If you like sushi and have an elastic stomach, you will love MIZUiro, an all-you-can-eat sushi bar where you can try to recoup your dinner investment by overeating. For the relatively reasonable entry fee of about $27 during dinner ($20 at lunchtime), you can stuff yourselves full of raw fish and rolls as you've never done before.
MIZUiro, as with Tustin's Sake 2 Me and You & I Sushi in Laguna Hills, isn't a seafood buffet, where the sushi rolls engender the fear of God. No, this place is an honest-to-goodness sushi bars. The nigiri is actually made to order. Everything you mark down on the sheet of order paper (organized in rounds)—from your first piece to your 50th—will be cut, molded and served as it would at any sushi bar.
At MIZUiro, there's no point in insisting on a seat at the sushi bar. The chefs are much too busy producing pieces nonstop to engage you in conversation or even look up. When you come—convincing your friends to use the toll roads or Antonio Parkway (if they're cheapskates) to meet you in the hinterlands of Orange County—you're going to sit with the rest of the crowd in an expansive dining room with blue mood lights and a flat-screen TV tuned to sports no one watches.
When you start ordering, know that the rolls are gut fillers, most often drowned in sauces sticky-sweet, Sriracha-spicy or mayo-rich—so leave that for later. For now, focus your first round on the nigiri. In fact, your first pieces should be the premium stuff—the items on which these kinds of restaurants actually impose a limit of one per person.
At MIZUiro, you're allowed only one piece per person of the sea urchin, the snow crab, the salmon caviar, the halibut and the Japanese jumbo scallop. The sea urchin melts as if custard, the snow crab is delicate, and the salmon caviar glistens with fishy brine. The jumbo scallop—butterflied and set upon its morsel of rice, then thoughtfully dabbed with citrus and a sprinkle of salt—is especially good. The shrimp tempura are small and skinny, but they are served crisp and rippling hot. Plus, the restaurant gives you three per person, which is nice.
After the premium stuff, move on to the unrestricted pieces of nigiri. The yellowtail is so fresh it squeaks. Though the presentation is messy and ragged, the well-broiled eel has its caramelized sauce turning the flesh into candy. Next, go for handrolls such as the one stuffed with salmon skin, a nori cornucopia of rice and veggies that isn't as crispy as you may have had at other sushi bars but delicious nonetheless.
Savor these first few pieces because beyond them—and despite the chefs actually molding the generously cut fish on the smallest amounts of rice—everything you eat after will become a blur as you fight an uphill battle between what you order and what you can cram down your throat. As we got fuller, the next few nigiris that arrived began to lose their appeal. We wondered if we would've found the squid nigiri slimy and the octopus chewy if we'd eaten it 20 minutes earlier. And has surf clam always been this inedible? Only the spicy tuna appetizer—set on squares of crispy rice, topped with jalapeño and Sriracha and a shower of togarashi—seemed to taste good at that point.
Around my 20th piece, all the sushi that came out to our table completely ceased being enjoyable. Have you ever dreaded the arrival of food as though it were the Apocalypse? I did. I blanched at the thought of finishing the poke roll, a tall mound of cubed fish and sliced onions piled atop a base of four California rolls. This was after my friends and I trudged through the Coto roll, a baked, mayo-enriched gob of imitation crabmeat wrapped around cooked salmon.
When the Ladera roll arrived after that, we could barely stand the sight of it. To us, it was a pile of more fish and onions on top of more California roll. We only finished it under the threat of paying extra if we didn't. At that point, with our faces drained white with food fatigue and our stomachs bloated beyond their limits, everything started to taste the same—even lobster. We should've stopped ordering five rolls ago.
The last piece I ate I chewed over and over, my throat refusing to swallow. Yet if my math is right, I triumphed; all told, I paid scarcely a buck per piece. But right now and for the past week, I can't even look at sushi.
MIZUiro, 22431 Antonio Pkwy., Ste. B110, Rancho Santa Margarita, (949) 589-2300; www.mizuirosushi.com. Open Mon.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. & 5-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun., 4-9 p.m. AYCE lunch, $19.95; AYCE dinner, $26.50. Beer, wine and sake.
All-You-Can-Eat Sushi Until You Regret It at MIZUiro