This Chinese-owned, Chinese-operated joint (one of the largest of its kind) located out in the boonies of Chino Hills sports a modern Mandarin orange interior and its semi-circle of shabu stations easily occupies 80 percent of the space. Contrast this with the menu of shabu items, which easily occupy 33 percent of the menu’s real estate, the other two-thirds having been embargoed by “Hollywood style” sushi rolls (Translation: the more than one meat type of roll with the artistic sauciness in and around the pieces), appetizers, rice bowls and the Americanized Japanese combos we gringos treasure.
Not that Ichikawa relegates shabu to a minor role. If statistics mean anything, four different varieties of shabu are served in at least as many varieties of soup bases—a Seoul spicy version of 19 spices being one of the choices offered. For the connoisseur, this presents many interesting possibilities.
During my visit to Ichikawa, I place my faith in the special for two: two drinks, two appetizers, two small orders of shabu and dessert for $39.95. My order translates to a Coke and piping hot cup of green tea; warmed and salted edamame and sweet, baked mussels; two orders of the Angus rib eye; and fried ice cream. This, I discover, is a daunting amount of food that two moderately sized people can barely keep up with, especially since the cooks generously endow the veggie platter with three kinds of mushrooms, a mound of napa cabbage, dandelion greens and the usual complement of tofu, carrots and two types of noodles.
As for the dipping sauces, I’m usually not a fan of the sesame sauce, but Ichikawa’s version lingers sweetly on the palate. They serve such a heaping bowl of it that I find myself dowsing the napa cabbage, tofu and dandelion greens into the sesame more frequently than I’m using the ponzu. When dessert finally arrives, tempura-fried green tea ice cream with a chocolate and strawberry sauce, topped by whipped cream and sprinkles—it’s almost overkill. Luckily for us, the folks here box and bag leftovers. Now, which shabu place offers that type of service? None.
My only dislike of the meal revolves around the remarkably ergonomically unfriendly shabu stations. It seems like my arms travel a mile to get to the hot pot and back for the each batch I cook, so much so that my fingers begin to experience carpal tunnel syndrome from gripping my chopsticks so tightly and awkwardly so as not to drop them in the pot.
Overall, I give Ichikawa thumbs-up for quantity, thumbs-up for quality, thumbs-up for affordability and a huge thumbs-up for doggie bags. This is a meal to be savored time and time again, to healthy advantage.
Ichikawa Shabu Fondue & Yakitori, 4665 Chino Hills Pkwy, Ste. A, Chino Hills; (909) 606-0080. AE, MC, V.