Published January 12. 2012 4:00AM
The idea of all-you-can-eat food is unsettling as it is. It brings to mind buffets of food sitting under heating lamps for hours. And the goal becomes folks shoveling food like wings, pancakes or lo mein into their mouths in disproportionate quantity - all in an effort to get their money's worth.
But all-you-can-eat sushi? It seems crude to even suggest a food so reliant on freshness, and even art, to put together would be offered in such a way.
But Mahzu Japanese Restaurant in Norwich makes it work - on Sundays only, for $19.99 - showing that "all-you-can eat" can be civilized and not sacrifice quality for quantity. They don't advertise the deal on their website, but regular diners and Yelp reviewers have spread the word. Don't automatically go for it, though, because Mahzu has other tasty rolls and appetizers that are not included.
Mahzu's location, in the back of the busy Marcus Plaza, which also houses TJ Maxx and ShopRite, is another potential strike against it.
But inside, with the shades drawn, it's easy to forget where you are (though it may be a little dark). The décor is classic and simple - lots of wood and lanterns, Japanese characters and art. The dining room's main feature is the sushi bar, where the pinks and reds and whites of raw fish were beautifully lit in front of the sushi chef.
A majority of tables were filled on a recent Sunday, and waitresses were attentive.
We began with appetizers (again, not part of the all-you-can-eat plan) usuzukuri ($7.95) and sunomono ($6.50) - our first glimpse into Mahzu's fresh fish. The usuzukuri was sliced fluke cut with ponzu sauce, hot pepper, chopped scallions and grated radish. The fish was nicely thin, balanced by the citrusy soy sauce, but the hot pepper barely registered.
With the sunomono, it took a bit of research to figure out what we were eating, since the menu refers to the components in Japanese - tako, kani, ebi, saba - but the handy photo-guide at the table helped: octopus, crab, shrimp, and mackerel. A sort of raw fish salad, its ingredients were simply marinated in vinegar, served with seaweed and cucumber. We liked the octopus best, since it was firm but not rubbery.
Only one of us went for the all-you-can-eat menu. If you're used to sharing a bunch of rolls among a group, and suddenly you have five rolls of six pieces each on a plate in front of you, it can be daunting. But the sushi was beautifully presented. The menu has some nice variety beyond the basics. We liked the soft shell crab, fried crispy in a roll with cucumber and scallions.
Our favorite special roll (not included in all-you-can-eat) was the Sumo roll ($11.95) - baked eel and avocado inside, with a nicely spicy sauce on top and pieces of crunchy yellowtail in it.
The AK-47 ($7.95) - spicy tuna, shrimp tempura and avocado - was good but not as "special."
The assortment of raw fish on the sashimi plate was flavorful, but the pieces of fish were too big and awkward to eat. We would have liked thinner, more delicate slices.
Before you go all in on all-you-can-eat, think about what you want and how much you can eat. For straight up sushi eaters, it's a good option, but you probably have to eat at least 24 pieces of sushi (prices vary) for it to be worth the price. Are you up to the challenge?