Before I discovered Tokyo Shokudo, my family and I would travel the twenty-minutes into Gwinnett County to Haru Ichiban, a korean-owned but fairly accurate Japanese restaurant. The sushi chefs are all Japanese, but I believe the owner is Korean. The wait staff consists of multiple ethnic ladies, some speaking languages that even extend to SE Asia (Indonesia). Service has never been poor, but please do not expect that of a three-star Michelin restaurant either. The food is authentic though, or as close as you can get to anything north of Buford Highway. We had to drive a little bit further because Tokyo Shokudo is not open on Sundays.
Many of my friends will say that Haru Ichiban is one of the few places that serve good and authentic Japanese ramen. I have to admit, Haru Ichiban is probably one of the few places that I will go to just for ramen. In fact, it is a bit more to my liking than the fully-owned and run restaurant Shoya Izakaya, just a ten minute drive south of Haru. Their menu is fairly extensive for a Japanese restaurant though not as overwhelming or broad as S. Izakaya.
Tonight’s tasting menu included:
Okonomiyaki: a Japanese appetizer in many restaurants but in my humble opinion, more of a street food. It is the Japanese version of a “pancake” or what have you. Similar to the korean pa-jeon (파전), Okonomiyaki is done on a hot iron flat griddle. In Japan, there are actual “okonomiyaki restaurants” where you grill it yourself, again similar to the korean-bbq style that you can find here. Originally it delves from the Kansai and Hiroshima region. Many standard okonomiyaki dishes will contain cabbage or some sort of finely sliced vegetable as well as soba or ramen. There is also some kind of meat, usually pork (ブタニク）in the form of a thinly sliced pork belly as well as seafood. More information can be found here on Wikipedia.
I have to admit though, the first place that I had okonomiyaki was also coincidentally the first place that I had takoyaki: Tokyo. I honestly loved how it was served piping hot and fresh off the griddle with the drizzle of Japanese mayo and donburi sauce. It has to be served fresh! However, I have to remind myself that this is not possible in the United States. That being the case, I did not find myself to be quite a fan of this dish at Haru Ichiban. It wasn’t terrible, but there wasn’t enough pork belly in my personal opinion. In addition, there was no seafood. There was maybe only about four slices of pork belly, a moderate amount of cabbage, and a ton of ramen. For $12.95, I don’t really feel like this is an adequate representation of what should and could be a great dish.
For my dad, I ordered beef juu. Beef Juu is pretty much one of those bento boxes except this one specifically has terriyaki beef slices on there. I believe the actual name for this is called gyudon (ギウドん）. This dish was one of my favorites when I went to Kyoto: the city had shut down for the night as we arrived quite late on the shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo that day. Even though we got this dish at a small food court near the hotel (it was purchased by a vending machine ticket order), it was more delicious than any that I have had in the United States. Haru Ichiban actually does a pretty good rendition of gyudon. One of my favorite dishes to order from Haru is actually the ten-don where instead of terriyaki beef slices, a good heaping of mixed tempura is placed on the rice prior to the ladling of the sauce on top. Also, there is no egg with the ten-don.
The beef was well cooked, not overcooked. The sauce helps combat any dryness that may occur, but I believe that this isn’t even an issue as the beef is cooked in the sauce. The sauce is also of a moderate amount so it can perfectly accompany the amount of rice in the bowl. It is perfect for anyone who just likes rice and beef. The meal is accompanied with miso soup as well. All in all, I had no fear in ordering this dish as Haru has always left me completely satisfied with their ten-juu.
The last dish we ordered was the tonkatsu ramen. There are many variations of what ramen should be, many of them differing in the broth. Tonkatsu ramen is a pork broth, often creamy whereas miso ramen has miso paste in the broth. More information on ramen can be found here. I can’t say that I’ve had that salted pickled mustard bits before in Japanese ramen, but it definitely works for me. As mentioned before, the broth isn’t as salty as the one at Shoya Izakaya. This definitely ranks it a bit higher for me. I wish there was a little bit more pork belly slices though, or rather, pork belly slices that were marinated and thicker. While the Daikokuya ramen pork belly in LA looked like it had exploded with hormones, the slices at Haru Ichiban were very thin. However, as someone who really loves bamboo, they had just the right amount of bamboo slices (seasoned) for the dish. It was definitely the perfect thing for a cold night.
All in all, a summary:
- beef juu (gyudon): **** (4 stars)
- okonomiyaki: **.75 (2.75 stars)
- tonkatsu ramen: ***.75 (3.75 stars)
It was great to come back to Haru Ichiban. Tokyo Shokudo is definitely a “local” favorite, but I missed a bigger menu to choose from. If you wanted to check out Haru Ichiban for yourself:3646 Satellite Blvd
Duluth, GA 30096