Ichiza, located about a mile East of Raku on the second floor of one of the many Asian strip-malls on Spring Mountain, does everything I've tried amazingly well. From the simple but tasty beef tataki to the miso marinated cod, the boiled tripe in a tasty broth to the chicken katsu, everything is cooked wonderfully and has flavors good enough to make this critic swear off French cuisine for good (don't worry, I had my fingers crossed). This place makes me extra happy because they have lightly breaded, deep fried smelt, a hard to find favorite of mine. I even tried their fermented soybeans. Definitely an acquired taste. The deep fried quail eggs garnered what has been my only complaint about their food thus far, with the plastic-like outer part on a couple of the whites (this happens whenever you over fry an egg) of the otherwise delicious eggs.
So where does the contrast with Raku come in? Certainly both do a bang-up job in the food department, but it comes down to one thing: Style. While Raku is warm and inviting in a more sedate and refined way, Ichiza welcomes you with communal tables, a long bar, upbeat music barely audible over the more raucous crowd, and an English speaking waitstaff. The platings at Ichiza cannot touch the delicate grace of those at Raku, but they don't really need to. Ichiza does everything right with the food and has dead solid service so the more rudimentary platings won't bother anyone.
While Raku will probably remain my go-to spot with foreign dignitaries (friends and family) and heads of state (my girlfriend), Ichiza is my new favorite gritty locale for out-of-this-world late-night grub.
Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.