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ICHIBAN SUSHI

Utah's restaurants and teenagers have at least two things in common - both are inconsistent and unpredictable.

When our 14-year-old daughter chose a sushi place for her birthday dinner recently, we raised our eyebrows (ever so slightly) and said, as parents of this age must often say, "Why . . . of course!" To her credit, Erika is a risk taker, as we've sampled different restaurants over the years, and she has always had a fascination, if not a taste, for Japanese cuisine.Enthralled with sushi chefs, more the technique than specifically the raw seafood (she even has rolled her own sushi for a speech class demonstration in junior high), she was insistent.

For a young female who's interested in Japanese cuisine and sushi, sushi chef Rebecca Ince of the Ichiban Sushi in Park City was our choice. Ince, described as the only female sushi chef in the world, presides over a colorful and well-stocked sushi bar.

Unique sushi and sashimi specials appropriately prepared for the setting include the Deer Valley ($6.25), scallop salad, eel, crab with eel sauce on top; the Park City ($6.25), cucumber, avocado, fish eggs, shrimp tempura and Japanese mayonnaise; the Rainbow ($7.25), crab inside and tuna, yellowtail, salmon on the outside; and the Utah ($6.25), eel, avocado and flying fish eggs, to name a few of the inventive specialties.

Others include a preparation with smoked salmon and gravlox sauce (the Oslo), ceviche with shrimp and the Charly that is tempura fried. These are for those who might be squeamish about the totally uncooked variety. There is a lengthy list of the traditional sushi preparations as well.

From the specials we sampled, there is little doubt that Ince is a deservedly praised sushi chef.

Our disappointments were from the other half of the kitchen. While a miso broth was rich and served piping hot from the kitchen, there were miscues and ordinary overpriced entrees that detracted from our overall experience.

Noticeably dirty water glasses, while replaced by our waitress, were served without a first glance. Four gyoza appetizers (for $4.75 most places would serve six) were too crispy on the outside and tasteless inside. The tenpura on the combination plates was soggy and some vegetables were unevenly cut.

A bowl of tori katsudonburi, fried strips of chicken breast with a fried egg over rice with broth, was $12.50 and uninspired. The tomioka combination, bite-size chicken tenpura with mint leaves (better in concept than execution), vegetable tenpura, and a very good steak teriyaki, cost $17.50. A green salad, besides the broth, should have been included.

The seafood sukiyaki ($14.50), or traditional Japanese stew, featured small chunks of nicely prepared salmon, but tough shrimp and minimal portions of other ingredients and a salty sauce detracted from the dish.

Other menu items include agedashi tofu ($3.50); Japanese shiskabobs, kushi yaki (priced per item on the skewer); several combination plates ($16.50 to $21) with teriyaki, sukiyaki and tenpura selections; tenpura plates ($13.95 to $16.50); donburi bowls and four choices of sukiyaki, around $14.

Like some adolescents, Ichiban Sushi is uneven, with highs and lows; but it should have outgrown some of its imbalances by now.

Rating: * * 1/2

Ichiban Sushi, 424 Main, (above Cafe Terigo) Park City. 649-2865. Open for dinner only 5:30 until 9:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Hours vary with the season. Accepts major credit cards and check with guarantee card.