I’ve been waiting for Mizuki to open since something like last October, when they ran a cryptic ad in a local Japanese magazine announcing a new ramenya in Irvine…with no address and no opening date. Oh, and they were hiring. Excited that a new ramenya was opening in my back yard, I put on my sleuthing hat and pretended to be interested in a job in order to get more info…I got nothing. (Note to self: forget about becoming a private eye.) Another ad popped up in January announcing a February opening. This time there was a phone number…and a mention of legendary ramenteur (is there such a word?) Sano Minoru, the “ramen demon.” My interest reached a fever pitch. Sano Minoru!?! Involved in a new ramenya!?! In Irvine?!? WOOHOO!
Several phone calls and several different misleading grand opening dates later, it’s finally open…to mixed reviews. Fellow food blogger Exile Kiss went so far as to email me to warn me off. “it’s mazui (bad)…I wanted to warn you (to save your money).” Gulp…
Undeterred, the wife and I set off for Mizuki for lunch. Mizuki occupies a large space in the back corner of the Park Place plaza in Irvine and has a good-sized outdoor seating area in the front. The menu claims that the “interior was designed to reflect Old World Japan, reminiscent of the 1920’s and 30’s.” Now, I wasn’t around in 1920’s and 30’s Japan, but I find it just a bit hard to believe that any Japanese ramenya or restaurants back then looked anything remotely like a trendy L.A. hot spot. But I digress…
MIzuki offers a plethora of ramen offerings, from the basic shoyu, shio, miso, and tonkotsu, to the exotic (soy milk ramen), to the pseudo-exotic (teriyaki chicken ramen, anyone?). I had my eye on the shoyu ramen, but the very friendly waitress recommended the “much richer flavor” tonkotsu. That, and orders of gyoza and Mizuki fried rice completed our order. (Note: there are lunch combo specials, only available on weekdays, darnit!)
The gyoza came out first, followed by the ramen, then the fried rice. The gyoza was lightly flavored. When I say lightly flavored, I mean a bit on the bland side. The predominent flavor was cabbage, and if there was any garlic in the mix, I couldn’t taste it. The fried rice, on the other hand, was tasty. The chunks of pork gave the fried rice a nice smoky taste and smell.
Before I get to the ramen, I have to spend one moment to compliment the service. Every person, we dealt with, especially our waitress, was extremely friendly, courteous, and patient. At times, they were almost too friendly, as they kept placing bowl after bowl of different ramen that we didn’t order on our table…ok, maybe there’re still a few kinks to work out. (“Or maybe they want us to try different kinds of ramen?” we mused.)
There are two things you’ll notice when the ramen gets to your table:
1. Wow, the ramen barely fills half the bowl!
2. Wow, that’s one large renge (soup spoon). Seriously, that spoon probably weighed a full pound. I think I could use it as a weapon.
Ok, let me finally get to the ramen itself. The tonkotsu soup was pleasantly hot and smooth…and good…yet… It was rich, but without depth. The soup falls squarely in the category of “good but not outstanding.” Maybe it was too smooth…like a well-dressed guy/gal with a forgettable personality. The thin, straight noodles worked well with the soup and the bits of kikurage mushroom and sprinkling of sesame seeds, but was a bit overcooked. The menma was marinated but not crunchy. The single slice of chashu lurked like a glacier: at first I was disappointed in its small slice. Later, I realized that only a small part of it was floating on the surface. The size of the chashu wasn’t enough to overcome the disappointing flavor though. The chashu had a nice texture…not tough, but not melt-in-your-mouth tender, but it lacked flavor. The pork flavor was aggravatingly dull and meek.
Mizuki offers a solid, if slightly expensive bowl of tonkotsu ramen (hey chef, how about a bit more soup, at least?). Admittedly, I went in with low expectations, but it was good enough that I will go back and try their other ramen (and the 10% off coupon they offered certainly doesn’t hurt). Any new halfway decent ramenya is a wonderful thing, especially one with ambitious plans, and I’ll be cheering Mizuki on. Their tonkotsu ramen gets an above-average 6 out of 10.
Open 7 days from 11am to Midnight (365 days a year!)