Ichiban, a new Japanese restaurant in Campustown, accidentally opened on June 11.
Located at 117 Welch Ave., the opening of Ichiban didn’t quite go the way owner Guan Wang expected. After an Iowa state student with a food blog posted photos and incorrectly listed the restaurant’s early opening date, people began to introduce themselves.
That day, he had his staff come to the restaurant to go through the menu items, cooking part of each item.
“We accidentally opened it,” Wang said. “I was actually going to bring the food that we cooked in the shops and bars nearby and just give it to them.”
At around 5 p.m. people started to come in.
“We didn’t have an open sign or anything, but the doors were unlocked because we went in and out a lot,” he said.
Wang’s mother, Ling Lu, owner of the Chinese Wok n Roll restaurant across the street, was helping Ichiban and started to sit people down.
“It’s not exactly how I wanted to open, but people liked the food, so the next day we kind of carried on,” Wang said.
The impromptu opening day marked Wang’s official debut as a restaurateur, a position he arrived at as part of a career in international hockey.
The menu includes sushi, ramen and more
He always adjusts the menu, which includes a variety of sushi, sashimi, ramen, hibachi bento boxes, and appetizers such as Rangoon crab mozzarella sticks, shrimp tempura, and Renkon chips, which are deep-fried lotus roots.
Wang wants to keep the menu simple at the start so that “we can make the basics as perfect as possible.”
“I want to add a spicy miso ramen,” he said. “Our Ichiban ramen was so popular that we actually sold it. “
These are Ichiban’s traditional Tonkotsu ramen made from pork belly.
“We make the pork belly ourselves. It is rolled up and we put it on the flat grill for about 30 minutes – on each side for about 15 minutes. Then we put it in a big pot and cook it slowly for four or five hours, ”Wang said.
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He thinks the spicy miso ramen will be made with chicken for protein.
“Our Godzilla roll is also very popular,” Wang said. “It’s fried sushi. We roll it, then beat it in tempura and fry.
“My favorite sushi roll is the Fujiyama. It’s salmon and fish roe and spicy mayonnaise on top.
Mr. Luo is the sushi chef and Mr. Wu is on the grill, Wang said.
Ichiban’s bento boxes offer a starter, like salmon or beef, accompanied by rice, a salad, and a Cali roll or tempura shrimp.
“We make the shrimp tempura ourselves,” Wang said. “We peel the shrimp and then use a sushi mat to stretch them out. The sushi mat is called a makisu.
Wang is Chinese; Ichiban is Japanese and is Wang’s first foray into restaurant ownership.
Coaching for the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games
“This is my first restaurant,” he said. “My real job is to coach professional ice hockey. “
He said he was training in Russia when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“I was living in Beijing because I was supposed to train at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, China,” he said.
He started out as a hockey player, joining the Kontinental Hockey League, or KHL, after completing his college education at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut.
“It’s the Russian Superleague,” Wang said. “They were trying to promote hockey for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
“In fact, I quit hockey in college because I entered a phase where I didn’t like it anymore. But as soon as I quit I was like, “I’m missing something in my life.”
Wang’s first job out of college was working for the US government, doing international business in Middletown, Connecticut. If companies wanted to export or import to or from China, Wang would help make it easier.
His father, Anfu Wang, brought up the idea of international hockey.
Wang hesitated at first, he said, but then decided: let’s do it.
“I quit my job and went to Finland to train,” he said. “Then, after my first season, I got injured. My team said to me, ‘You can speak Chinese and you can speak English and you know hockey. You are like a unicorn. ‘”
They encouraged him to become a coach. Wang was hesitant – he had just quit his job to become a player.
“They told me that I could train in the Olympics for the China team,” Wang said. “I was like, ‘Wow! It is quite a special experience.
He coached the Chinese national team for a year and helped the team compete in the world championships in Tilburg, the Netherlands.
“It was a lot of fun. It was a lot of traveling, but it was really top level hockey, and it was awesome,” he said. “I really miss it. But then Covid is come.
Wang could still be tempted to return to the hockey world to coach the Chinese women’s team. “So I’m kind of stuck in the middle again,” he said. “If I get the job, will I pack my bags and go?” Or will I stay here? “
Fortunately, his family in Ames may be able to help him if he returns to hockey.
Wang’s parents have many years of restaurant experience. “They worked at HyVee,” he said. “They owned May House before it was May House. They helped me a lot.
His parents didn’t exactly see his vision for Ichiban when he started planning his restaurant, Wang said. But they’re on board now.
At first, he strictly sold sushi tacos, he said, after tasting the dish while in Korea.
“I thought it was a great idea,” he said. “They take seaweed and fry it in tempura, then fill it with sushi filling. It’s like takeout sushi.
Although he plans to add sushi tacos to the menu at some point in the future, Wang has decided that he will limit himself if he only has one menu item in his Japanese restaurant.
His idea of including ramen on the menu also came to him while traveling in Korea.
“Korea has been a great inspiration to me for Japanese cuisine,” he said. “I ate a lot of Japanese food in China, but this time I was in Korea and I had ramen, I thought to myself: what is this? It changes life.
Hockey has had a huge impact in Wang’s life since he was a child. Although originally from Ames, he attended high school in Minnesota to play hockey.
“Hockey has taken me everywhere. And Ichiban took me home, ”Wang said.