Photos: This Old School Restaurant Serves The Best Sushi In L.A.
Using traditional techniques and top-notch ingredients, downtown's Q restaurant offers a rare and intimate sushi experience in downtown L.A.
The tiny restaurant, with a simple gold Q above the door, is tucked into an unassuming storefront on 7th Street near Grand Ave. Surrounded by several, larger and more boisterous restaurants—think Bottega Louie, Más Malo and Little Sister—the restaurant offers peaceful sanctuary from the neighborhood now spilling over with new dining options. That serenity offers the ideal setting to enjoy chef Hiroyuki Naruke's subtle and sublime sushi offerings with a high-end, personalized experience. This is sushi for a special occasion or splurge, not your everyday grab-and-go rolls.
Q offers only omakase service, which means that you pay a pre-fixe price and trust the chef to serve you the best he has to offer over a roughly 20 course meal (around 12 for lunch). Far from the dynamite rolls or other extravagant flourishes you might find in other sushi spots around town, Q offers a traditional Edomae-style sushi, utilizing a minimalist aesthetic and preparations developed during the 18th century Edo period in Japan. It's approach rarely seen in L.A., and even increasingly less common in Japan.
Part of that approach involves Naruke using traditional red vinegar and a pinch of salt for his rice without any of the sugar often found in sushi rice. He'll also use some curing or cooking to prepare some of the fish and other ingredients—all of which is really high caliber from around the world—which hearkens back to the days before refridgeration. And rather than pouring your own soy sauce or being given hunks of wasabi, each piece is served—one-at-time for the most part—with any brushes of soy, miso, freshly grated wasabi or any other flavoring delicately and subtly added for you by the chef where appropriate. The ginger is pickled in-house—as just about everything else is done—and shaved very thinly in a neat pile.
Bluefin marinated in soy (Photo by Danny Jensen/LAist)
LAist was recently invited to experience Q and given the opportunity to taste Naruke's mastery up close. We took a seat at the custom-built walnut counter facing the chef, who stands beneath a beautiful, undulating wood ceiling panels and in front of centuries-old Japanese prints and vases. You'd also receive the omakase experience at the tables in the restaurant, but then you wouldn't get to see the chef's precision first hand.
The meal begins with an included glass of sake, champagne or beer, paired with a series of usually around five small sashimi dishes that vary depending on the season. For our visit we were treated to bites like a delicately sliced hirame, a Japanese flounder with a light soy-based sauce, octopus with a refreshing shiso leaf, and a torch-charred bluefin tuna with a sansho pepper and fermented rice paste. Then a cup of deeply-umami-rich miso soup arrives to prepare you for the sushi portion of the evening. What follows is a calm, but steady flow of perfectly seasoned bites on top of small hand-pressed bundles of rice. One by one, Naruke delivered pieces that included everything from giant clam and Japanese mackerel, to melt-in-your-mouth fatty tuna and seared sea eel. The incredible meal ended with a rich bite of uni and a cube of tamago, the Japanese omelette, which this time around included around 60% shrimp.
Chef Hiroyuki Naruke at work (Photo by Danny Jensen/LAist)
Prior to Q, Naruke operated a popular, six-seat sushi bar in Tokyo. Now in his early 50's, Naruke began his training at 18 and worked at seven other establishments before opening his own place. There, some of his customers included partners from the Tokyo office of L.A.-based law firm Quinn Emanuel, who became huge fans of his sushi. Following the 2011 tsunami, which caused a drop in business for Naruke, three of the partners—Ryan Goldstein, Shon Morgan and John B. Quinn—successfully convinced him to bring his sushi skills to L.A. There they helped finance the opening of Q in late 2013, which received it's name from partner Quinn.
We asked Chef Naruke a few questions about his approach to sushi:
What inspires you to strive for such high caliber ingredients?
Some cuisines allow, or are even based on, creative preparations that elevate humble ingredients. Not sushi. Quality materials are essential. I want the best for my customers, and for the tradition I represent.
What have you learned from working in sushi restaurants since an early age?
I worked at everything from hole-in-the-wall joints to top level restaurants. You draw what you can from each experience. Learning what not to do is just as valuable. That's especially true in terms of interpersonal relations. Restaurants make for interesting people studies behind the kitchen doors.
What do you enjoy about working and living in L.A.?
I love that there are beaches on one side and mountains on the other, but I spend almost all my time in the kitchen. I am fortunate to live across from the restaurant though, so I have no downtime commuting.
What are your thoughts on other sushi options around town?
Most sushi restaurants are closed when we are, so it's difficult to get out. Like L.A. itself, sushi here tends to blend styles and influences, not tethered to Japanese tradition. It's very interesting if you take it on its own terms.
Q offers a beautiful and delicious tour through a traditional style of sushi, that's hard to come by in L.A., but it also doesn't come cheaply. Starting at $165 per person for dinner and $75 for lunch—not including alcohol beyond an included glass—it's definitely more for a special treat for most or perhaps those who are pulling down serious bank. Nonetheless, it's a great option to have.
Q is located at 521 W 7th St, Downtown L.A., (213) 225-6285