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Way back in 1988, when sushi was considered more of a punchline than a serious dinner option, Ichiban bravely opened on Orange Avenue, offering sushi and sashimi along with tempura and grilled fare. Ten years later, this spunky downtown pioneer is like the woman scorned in the Gloria Gaynor song -- it has survived. And, its dance card is still filled up with admirers.

Not everyone knows this, and those are the uninformed who show up on Friday and Saturday nights without reservations. There was a whole flock of them waiting outside when we visited. But with reservations, we were whisked into the dining area. It's the same as always -- soothing and casually elegant, with kimonos displayed on blond-brick walls, and a translucent glow thrown off by rice paper lanterns.

Not everyone knows this, and those are the uninformed who show up on Friday and Saturday nights without reservations. There was a whole flock of them waiting outside when we visited. But with reservations, we were whisked into the dining area. It's the same as always -- soothing and casually elegant, with kimonos displayed on blond-brick walls, and a translucent glow thrown off by rice paper lanterns.

Seated on tatami mats in one of the booths, we decided we were in a sushi mood and perused the options: rolls made with gator meat ($4.50), asparagus tempura ($3.95), sea urchin ($5) and even quail egg ($1.50). My guest gave up and chose the special ($9.50): tuna, cucumber and California rolls. Ichiban turned this sushi cliché into quite a presentation, slicing the rolls diagonally and arranging them like blossoms on a chop block.

Seated on tatami mats in one of the booths, we decided we were in a sushi mood and perused the options: rolls made with gator meat ($4.50), asparagus tempura ($3.95), sea urchin ($5) and even quail egg ($1.50). My guest gave up and chose the special ($9.50): tuna, cucumber and California rolls. Ichiban turned this sushi cliché into quite a presentation, slicing the rolls diagonally and arranging them like blossoms on a chop block.

"Dancing eel" turned out to be a happy surprise as well, if an expensive one ($11.95). Crab, cucumber, avocado and flying-fish eggs were rolled up together, bonded by cream cheese and topped with barbecued eel boldly glazed with a dark caramel sauce. Teamed with robust jolts of wasabi, the sushi did exactly what we wanted it to do: primed us for the main course.

"Dancing eel" turned out to be a happy surprise as well, if an expensive one ($11.95). Crab, cucumber, avocado and flying-fish eggs were rolled up together, bonded by cream cheese and topped with barbecued eel boldly glazed with a dark caramel sauce. Teamed with robust jolts of wasabi, the sushi did exactly what we wanted it to do: primed us for the main course.

For dinner, seafood tempura ($12.99) has to be one of the best deals in town. An abundance of shrimp, scallops and grouper fingers were deep-fried in a fine, frothy batter that melted in your mouth. Teamed with broccoli and zucchini tempura, and even a fried banana, they were artfully propped against a lacy "fan" of fried rice noodles.

For dinner, seafood tempura ($12.99) has to be one of the best deals in town. An abundance of shrimp, scallops and grouper fingers were deep-fried in a fine, frothy batter that melted in your mouth. Teamed with broccoli and zucchini tempura, and even a fried banana, they were artfully propped against a lacy "fan" of fried rice noodles.

And the "Ichiban special," while pricey at $20.99, was a solid investment. A polished black box was divided into quarters, which were heaped with delicacies sized just-right for chopsticks: grilled lobster tips nestled into a split lobster tail; chargrilled shrimp and scallops that cast off a sweet, oceanic perfume; slivers of sweet teriyaki steak; and mixed grilled vegetables.

And the "Ichiban special," while pricey at $20.99, was a solid investment. A polished black box was divided into quarters, which were heaped with delicacies sized just-right for chopsticks: grilled lobster tips nestled into a split lobster tail; chargrilled shrimp and scallops that cast off a sweet, oceanic perfume; slivers of sweet teriyaki steak; and mixed grilled vegetables.

Ichiban offers the kind of choices that sushi and sashimi adventurers crave, along with tempura and grilled fare more agreeable with mainstream tastes. It may not break culinary ground, but it's good food, prepared skillfully, and served with attention and a sense of fun. Ichiban continues to inspires quiet confidence.

If you don’t know your Toftbo from your Gutvik, an interminable stroll through the labyrinthine aisles of IKEA will sock your vocabulary like a Mats Sundin hip check, so that by the time you manage to find the exit (that is, if you find the exit), you’ll feel disoriented by the loony lexicon and the harsh, unnerving whiteness of this immense structure. Georges Pompidou himself would likely extol the virtues of the restaurant’s antiseptic postmodernism, but I found myself distracted from the need to order a meal by an inexplicable desire to buy a floor lamp. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself in a similar predicament. If it’s ultimately Swedish meatballs you crave, you’ll extol the virtues of the Euro-cafeteria’s kottbullar: 15 meaty orbs slathered in a sour-cream gravy with some damn fine mashed potatoes and killer lingonberry preserves, all for a reasonable $4.99.

The thought of eating fish in a furniture warehouse may strike some as frighteningly Scandinavian, but the gravad lax ($4.99), cured salmon served with a mustard-dill sauce, wasn’t too bad. Washing it down with apple cake ($2.29) and a bottle of Kristian lingonberry-apple sparkler ($2.29) almost made me forget I was dining inside an iPod. And when the exit doors finally came into view, the sweet scent of fresh-baked cinnamon buns halted me in my tracks. Another distraction – how Swede it is.

There are times when a quiet meal in quiet surroundings is all you want. No chatting from people nearby, no loud noise -- you get enough of that at work -- just sitting down in front of a plate of food and tucking in. Doesn't even matter what kind of food, really ... just peace.

On those days, don't go to Il Pescatore. But if you crave a good dinner in an atmosphere that will remind you more of Sunday afternoon at Aunt Marie's than Ristorante di Silenzio, head as quickly as possible to east Orlando and grab a table.

Marie, by the way, is usually at the front counter. She greets diners as if they're old friends, and the amazing thing is, most are. Before this place was Il Pescatore ("the fisherman"), it was Jocelyne's, a French and Italian place, and before that, just plain Italian as Sorrento's. Back then, Stefano Lacommare was the chef, and he and his wife Marie left in '95 to open Stefano's Trattoria on Aloma Avenue. But the little place got too little, and while Stefano's is still there under different ownership, Lacommare has returned to Primrose Drive.

With wood-paneled walls and uncovered wood tables, Il Pescatore is more relaxed than your typical restaurant. There's a never-ending flow of people walking in the front door, out the side door and heading to tables. There's talking, continuously -- chatter behind you, a discussion across the room, an explosion of laughter from the back. In other words, this is an Italian restaurant, the kind I'd all but given up on seeing again outside of New York's Arthur Avenue.

And the food lives up to that image. Nothing comes out of a jar. The cozze marinara appetizer ($6.95) consists of lovely mussels simply served on half-shell with a rich tomato sauce full of garlic and a slightly dark basil taste. There's an extensive list of pasta dishes, including sautéed tortellini with cream sauce and a touch of prosciutto ($6.95), and more than a dozen sauces that you can mix with your choice of pasta.

There are almost too many dinner choices, from traditional house specialties like "trippa del Pescatore" (tripe in tomato sauce; $12.95) to linguini with clams, conch or squid ($10.95). The cannelloni ($10.95) is splendid: pasta envelopes stuffed with ground chicken, ricotta cheese and mushrooms that tasted like they were marinated in garlic, then topped with mozzarella. The chicken special on one visit was a sheet of chicken breast wrapped around a four-cheese risotto. The softball-sized dish is baked, then served in a marsala wine sauce.

Go welcome Stefano back to the neighborhood. Tell 'em Joe sent ya.

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