ramen is about 20 minutes. But these are just minor obstacles you overcome to be rewarded with the nectar of their labor of love. The chefs working behind the bar are slaving over these huge wok/cauldrons that are heated by flames from one of the 7 levels of hell. To watch them work makes me sweat by proxy. Every time I go, I am astonished by the waitress that moves around the room taking care of every table’s orders, delivering the dishes, bussing the tables, taking call in orders and doing cashier duties. The way that she moves around the room, always seeing 3 steps ahead reminds me of Barry Sanders at his peak.
The menu doesn’t look like most Asian menus in town. Sure there are the usual suspects of Kung Pao Chicken, Cashew Chicken, Fried Rice and Pad Thai, but in addition to the Ramen-Udon & Noodle Soups, you will see things not offered anywhere in Amarillo. Donburi (Rice Bowls), Curry Fried Noodles, and something called Atomic Chicken (the 4 Chiles symbol makes my lips burn just thinking about it, among other things) beckon me to branch out, but my salivating tongue always produces “Tom Yum Shrimp Ramen” before I can stop it.
The Tom Yum Shrimp Ramen is Heaven in a bowl. When you are given the bowl, the first thing you notice is the care taken in presentation. Everything is fresh and appetizing. The second thing you notice is the boiling heat. It comes out so hot, you should wait before eating it. But you don’t, because you are a dummy that never learns. You would think that burning the roof of your mouth repeatedly would teach you. But you don’t, do you dummy? The noodles are perfectly cooked to transport the delicious broth to your taste buds. It has tender shrimp, bean sprouts, scallions, cilantro, a fish cake and a piece of nori. But the star is the broth. It is a combination of spicy and sour that cannot be described. I have no idea what is in it, but I am sure it includes unicorn blood and dragon horn in the list of ingredients. I find no greater joy in the moment eating it when I have polished off enough of the noodles to pick the bowl up for my first slurp of broth. The spice is just right for me. It is the top level of pleasurable and the low level of macho. When I am done and finally push the bowl away, my lips have a perfect tingle, my nose has taken notice and my tummy is warm. Perfect cure of a cold or a hangover.
I have begun to form my list of Restaurant Resolutions, formed in large part by Ichiban. That list includes “Try Everything On the Ichiban List, Starting With All Of The Soups.” I just need to convince my tongue to cooperate.
As we were paying for our meal, I asked for a take out menu. The cashier/waitress/Hall of Famer told us that they were in the process of updating the menu. They would be removing some of the items that are more common at most restaurants in town. That sounds fine; just don’t mess with my Ramen.