Pity the plight of the landlocked seafood lover. Oh sure, we here in the Natural State have managed to work with what we’ve got, turning our rivers’ catfish into something of a local culinary religion — but being hundreds of miles from the nearest body of salt water really limits what can easily be gotten locally.
But all is not lost for those who pine for protein caught in the briny deep. There are places in town that get fresh fish shipped in daily, flown and trucked quickly from the coast in order to maximize freshness. One of these places is Igibon Japanese Food House, a classic Little Rock eatery that has been the recipient of many awards over the years, most recently coming in as first runner-up for Best Sushi in our most recent Readers’ Choice poll. Igibon has weathered staff changes, management changes and even a change in ownership a few years ago, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is its attention to quality in every bite.
So what’s good at Igibon? We’re tempted to make this the shortest review in Arkansas Times history by simply saying, “everything,” but we know you want more detail than that. We generally start off our meal with two bowls of miso soup ($1.75), a rich tangy broth that cleanses the palate and prepares us for the feast to come. To give Igibon’s sushi chef time to prepare the mass quantities we normally order, we follow up our soup with plates of pan-fried gyoza ($4) or the similarly deep-fried age shumai ($4). Fans of non-fried fare are not ignored, though, as the chicken yakitori ($4.50) or seaweed salad ($4.50) also makes for a delicious starter to any meal at Igibon.
When it comes to the main course at any sushi place, sometimes the names of the different rolls and other items can be confusing, and we’ve always appreciated Igibon’s detailed descriptions of its sushi. Of particular note is the Sakura roll ($9.95), a concoction of spicy tuna wrapped in rice, wrapped again in red snapper, and topped with roe, which, together, scratches every itch a landlocked seafood lover might have. For a less-busy roll, the classic tuna ($5) and salmon ($4) rolls are a delight, with the fresh, clean-tasting fish accented just right by the delicate rice and salty seaweed that encases it.
To really get at the heart of how fresh and good the sushi is at Igibon, be sure to order several pieces of the nigiri, which is sushi at its most simple: a thick slab of tender fish gently resting atop a pillow of rice. There’s really no way to go wrong here: The tuna ($5) is delightfully firm and fresh, and the salmon ($4) and red snapper ($4) are equally lovely. The best piece, though, is what the menu calls “super white tuna” ($6), a buttery and decadent albacore that we could eat all night. Each piece is a bite worth savoring, and we always feel a pang of regret when we’ve finished, which often results in ordering more.
Where Igibon excels beyond its excellent fresh fish is with their rice preparation, something to which most Americans eaters don’t pay attention. Learning to prepare sushi is mostly learning how to make and work with rice, and Igibon hits the sweet spot: light, well-packed rice that isn’t too dense, and served just warm enough so that the subtle play of rice vinegar and sugar that makes the rice adhere comes through with a light, sweet note that seasons the fish better than anything else. The result is bite after bite of true artistry, all served up with Igibon’s signature friendly smiles and welcoming attitudes.
There are other places to get good sushi in Little Rock, but we keep returning to Igibon because it has an intimate, homey atmosphere that’s the mark of an eatery that has been around long enough to become a vital part of the community. Couple that with the fresh flavors and great selection, and you’ve got a restaurant that never fails to please.