REVIEW: Maki-Zushi, Tustin
I had a professor in college, Weston Noble, who talked about the "aesthetic experience" of music, where you could literally have chills running down your spine from listening to a truly moving piece of music. Well, he was, as usual, right, and it isn't limited to music.
You know how sometimes you start eating in a new place, and you sit down and all of a sudden you're just swept away by this premonition that you're about to have a really, really great meal?
And you keep eating, and it just seems to fly by, and at the end of it you're in this happy haze that stays with you for hours.
That's the aesthetic experience manifested through food. Tonight was one of those nights.
We had Die Ubergeeklette with us, so sitting at the sushi bar was out of the question. When we arrived at six, there was hardly a soul in the place besides two itamae and a waitress.
After much deliberation we decided to split the small premium sushi platter (note: I have problems referring to "an omakase", because the grammar is weird). It's essentially 28 pieces of the catches of the day, chef's choice. In place of the standard miso soup (which Mrs Ubergeek pronounced quite good) I had miso soup with clams. The clams didn't add much to the flavour but I have to say they were cooked PERFECTLY in the broth -- I've never had such tender clams!
And oh, what choices! I didn't know half the fish on the plate -- but there were THREE (!) kinds of toro, octopus, shrimp, a live sweet shrimp (yes, you are supposed to suck on the head, and they will deep-fry it for you), giant clam, egg, razor clam, "kinmi dai" (I asked after this one), monkfish liver, Spanish mackerel, ahi tuna, yellowtail and salmon -- I know I've missed some.
The big hits: the toro was, as it is SUPPOSED to be, meltingly good. The sweet shrimp was delicious, and I got the honour of sucking the head, with its sweet, briny goodness. I absolutely hate monkfish liver, but Mrs Ubergeek loved it. The big, huge, massive winner, though, was the scallop. There were two pieces of this on an enormous scallop shell with sudachi citrus underneath and cucumber above. Un-bloody-believable. The very best scallop in the history of history.
The cuts are generous. When I say "generous" I mean that I, a six-foot-tall man, barely fit some of the bites in my mouth. They drape just ever so slightly over the meshi, enough so that you can see the texture. The meshi itself was appropriate temperature (I'm just not into warm rice a la Sasabune, I just can't deal).
With the meal came a large pile of gari, a large pile of real grated wasabi -- no powdery garbage allowed! -- and two small dishes of sunomono (pickled whatever). One was a slightly vinegary pickled celery, and one was cucumbers pickled with wasabi.
We were in heaven. They have tempting-sounding desserts, like green tea creme brulee, but honestly if we'd been able to fit another bite in our mouths we'd have ordered more scallop.
The place itself is very nicely decorated but not one of those dreaded "hallowed halls of sushi" places. The atmosphere, once more people came in, was lively, rather than hushed like a museum or a funeral for fish. And the staff all flirted with our (well-behaved, honest!) little baby, who spent the dinner eating edamame.
The price for all this bliss? $70 for the sushi platter (there's a larger platter with 35 pieces for $90) and $3 for the clam soup.
I can't recommend this place highly enough. We have been looking and looking and looking for sushi, and to find it in Tustin (the little suburb with the big chow credentials) is quite a joyous thing for us. It's not easy to find -- it's on Edinger, across from the back entrance to the Marine base, near the Santa Ana auto mall and the Irvine "no develop" zone. You would never, ever come to this area unless your commute took you to Tustin Metrolink, and even then...
1641 Edinger Ave # 101, Tustin, CA
I went there Thursday night after reading all the good reviews of the place. I also went to Shibucho (Costa Mesa) two days prior, as a basis for comparison. Speaking strictly of the food...
Real grated wasabi;
Very good variety, with lots of fish from Japan on the menu. I wish Shibucho had this kind of variety;
Live scallop (hotate) was amazing, better than the cooked version Shibucho served;
Needlefish (sayori) was very good and nicely presented with the heads.
Nearly everything I wanted, they didn't have, even though they were on the daily menu - giant scallop (tairagai), squilla aka mantis shrimp (shako), razor clam (mategai), baby yellowtail (india), flying fish (tobiuo)...
We ordered alfonsino (kinmi dai), but did not receive it, though at least they didn't charge us either (perhaps they were out of it as well, but they didn't tell us);
Except for hotate, everything they had that Shibucho also had, Shibucho was on par or better, especially ankimo and kanpachi (the belly of which Shibutani-san filleted for me from a nearly whole fish, so maybe that had something to do with it);
Not as generous with the cuts as Shibucho (I wouldn't call them chintzy, but perhaps *slightly* more generous than average, at best). Tamago was especially disappointing, less than half the thickness of Shibucho's;
Rice seemed a little dry/stale and didn't taste as good, though it stayed together better than Shibucho's;
The second half of the live hotate (the tougher, ribbon-y part of the scallop (connective tissue?) cooked in some kind of sauce with lots of enoki mushrooms) was way too salty, and mine was full of little bits of shell;
More expensive, around $70 for 12 pieces. I ate nearly twice that much at Shibucho for less (though that $70 included o-toro and live hotate, so the disparity isn't quite as great as it seems).
I will probably go to Maki-Zushi again on occasion, if only to get the uncommon stuff that Shibucho never has. But for my regular place, I'm sticking with Shibucho. To me, it's not just a better value, it's simply better.
(BTW, at Shibucho, I had suzako - unfertilized? salmon roe from the ovary - for the first time. Fantastic! I think I like it better than ikura.)
Although I love sushi, I don't eat it that often, therefore price really is not a major consideration. I absolutely love Bluefin, and consider it the standard against which other sushi restaurants be compared. Forgetting about cost, which is better Bluefin or Maki Zushi?? Would appreciate others opinions. To my mind, Bluefin is the best in OC, but I am open to what others think. I did have a wonderful meal at the sushi restaurant in South Coast Plaza (name eludes me), but it was not as good as Bluefin, and I felt that I was overcharged and really taken advantage of there...and definitely will not return. So...where is the best sushi in OC?
It's really personal preference. I think Maki is good enough that you should go try it out and judge for yourself, although I still give the edge to Bluefin.
Maki is not cheap. The yellowtail belly and albacore belly are like $9.99 for 2 pieces. Razor clams and baby yellowtail are the ones we liked in addition to the above two.
Ankimo wasn't dry, but I just don't like it - couldn't put a finger to it. I love ankimo generally because it resembles foie in texture and taste. At Maki it's diced into little cubes on top of the rice packet and I can't recall much flavor.
We ended up at Maki Zushi after cancelling out of the Morton reservation (didn't feel like steak) and Bluefin's booked solid for Mother's day.
I liked that they have razor clams on the menu, and their seafood tempura has to be the best deal in town - tons of fresh shrimp (still crunchy), nuggets of lobsters, scallops, asparagus - pretty elaborate.
The monkfish liver is one of the worse versions I had. My major nit is that I really don't care for the rice. Both the rice on the side and in the sushi have a coarser texture than I would like, and they packed a lot of rice in the sushi. I am not sure I liked the grated wasabi. The stuff we had seems more like diced watery green stuff. Not very powerful. The jar of real grated wasabi my parents got me from Taiwan is 100x more potent and doesn't look at all like the stuff Maki gave us.
We ordered ala carte for the sushi instead of the $70 combo, but the tab ended up about the same.
For $100 meal, my first choice is still Bluefin's lunch omakase, as it's a lot more original and creative. I think the tempura at Maki is better and they have more variety of nigiri sushi (Bluefin seems to do more rolls, and have a much better yellowtail belly sushi).
Their major problem is the location and the name (maki zushi is so trite). I would have guessed that it's a fast food Japanese by the name and the undescript strip mall.
Great review, I'm glad to see you feel the same way about my favorite sushi restaurant in OC! It's kind of a hidden gem- rarely reviewed and hardly mentioned on chow. My fave is the big toro too. It is so fresh it just disintegrates the moment it hits your mouth. I recommend this place to everyone I know.
i really rarely post, but tonight i took my wife there. we ordered the premium sashimi platter for THREE, and a side of the kumamoto oysters. THANKS for sharing. it was unbelievable. our plate had surf clam, mirugai, live scallop, a whole aji, razor clam, tuna, salmon, toro, kampachi, tamago, red snapper, uni, and the live amaebi. (my wife got a real surprise when i went to touch the sweet shrimp heads - and all three heads jerked and moved violently. talk about fresh.) both tables to our left and right took turns looking at our table! (of course, the fried shrimp heads and aji bones were a nice bonus, too.)
$90 for the equivalent of 38 pieces of the freshest sashimi is a relative bargain. highly recommended.