It'd be nice to be able to eat Bluefin or Shibucho every time the sushi urge strikes, but sometimes lunch is grabbed on the way between two meetings; sometimes dinner needs to be a quick pick-up before drinking the bulk of one's daily calories (other people do this, right?) and that precludes a real sushi-ya.
Sometimes it's all one can do to just pick up some sushi from the local market. Don't judge!
Part of the problem is that the same sushi vendors sell to Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons; it wasn't possible to do a Dueling Dishes between the Big Three unionized markets.
Mitsuwa, the Japanese grocery chain, has its OC outpost just a few minutes' drive from all the businesses in South Coast Metro. There is an abundant array of pre-packaged, house-made sushi along the right wall (behind the bakery, which sells such concoctions as egg salad doughnuts). Maki-zushi (i.e., rolls) are usually $4.75 and there are many flavors.
The California roll was a textbook example: avocado, shredded cucumber and krab uramaki (inside-out roll, with the rice outside the nori). While the rice had got a little bit dry in the case, the taste was still very good. The roll was actually better than its brethren served at legions of OC mayonnaise-glop sushi roll shops.
Trader Joe's sells sushi near the pre-packaged salads and pre-wrapped torpedo-type sandwiches. The California roll, made with brown rice, is $2.99. Unfortunately, it isn't worth even this low price; the rice was overwhelmed with soaked-in vinegar, like an acetic sucker punch to the esophagus. The texture was mushy, the nori was soaked through from the rice, and the rolls were filled with a piece of krab, a piece of avocado, and one or two long strips of raw carrot, which took too long to chew and lingered on the palate. Seriously, people? Maybe in Orange County, New York it's okay to put carrots in a California roll, but not here. They did label the packages of ginger, wasabi and soy sauce in a huge font, for people who have been living under a rock for the last sixty years and can't tell them apart.
The verdict? Mitsuwa by a country mile. Just good luck with the parking lot from Hell. A better lunch from TJ's would be one of the less fattening salads and a small container of Greek yoghurt with honey.
Mitsuwa Marketplace, 665 Paularino, Costa Mesa; (714) 557-6699.
Trader Joe's, 18 locations in OC and 3 in Long Beach; visit their website for the nearest.