Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Mitsui - Irvine

In Irvine, there are more Japanese restaurants than there are McDonald's. It's true! My estimate puts sushi bars and Japanese joints outnumbering the Golden Arches by at least ten to seven.

Developers at The Irvine Company must have a standing arrangement that for every shopping center built here, there should be at least one Japanese or sushi bar in it. Some are better than others. And most aren't even owned or operated by Japanese. But you can bet that as Irvine's border expands to meet the proposed Great Park at the former El Toro Airfield, there will be a few more places for citizens to get a California Roll and Teriyaki Chicken.

At the southern border of Irvine, occupying a coveted corner of a neighborhood shopping center, Mitsui is the youngest of the breed. Immaculately designed with jutting bamboo poles acting as room dividers and art, it's the kind of place that serves sushi rolls with inexplicable names like Dejavu, Monkey, and Playboy.

The rest of the menu runs the gamut of Japanese restaurant mainstays and there is, of course, a sushi boat listed among them.

The proprietors of Mitsui know their clientele well. The target market is Quail Hill, a posh new neighborhood that now dots the last undeveloped, grassy hills of Irvine where previously, I assume, there were only quail. And what better way is there for a restaurant to curry the favor of its intended customer base than by serving up something called the Quail Hill Roll.

We didn't try the Quail Hill Roll that night, but it left us wondering if our own neighborhood sushi joint, S. Sushinoya, offered up a Northpark Roll.

Instead, we opted for the familiar Rainbow Roll Combo ($15.95), which was typical of other incarnations I've had before. Shrimp, tuna, salmon, whitefish, and mackerel hugged the top of a California Roll, cut into bite-sized pieces. The ingredients were fresh, cold, and briskly invigorating. It was just the thing to cool down our sweaty heads after the scorcher of a day we endured.

The platter also included four pieces of nigiri which were good, so long as I temporarily erased the memories of omakase at Sushi Shibucho.

Worthy of its name was the Spicy Tuna Roll ($6.95). Each morsel looked like a stunning broach with a red ruby center which packed a wallop of flavor. Its raw tuna nucleus, chopped and mixed with Sriracha, smacked us unexpectedly with its capsaicin punch.

Next up was the House Special Roll ($10.95) which was a California Roll blanketed with thick slabs of albacore, smeared with avocado, sprinkled with shaved red onion and scallions, and finished with a drizzling of mayo-ponzu sauce.

The mass was just about impossible to handle with a chopstick, tumbling like a deck of cards before it reached the vicinity of our lips. But once conquered, it melted in our mouths with ease. The tart sauce complemented the subtle albacore, while the avocado added richness and body.

After the cooling comfort of the sushi rolls, we were ready for the bliss that is deep fried seafood. The Fried Oysters ($5.95) were standard issue, but nonetheless greaseless and golden, freshly plucked from the deep fryer. Dunks in tonkatsu and hot mustard really brought out its briny soul.

We should have stopped there, because the Unagi Tempura Roll ($8.95) disappointed. Eel, crab, smelt roe and avocado was rolled inside sushi rice, which was then coated with tempura batter and deep fried. The resulting dish was dazzling at first, but in the same way deep fried ice cream is dazzling -- a novelty that sounds better on paper than in practice.

The first bite was intriguing, with the hot, crunchy golden crust calling out to itself. But the second was less appealing as I noticed that the heat of the oil had compacted and transformed the sushi rice into an unpleasantly gummy and dense paste. The aforementioned fillings were also similarly beaten into submission, rendering its flavors mute and impotent.

The lesson learned?

Irvine sushi joints: everywhere. Cold sushi: good. Fried sushi: bad.

6731 Quail Hill Pkwy.
Irvine, CA 92603


At 4:14 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

Sushi has got to be one of my favorite comfort foods. But I agree. Don't go frying my sushi.
Were there a lot of Japanese diners there? That,to me, is a big indicator of if a restaurant is any good.

At 10:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Great review and some excellent photos.

I am curious as to the pricing. Is that a standard range for sushi in OC? That seems rather expensive to me. I know I am in landlocked Phoenix, but we do get some decent sushi here that is well below that in cost.

Best wishes!

At 5:37 PM, Blogger Passionate Eater said...

Reading your post has given me a really good idea Elmo. You see, my favorite sushi roll is California Roll, and my bf loves anything with sashimi. We always bicker like arch enemies over which rolls to order. Now, I think I'll learn a trick from you and order the Rainbow California Roll and Mitsui California Roll (if they have an equivalent at the restaurant I am at). That way, I can have my favorite, and so can my bf.

Great idea to cool off with sashimi and sushi. I'm also stealing that idea too! (But I'll avoid the miso soup.)

At 10:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aaah, another Cali-Sushi joint. They seem to be popping up everywhere!

At 11:24 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Actually, now that you mention it, most of the customers weren't Japanese or even Asian. If I can attempt to classify them, they belonged to California Roll Crowd than they are of Uni Sect. But then so was I that night...I was in the mood for something simple and satisfying.


Believe or not, the prices are pretty typical of sushi joints around these parts. I actually had a 15% off coupon which blunted the sting a little. That said, we were pretty stuffed by the end.


It seems places like Mitsui uses a California Roll base for virtually every roll. The stuff was cool, creamy and crabby...

The recent boom of sushi joints reminds me of that episode of No Reservations where Tony ate at a Texas sushi bar with a Mexican chef and a Taiwanese owner. Just goes to show sushi is on the verge of becoming an American staple like other previously ethnocentric foods; bagels and pizza. I for one welcome it. (Just so long as there are still a few places to get the traditional stuff when I want it.)

The Bill,

I've heard of Ango Tei and have been meaning to go, and I know exactly where it is, but always seem to get sidetracked. What's not to miss there?


Yup! It's a sushi BOOM! In fact, there should be a place called Sushi BOOM! (with the Exclamation Point!) I'd eat there.

At 10:04 PM, Blogger Ron Oda said...

cool... my friend lives up in quail hill, will go check it out..

went to Stricklands the other week with my friends and it was as good as you described it... she's hooked though, checking the emailed flavors of the week and rearranging her schedule around it... pretty comical..

hey elmo.. still no Roma D'Itlaia posting????? wassup wit dat????
Underrated man....

can check out our movie in Sept at L.A. Korean Film Fest or I think we're gonna hook up with Kirk down in Oct for San Diego Asian Film Fest

At 3:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

have you tried taiko near the corner of jeffrey and walnut in irvine? if you plan on having sushi, i suggest eating at the sushi bar, it won't be the same if you don't. certain items you can only order from the sushi bar as well. seems like you've had some bad experiences with deep fried sushi, but if you get a chance to eat here, order the deep fried special aka #5. it's not on any menu, it's more of a secret menu like the one in-n-out has, there's a #1 though #5, for the curious. give it a try, i'd definitely like to hear what you think.

keep up the great reviews!

At 8:01 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

rick james,

That Strickland's can be addicting. But since it isn't Fro-yo it's a dangerous addiction.

Still waiting to go for Roma D'Italia (it's the only Italian place on my list of joints to try). But Italian food, for some reason, always gets bumped for some other spur of the moment craving.

Man, we need an Asian film festival at UCI...the Asianest college in California!


Ah yes, Taiko. I've been many times during my formative years at UCI. Except I've always done the combos, which I thought were alright, but not mind-blowing -- and that line! What's up with that line!?

I'll have to check out the sushi bar per your recommendation. Secret menus are always fund to discover.

At 10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Elmo,
Great review,as always.What are your thoughts as to S. Sushinoya,your local sushi joint...it's mine as well,although I've only tryed it for takeout.Had the seafood salad which was only adequate.Wasa sushi in the Marketplace is also a good option in the area.Do you have a preference?
(Stormin Norman)

At 2:23 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Have a great time in Europe! Although by the time you get back, I think the baguettes you would have eaten there will probably spoil you for the rest of your life. Zon Baguettes hasn't got a chance! ;-)

Stormin Norman,

Interestingly, S. Sushinoya is one of the two Japanese places in Irvine I *HAVEN'T* tried. I'll probably be trying it soon though.

WaSa, I have tried. And I liked it. They're probably one of the better choices in Irvine for unconventional rolls, and their clientele seems to consist of trend-setters which means the prices have to match. Although I much prefer their rolls to their "Treasures". My complaint about the "Treasures" was that the sauces used seems to overpower the delicate flavor of nigiri. In that regard, I guess I'm a nigiri purist.

At 12:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

we've been visiting mitsui often a while ago. They raised the price over these few months. we suspect that they've changed the owner. The noodles tasted not as good as before (actually bad). but it looks that the sushi chef are the same (not confirm, since we don't eat sushi). for these reasons, this is not a place we managed to visit again.

At 3:11 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


They have indeed changed ownership. I used a coupon that was attached to a big full page ad on Clipper Magazine and it proclaimed, in big typeface "Under new Management". Seeing as how this was our first visit, I, unfortunately, could not tell whether it has improved or declined from the previous owners. But I did notice that the prices are generally steeper than other Irvine sushi joints.

At 11:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Try this place in Costa Mesa, "Tentation", good place for happy hour and clubbing on the weekend. I love their sushi (only cooked meat tho') and the scenery not too bad either.

Thanks again for the blogs!! Loving it!!

At 3:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know how often they have it, but their fresh Spanish Mackeral was excellent, and the presentation would make it even better for one of your photos.

At 9:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone who works very close to Mitsui and have eaten there fairly regularly, I can attest to the fact that the restaurant is indeed under new ownership. Interestingly, the sushi went down hill VERY quickly after the new owners took over and one of the chefs left. Can't say if there's been a complete change in staff subsequent to that however, the chef seemed to have returned but without the other sushi chefs and the quality seems to have improved significantly. What I'm trying to say is that: previously there had been only one sushi chef there who did a decent job. The others were mediocre hacks at best (guys who really would've been better at catching the fish rather than cutting them...). However the skilled chef has returned and with him a new batch of sushi men who so far seem to know their stuff....

At 8:58 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Thanks for posting. I had to delete and repost your comment. It had a link that screwed up the formatting of the page. Here's your original post with the link embedded:

My husband and I love japanese food. We have been trying out many places and so far.. From all those japanese restaurants (that's not owned by Japanese ppl. meaning the sushi chef and waitresses are not Japanese).. was MITSUI the WORST!!!!!!!

The food was not authentic and not fresh... I did some research about this place later because we both didn't feel well after dinner..
And I found out that this place was closed for quite a time because of insanitary environment that can cause food poisoning..

here is the link... I would definitely not recommend this food place.. service is rude and the food is to overpriced and pretty bad..

At 1:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

AVOID Mitsui - Irvine!
We ate sushi here on Friday 02/01/08 and my wife got food poisoning (first time ever - anywhere. We're calling the OC Health Dept.


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