Sushi was a rarity when I was growing up in southern Arkansas, but these days it’s commonly found in area grocery stores and as standard fare on most Chinese buffets. What’s less common is the high quality and variety served up by Igibon Japanese Restaurant on Rodney Parham Road in Little Rock. Jess and I have been hopelessly enamored of the place since our first time eating there, so much so that when I decided to propose to her, I did it over a plate of Igibon’s excellent age shumai. Nestled in the Market Place shopping center, Igibon is easy to miss, but it’s a shame if you do.
Service at Igibon is impeccable – we’ve never been treated with anything less than the most prompt and courteous service possible. Servers remember their regulars, and although tonight was the first time in several weeks we’ve eaten there, one of the waitresses recognized us immediately and warmly welcomed us back. Having said that, I must warn that excellent service does not translate into fast service, and this is a plus: your order is prepared fresh for you when you place it, and the quality workmanship in the sushi is well worth a bit of a wait. The atmosphere of the restaurant is so conducive to a leisurely meal that I doubt you’ll even notice the extra time it takes to prepare your meal.
We began our meal tonight with inarizushi, sushi rice wrapped in sweet fried tofu, and the mussel clam roll, a nori wrapped mixture of mussels and spices over rice with just a bit of crunch for texture. The inari was flavorful and rich, and I can’t speak highly enough of the mussel and clam mixture. It was rich and savory, with just a bit of spice from the sriracha dotted atop it, and unlike many mussel dishes served locally, it lacked any stale, overpowering fish flavor: a testament to the freshness of Igibon’s sushi.
The menu has a wide variety of non-sushi Japanese dishes such as yakitori and the aforementioned age shumai, and tonight Jess and I went for one of our favorite edible critters, the soft-shell crab. The crab came split in half, dipped in tempura batter, and lightly fried. The batter was perfect, light and crisp without being oily or heavy, and it accentuated (rather than overpowered) the delicate sweetness of the crab meat. This was the first time we had ordered this dish, but I assure you that it won’t be the last.
Our main dish of sushi consisted of tuna rolls, spicy salmon rolls, and another soft-shell crab creation, the spider roll (our waitress pegged us right, “You two love soft-shell crab!”). The tuna roll and the spicy salmon roll are basic sushi options served in most places that sell sushi, but once again, Igibon’s fresh ingredients set them apart in flavor and texture. The tuna has a firm texture and buttery, rich taste, while the spicy salmon was rich and good with enough spice to be assertive without overpowering the delicate taste of the fish. The spider roll, an incredible mixture of rice, (more) fried soft shell crab, fish eggs, cucumber, and avocado, is worth going for alone. The texture combination of soft, firm, and crunchy work together quite well. It’s a hard thing to describe except to say this: perfection.
Igibon Japanese Restaurant is a winner of many local reader’s choice awards from the Arkansas Times, and it’s easy to see why. Great food served by an excellent staff is all too rare these days, and deserves to be recognized where it exists. If you’re in the mood to just sample the food without spending a lot, go before 7pm Monday-Thursday for “happy hour,” a special sushi menu that has sampler sizes of all their rolls and sashimi for less than the full dinner price. Dinner is still a value, though, as two people can easily eat their fill (with great variety) for $30 or less. Igibon is located at 11121 Rodney Parham Road, Suite 13A in Little Rock. You won’t be disappointed!