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Raw Courage

None of these flaws was fatal. But Sushi Boat started sinking in our estimation when one of the sushi dudes began wiping his runny nose with his hand between orders. By this time, the antics of the three young chefs had gone beyond amusing and were approaching obnoxious. They were laughing and obviously making fun of each other and the diners, plainly conscious they had an audience and making the most of it.

The snot-nosed sushi chef asked us if we wanted more, and we broke the land-speed record for saying, "No, thanks." We felt safer finishing off the meal with a slice of respectable cheesecake topped with mandarin oranges ($2.50), then went home to take a few zinc lozenges just in case.

Fortunately, the chefs behind the bar at the ten-month-old Sushi Terrace, located at the far end of a plaza anchored by a King Soopers, were from the old school, comfortingly quiet and subdued, and seemingly healthy. They worked in a beautiful dining room full of the elegant touches and graceful lines that mark Japanese decor, a design laid out by part-owner Catherine Peavy. The other owners are Robert and Hsiaoling (Charlene to the regulars) Thai; he serves as manager and she waits tables and makes friends with the customers by being absolutely charming.

The sushi itself was lackluster. Although the fish was fresh and properly carved, every piece--mackerel, tuna, yellowtail and octopus (99 cents each during Sushi Terrace's nightly 5 to 8 p.m. "happy hour")--scored low on the flavor scale. And the rice under each piece kept falling apart. I noticed that one of the sushi chefs had very wet hands--the chefs often dampen their fingers so they won't stick to the rice as it's molded--and this could have caused the rice to lose some of its adhesive qualities.

Although the sushi itself was bland, Sushi Terrace's rolls were excellent, artfully arranged and attractively presented. The soft-shell crab ($5.60) arrived in two towers, each crowned with a claw and enhanced with a spicy mayonnaise that made the roll taste appealingly like a sandwich. The salmon-skin roll ($3.80) was another good catch: crispy, salty fragments of skin clung to substantial chunks of soft salmon dressed up with horseradish sprouts and a teriyaki-like sauce.

And things just kept getting better. An order of yellowtail collar ($7.95) brought a hefty hunk of the fish salted on the outside and cooked until the inside fell apart with the touch of a chopstick. It was so utterly rich that it needed a good dousing from the lemon wedges that came on the side to counteract the oiliness. Also delectable was the soft-shell crab ($5.95), with wavy crests of batter reminiscent of fish-and-chips and a softly spicy, ginger-heavy dipping sauce. The calamari tempura ($5.95) benefitted from similar treatment: Under their coating, the planks of squid were tender and tasty, as were the pieces of zucchini, mushrooms and sweet potato; the dish was strewn with onions and carrots that had been shredded into long, thin strips that made for some nice munching.

But with a name like Sushi Terrace, this place needs to improve its drab sushi before it will be on firm restaurant ground. And Sushi Boat? It's not going to stay afloat long if the young chefs don't grow--and dry--up; the kitchen needs to even out as well.

Otherwise, with sushi joints popping up on almost every corner, we've got other fish to fry.

Sushi Boat, 3460 South Locust Street, 757-3181. Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 5-10 p.m. Monday-Friday; 5-10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.

Sushi Terrace, 8162 South Holly Street, Littleton, 779-7931. Hours: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday-Friday; 5-9 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.

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