On a night when temperatures hover at single digits, the hostess at Ichiban suggests a cozy table near a heating vent. The glare of an overhead light is quickly dealt with by a manager who gets up on a chair to adjust it. Throughout the meal, service is unfailingly warm. Not surprising that this unpretentious spot, with its little tatami rooms and oversized fish tank, feels like a refuge from all the cool, hard-edge Asian fusion spots dotting Long Island.
Unlike what you'll find at many such places, there are no flashing neon lights on a lunch sashimi plate. Just beautifully cut finfish, simply arranged. Both a spicy tuna and spicy salmon roll feature a modicum of rice — and it's at ideal temperature and consistency. This also holds true when a subsequent dinner begins with shared maki rolls. Best is the Hokkaido roll, with avocado, salmon and asparagus subtly sparked by a sliver of lemon. Both a spider roll, with fried soft-shell crab, and a peanut-avocado roll work well, too.
One attraction on the main course Ichiban sushi plate is a piece of ikura sushi, globular salmon roe unleashing salty little bursts. A shame, though, that what the menu describes as "today's catch" turns out to be a mundane, though pristine, assortment of salmon, tuna and the like. And in contrast to everything that came before, the rice is inexplicably cold.
The few fusion dishes the place offers are done well. An appetizer of grilled short ribs is ultra-tender, savory. And a special of a fried Indian pancake with curry dipping sauce disappears in a frenzy of oily fingers. A fine version of that old Nobu classic, rock shrimp tempura, has the right crunch offset by a thin coat of spicy mayonnaise-based sauce.
There's added cold-weather appeal in an entree-size bowl of sho-yo ramen soup with roast pork, noodles, baby bok choy and an egg on top. But beef sukiyaki features meat both chewy and somewhat bland. Much better is chicken yaki soba, a harmonious stir-fry of noodles, poultry and vegetables.
Ichiban's kitchen, it seems, will fry just about anything for dessert: Ice cream. Bananas. Even Oreos. Better to finish simply, with a cup of steaming green tea.