Yoshi Honda’s I-Naba is more than just a jewel box of Japanese cooking; it is a state of mind: a peaceful retreat, practically hidden, difficult to find, that can soothe jangled nerves and calm finicky waters.
There is nothing fancy about it. A dozen or so tables, some simple art on the walls, and a wine cooler about the size of a household fridge give scant indication of the subtle perfection coming out of this tiny kitchen.
The Food Gal® could eat here four times a week and be one contented connoisseur; our staff on the other hand, prefers a monthly visit — whenever their palates grow weary of the protein-and-starch-fests bestowed upon them by more inelegant cuisines.
We find the terrific battera (cured mackerel on pressed sushi rice):
….and the cold soba noodles here:
Unlike some soba, these taste of buckwheat and have just the proper bite to them. Equally arresting is the zuke tororo (marinated, raw tuna), the battera (marinated mackerel on sushi rice) and the satsuma-age (lightly fried fish cakes with ginger) — every bite as haunting and delicate as Japanese food can be.
There was also no fault found with the deeply-flavored broth in the warm soba with vegetables, and the tempura:
…have that subtle, almost invisible crunch that set off the flavor of the shrimp and vegetables without competing with them.
Put it all together with a small-but-excellent sake list, great Japanese beers, good tea, even better house-made soft drinks, and informed, efficient service, and you have the ideal antidote to heavy, fat-laden Western eating, and a gem of a restaurant.
The fact that it’s criminally cheap doesn’t hurt, either. It is almost impossible for two people to spend more than forty bucks in the joint — exclusive of alcohol.
In fact, now that we think about it, in terms of price-to-value-to-flavor-to-health ratio, I-Naba should be Number 1 on this list.
Favorite dishes: Vegetable Ten-Don; Zaru (chilled soba noodles); Zuke Toro (marinated sliced tuna); Satsuma-age (fried fish cake); Battera (lightly cured mackerel over sushi rice); Salmon Oshizushi (pressed, cured salmon with roe); Kakuni (braised pork belly); Chawanmushi (egg custard with shrimp); Agedashi Tofu (tofu in dashi broth); Gyu Wappa Meshi Combination (just because it’s fun to say out loud – no, actually it’s great – thinly sliced beef over rice); Seafood Tempura; Vegetable Tempura; Anything With Tempura In The Title; All Rice Bowls; All Noodle Dishes; Basically the whole friggin’ menu, save for the desserts.*
3210 South Decatur Blvd.
* Remember ELV’s Inviolable End-of-Meal Axiom: If you want a great dessert in an Asian restaurant, go to a French one.