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Mar 26, 2007 07:54 AM

Taiko in Irvine Is So Overrated!

I went there on Saturday with my sister for her birthday and was so disappointed. I was intending to take her to Frenzy Sushi in Costa Mesa but then heard raves from a couple of acquaintances about Taiko and their fresh fish and the value and quality.

I do have to say that their portions and their set deals are a very good value. You get a lot for your money. My sister ordered the lobster boat and it come with a large lobster tail, shrimp and vegetable tempura, beef skewer, soup, rice, kobachi, ice cream, and green tea all for less than $19. She actually said the lobster was surprisingly good. I got sesame chicken, shrimp and vegetable tempura, sashimi, soup, rice, and green tea for less than $15.

We had tons of food, but truth be told, I'd rather have a smaller high-quality meal than a large mediocre meal. The tempura was so stale, the chicken and beef were chewy, the tuna sashimi was frozen, the red snapper was dry and rubbery and had no flavor. I wonder if you order a la carte if the fish is any better. I tried to look at other tables and check it out and it seemed like the fish was of the same quality even if you didn't order the set combos. To give credit, I tasted my sister's lobster and it was fairly tasty for something that came part of a big set that's less than $20. Everything else left me non-plussed.

I really can't understand the appeal of this place. Is it just about quantity? They sure do give you a lot for your money, but what's the point if it's no good??? We went on a Saturday night at 7:30pm and were expecting a really long wait (I've heard upwards of 2 hours), but we got in in about 40 minutes. The traffic was amazingly steady though and obviously it's a local favorite. I had to give a try based on the assessments I'd heard. Now I've been there and done that and am left very underwhelmed. What gives??? Was it just an off day??? I do not recommend this place but will give it another try if other chowhounds give it praise.

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  1. Many, many Japanese restaurants serve set meals for the American palate; most are not particularly known for their tempura.

    I've been to Taiko; I think they've slipped in the last few years. But a trip to Taiko was always for sushi, not for their set meals.

    I don't think they're overrated (I don't know anyone to rate them particularly high); you probably went with high expectations and experienced a huge let down (esp b/c it was your sister's bday).

    5 Replies
    1. re: OCAnn

      Well, based on the ravings of my two acquaintances and the long waits there, I naturally went in with the assessment that people rate them particularly high. I thought about what you said about it being a letdown as a result of my expectations being high (for my sister's birthday), but I disagree. Expectations aside, I think I can tell bad food just based on whether it's bad or not, and it was bad that night. However, it looks like it might have to do with dish selection or sitting at the bar vs. dining roo.

      1. re: hch_nguyen

        Too bad you didn't check CH prior to going about what to order and/or what to avoid.

        I hope you don't base your decision of Taiko on a bad menu choice. Keep in mind that there are many, many restaurants that do most dishes well and fail at a couple others. It's like going to El Farolito, ordering a tamale, and coming back to the board and saying "El Farolito is So Overrated!" Not a fair assessment based on that particular combo platter. I love El Farolito, but not their tamales.

        1. re: OCAnn

          On the contrary, I did check out the boards before going to Taiko, and the truth is there was no real consensus, which is reflected in the entirety of this thread alone as there are chowhounds who agree with me, even those who have eaten at the bar including elmomonster who originally gave the nod to Frenzy Sushi. Even upon reflection on what you said, I feel my post is fair but will definitely give it another try and would gladly post an update if the experience is better.

          I didn't really rate Taiko on one dish, per se. The tempura was bad, the chicken was bad, the beef was bad, the sashimi was bad. I did mention though that the lobster was much better than expected ironically. That was the one dish I thought would taste horrible.

          I know there is a dining room vs. bar factor here, too, but lots of people eat in the dining room, too, based on the dining room wait that night and judging from what I saw that night, lots of people eat the set boxes. So, I don't think it's that much of a stretch to say that Taiko was overrated based on my experience and my choice considering that a good chunk of their business comes from the dining room menu. It's not as if I went there and ordered a hamburger and fries and then stated that they were over-rated. Plus, you said yourself upthread that you don't know anyone who rates Taiko particularly high anyway.

          I do intend to go back and sit at the bar and see if that makes a difference. I like to give places another chance if other chowhounds do.

          1. re: hch_nguyen

            My own sister gets quite verbose when she feels the need to explain, justify or defend. No need to go to the extreme of ordering hamburgers from a Japanese restaurant. Opinions aside, most places are known for some dishes over others; which is what I'm saying about Taiko. Note the consensus that Taiko isn't known for the quality of their combo platters.

            1. re: hch_nguyen

              I ate TaiKo twice and nothing that was really impress me. Their food weren't cheap and I had to wait a long line to get in. I think it's ridiculous. I agree with hch nguyen.

      2. I never got the whole Taiko thing either. I've been a few times, both for sushi and also for their set meals, and just as you put it, it left me "non-plussed" as well.

        That line also turns me off.

        Down the street at Tomikawa, which is a little better and less crowded than Taiko.

        1. you hit the nail on the head. its large portions of decent food for very little money. and as ocann mentioned, the aforementioned combo is loved by a whole lotta people.

          1. I'm with Ann on this. Alot depends on what you order, and I have to say that you picked the wrong things. The kitchen stuff, as noted, is mostly meh, and hardly worth the stomach space. I believe that's an obligatory business compromise, to punish people who refuse to eat raw fish.

            Next time: sushi bar. No set menu sushi assortments. Bite the bullet, go early, deal with the line, insist on bar seating.

            They're known for big portions of fish on the nigiri, and the fish is always fresh because they go through alot of it every day. Don't discount the importance of that (the turnover & freshness, not the big portions).

            They also have a wide inventory of fish, unlike your usual neighborhood sushi joint that only stocks the typical entry level, top sellers. Taiko pulls a fairly high percentage of sushi savvy people who expect the more challenging / expensive ingredients, and again, they turn over this inventory.

            As with any sushi bar, show the chef you want him to step up and bring out the good stuff, and he will. At Taiko, they carry the good stuff, trust me. Splashing around the shallow end of the pool won't earn you the goods. Start big and jump into the deep end, right away. Much better strategy for eating at any sushi bar, but especially at Taiko

            8 Replies
            1. re: Professor Salt

              So, what you're saying, Professor Salt, is that the quality of the fish varies based on whether you order a set sushi assortment or whether you order a la carte? Or is it a bar vs. dining room thing? The sashimi that came with my combo definitely was in no way fresh or flavorful. I generally don't order sets or combos at sushi places but opted to that time because my dinner partner that night doesn't eat raw fish and almost always orders a set or box.

              Anyway, if I am understanding you correctly, I'm willing to give Taiko another shot and order a la carte. If I order a la carte in the dining room instead of at the bar, will this diminish the quality of the fish??? If I sit at the bar, will my dining partner still be able to order one of her preferred combos/boxes from the kitchen???

              1. re: hch_nguyen

                I've tried most of the sushi assortments and have never been very happy. My family and friends love that place so I have to go. A better tack might be to ask what fresh fish is there that day and see if you can get some of that from the sushi bar. If you have money, you could try Bluefin in Newport Beach but I personally haven't had anything that made me like the place. Most others disagree with me.

                Honestly, I have always made it a point to ask people sitting next to me at the sushi bar why they chose Taiko (because I don't get it) and they usually say something along the lines of lots of sushi for small price. They are usually chewing on spicy tuna rolls or something like that. That said, I did have one spectacular meal there. I'm not sure if it was a fluke or maybe the stars were aligned correctly that day.

                1. re: hch_nguyen

                  "So, what you're saying, Professor Salt, is that the quality of the fish varies based on whether you order a set sushi assortment or whether you order a la carte?"

                  Well, sort of. The maguro you'll get at the sushi bar is the same as you'll get when you sit at a table. If you sit at the bar, your dining partner will not be able to order a combo / box from the kitchen. It's generally disallowed at busy sushi restaurants like Taiko. If you're looking for great cooked items for your friend, you're better off eating at somewhere else, like Honda Ya, or Shin Sen Gumi's robatayaki restaurant (as opposed to their ramen shop next door). Great Japanese food is all about specialization. Unfortunately, if you go to these, their specialty is not raw fish so don't order sashimi even though it's on the menu.

                  The more important point I want to make about Taiko is the many varieties of the fish on hand, for which you'll need to order a la carte. When you order a set assortment of sushi, you're limiting yourself to the garden variety, best selling fish like tuna, halibut, and yellowtail. Most restaurants are buying a similar grade of farm raised hamachi, so I can understand your underwhelmed response to high expectations.

                  With apologies in advance to the people who adore a lean cut of blood red maguro, but I consider it a waste of waste of time and appetite. I'd much rather fork out the extra shekels for a premuim piece of oo-toro that melts in my mouth like butter. Does your average neighborhood sushi joint carry oo-toro? They do not, because their customers don't ask for it.

                  Taiko does a better job than most at old school, half-gringo sushi. The fish will be fresh, and the portions will be enormous. But where most restaurants have no repertoire beyond their dozen permutations of California roll, Taiko only starts to shine with very traditional Japanese ingredients (though they serve over-large, Americanized portions).

                  Luckily, we're blessed with tons of sushi restaurants in this part of Orange County, with their own styles. Maybe you can give us your prefernce, and the group here can help guide you to a shop you'll enjoy more?

                  Hard line traditional Japanese sushi: Sushi Wasabi (Tustin) or Shibucho (Costa Mesa)

                  Old school Americanized, but still very much Japanese sushi: Taiko, Gesshin (Westminster), Shimura (Fountain Valley)

                  New school fusion sushi: Matsuhisa (Beverly Hills), Abe (Newport Beach), Bluefin (Crystal Cove), Wasa (Irvine, Newport and now others)

                  Full gringo Rock & Roll sushi: Tsunami (Huntington Beach), Daimon (Sunset Beach)

                  1. re: Professor Salt

                    Thank you for the detailed reply, Professor Salt.

                    Unfortunately for me, I'm the only one amongst my acquaintances who is a chowhound. The only person I really know in OC is my sister. I'd say she's sort of an amateur chowhound. She only experiments within what I consider her limited boundaries. She knows what she likes and the things she does like she knows very well. Unfortunatelly, she never developed a taste for raw fish (never tried really), so when I'm in OC to visit with her and we go to a Japanese place, it has to be a place that specializes in cooked items. On the other hand, I enjoy the cooked items occasionally, too, but I prefer raw fish most of the time. Since I can eat the cooked items and she "can't" eat raw fish, we generally compromise more toward her tastes. I was intending to take her to Frenzy Sushi for her b-day, which elmomonster had explained that they excel at both raw and cooked items. However, a couple of acquaintances raved about Taiko, so I opted to take her there. Based on your explanation, I'll give it another try. I did notice that the wait for the bar was considerably longer. I might try sitting in the dining room and see if they will let me order a la carte from the bar. If we sit at the bar, can my sister at least order rolls and stuff?? She likes the typical California, Spider, Rainbow etc....

                    1. re: hch_nguyen

                      Your mistake was that you went with your non-chowhound acquaintances recommendations over Elmo's! ;) hahahaha. Silly you. =)

                      If you're into sushi, you absolutely MUST sit at the counter. There's no other way. Yes, your sister can order Americanized rolls @ the counter, but don't be surprised if others roll their eyes. And don't be afraid to try sushi @ the counter alone sans sis. Before getting married, it was my favourite way to try different sushi-yas; everyone is generally friendly (with some places more so than others).

                      Prof Salt has great recommendations on the different styles of sushi restaurants. Maybe another style might appeal to you more. And if you give Taiko another try, go again just BEFORE they open. Good luck!

                      1. re: OCAnn

                        Don't worry, I will be one of the people rolling my eyes at my sister. I compromise but never enthusiastically so. :)

                        We went with the acquaintances' suggestion because they were my sisters' acquaintances and it was her b-day and she wanted to give it a shot. Hindsight is 20/20. In any case, I try not to avoid a place just based on opinions I hear. Even on these boards, the opinions of chowhounds seem to run the gamut. For every positive chow opinion I read, I find at least one opinion opting to counter. The only real way to know is to try it. I'm fairly new to these boards, though, and as I try more places, I'll get a feel for whose palate matches mine and, therefore, whose opinions to take stock of. It doesn't render any other chowhound's opinion less valid, just less applicable to me personally.

                        I will go back and make a point to sit at the counter with or without my sister...!

                      2. re: hch_nguyen

                        If you order from the Bar while sitting in the Dining Room the Sushi or Sashimi will not be the same quality as sitting at the Bar, trust me!
                        If you want High Quality Cooked Japanese items then KAPPO SUI in Santa Ana Heights(north of Newport beach) is the answer! Unbeatable for OC!

                        1. re: russkar

                          Point well taken. Bar it is!

                          mental note: Kappo Sui for cooked Japanese items...

                2. Their tempura was probably one of the worst items on the menu, even when I went a while back when I worked in Irvine.

                  Most people seems to like to order at least one rainbow roll. The appeal as others stated are big portions, low prices.