Edomae-Style Sushi Revelations in Downtown L.A.: Q by Chef Hiroyuki Naruke Debuts [LONG review with PHOTOS]
- J.L. Nov 16, 2013 04:33 AM
It’s been a whirlwind year in restaurant openings, particularly in the Downtown L.A. area. I first got wind of Q by Chef Hiroyuki Naruke (let’s call it Q Sushi for the sake of simplicity from here forth), with its ambitions to take Edomae-style sushi to a new level in Los Angeles, over the past summer.
Q Sushi certainly piqued my interest – I thought Edomae-style sushi was already offered (and done quite well) at Mori Sushi in West L.A. How will Q Sushi fit into the scene here in L.A.?
Autumn rolled around, with a planned opening in September. Yet when I drove by in September, the venue was obviously still under construction. Another drive by was rewarded with signs of activity earlier last week. My visit came towards the end of the soft opening period at Q Sushi.
RESERVATIONS: Easily done via phone or via email inquiry (from their website). OpenTable reservations are not yet operational but in development. Q Sushi is currently serving dinner Monday through Saturday nights, with the last seating at 9:30PM. I was one of only 3 diners in the room during my meal there.
LOCATION: Near the Jewelry District, close to Mas Malo. Valet parking, street parking, and pay lot parking are all available. There is also a Metro station within walking distance. Note: The door is unmarked, except with a sign stating "521".
DÉCOR: Decidedly modern, with an emphasis on wood tones. Numerous bright orb bulbs hang from the vaulted ceiling, providing for a well-lit and welcoming dining room. There is a comfortable waiting area across from the hostess counter in the front entrance area as well. The sushi bar seats 10, and in the dining space, 8 tables bring the total number of seats to 26.
BEVERAGES: A very nice selection of hard-to-find Japanese craft beers (Asahi & Sapporo on tap will soon be available as well). Curated sakes of varying polishes are all available. The thoughtful wine list is comprised mostly of lighter bottles, so as to accompany (and not overpower) the sushi. I am told the beverage list will be curated seasonally, so offerings will differ depending on time of year. For my first beverage, I chose the Tama No Megumi, a local beer I had enjoyed in Japan on prior trips (but had not seen in the U.S.).
FOOD: Omakase only (for now) – I was seated in front of Hiro-san’s able right-hand shokunin Masato-san. The first 7 courses were tsumami (salty non-nigiri appetizers). Let’s get started, shall we? Itadakimasu!
1. Suzuki (sea bass) from the East Coast, with grated yuzu – A nice start. The suzuki was delicate, and the grated yuzu was thus sparingly used (a good sign).
2. Kusshi oyster from Washington state, with dashi & a pinch of yuzu – Really flavorful. I could have had two or three more of these.
3. Katsuo (bonito), with onion sauce – Dense with flavor, just the way bonito should be.
4. Seared o-toro (fatty tuna belly) from Spain, with a spicy garnish made from rice, shishito peppers & chili oil – A great combination! I’ve never before eaten seared o-toro accompanied with a hint of spice – Superb!
5. Uni (sea urchin roe) from San Diego, marinated in Saikyo Miso from Kyoto – Here I see the Edomae tradition setting in. The uni is aged a bit, which removed the brininess of the uni, yet still preserved much of the umami. Very interesting!
6. Miso soup with Aosa nori (freshwater algae), myoga – A tasty way to cleanse the palate!
7. Sanma (pike mackerel) from Tohoku, wrapped in cucumber – Yummy! The cucumber offsets the heaviness of the sanma well.
From here on, the nigiri begins. A note about Chef Hiro’s shari: From what I understand, the shari at Q Sushi is a blend of California rices: No sugar or sweet vinegar is used at all – Chef Hiro only uses red vinegar in his rice. The packing is tight, and the temperature of the rice is just above ambient (almost imperceptibly so). For the nigiri courses, I found the rice to be toothsome in a very rewarding way, when experienced with the neta - In other words, Edomae-style (to me, at least).
Gari (sliced pickled ginger) was served – Definitely, this was among the more complex of the gingers I’ve been served in L.A., and I found myself asking for quite a bit more throughout the remainder of my meal.
8. Hirame (halibut) from Korea – Served fresh, this was an interesting start to the nigiri courses. There is a reason for this (see 9.).
9. Hirame (halibut) – What again? Not exactly - This time, Chef Hiro has aged the hirame in konbu (kelp) in a process called “nekaseru” (fermenting would be the closest description). Thus, the last course of hirame (8.) served as “the control” to accentuate the taste differences between these two modes of serving halibut. The nekaseru hirame was quite different than when served fresh, and was very tasty in its own right.
10. Kodai (young sea bream) from Kyushu, served with a glaze made from housemade soy sauce, katsuo & scallion – Excellent.
11. Sake (salmon) from Scotland – Salmon was not a part of the Edomae repertoire of neta, but in this case, Chef Hiro chose to incorporate it into the omakase because he felt it to be seasonal and locally available. This is how Chef Hiro deviates from the traditional Edomae style, in his own way. In any case, it was good.
12. Kinki (“idiot fish” AKA shortspine thornyhead) – Another local fish that Chef Hiro wanted us to try – I’ve had it before at Shunji and Go’s Mart. I found the Edomae version to be similar.
13. Akami (lean bluefin tuna, dorsal aspect) from Spain, marinated – Beautiful. THIS was great stuff! The people of Edo ate well, if indeed this was the standard-bearer back then!
14. Chu-toro (medium fatty tuna), from Spain, marinated – Another marvelous piece of nigiri!
I ordered a different beer at this point: The very grassy and somewhat sea-salty (!) tasting Kujyukuri Ocean Weizen, which I’ve never tried before. Wise choice, too – It complemented the remainder of my meal very well.
15. Kohada (gizzard shad) – Hikari-mono (silver-skinned fishes) such as kohada were considered “litmus test” items in Edo era Japan: If a sushi-ya served great hikari-mono, then it was a sure sign of quality overall. What can I say? Chef Hiro’s kohada was outstanding!
16. Engawa (halibut fin), marinated – Gorgeously tasty.
17. Sanma (pike mackerel), from Tohoku – Wonderful, though I think I liked it even better in a tsumami (see 7.).
18. Shiro ebi (white shrimp), from Toyama Bay – Shiro ebi are amongst my favorite crustaceans! Their delicate sweet taste is so haunting. I really enjoyed this nigiri.
19. Hotate (giant scallop), from Hokkaido, marinated – Excellent.
20. Uni (sea urchin roe), from San Diego – Most L.A. itamae serve Santa Barbara uni, and it’s a bit rare to see San Diego uni here. Chef Hiro prefers the San Diego variety. Luckily, I like it (just a tad) more than the Santa Barbara uni as well! (No ageing on this piece.)
21. Anago (saltwater eel) – One of the best preparations of anago I’ve ever had in Southern California! Just awesome.
22. Tamago-yaki (egg omelette) - Prepared traditionally (fluffy-style) with grated halibut & scallop, this ranked among the very top tamago-yaki I’ve ever had anywhere. Chef Hiro said he tried making another tamago-yaki earlier with shiro ebi, but it did not turn out the way he wanted it to (too bad; I would have loved to try it)…
No dessert offered at Q Sushi (unless you count tamago-yaki as dessert), therefore my attention turned to:
BONUS ROUNDS! I had space enough left for (1 piece each): Shiro ebi, akami, kohada, uni & tamago-yaki. All were delicious the second time around as well!
Hot green tea brought the meal to a graceful conclusion.
SERVICE: My server Fabrizio was quite knowledgeable, affable and extremely professional. Chef Hiro’s wife Kyoko oversees service in the dining room.
COST: The 22-course omakase rang in at $185 per person. Add to that one Tama No Megumi beer, one Kujyukuri Ocean Weizen beer, and my 5 bonus rounds of courses, and my bill came to $235 (before tip), which I thought was on the high end of acceptableness, considering the number of courses (and no dessert).
VERDICT: Q by Chef Hiroyuki Naruke (AKA Q Sushi) offers up true Edomae-style, high-quality sushi while utilizing many local seafood sources (as well as seafood procured from around the globe). On some of the courses (for example the marinated uni, aged hirame and akami), I felt as if I was transported back to Edo era Japan. Some of the dishes are found in no other sushi-yas that I’ve visited on the West Coast. Shari-wise, I think most sushi fans will enjoy the rice. Also, the beverage list is interesting in and of itself. This may not be a restaurant for all sushi beginners, but I feel it’s a “must try” for all students/fans of sushi who don’t want to travel all the way to Japan to experience Edomae-style sushi.
Q by Chef Hiroyuki Naruke (AKA Q Sushi)
521 W. 7th St.
Los Angeles, CA 90014
Wonderful report as always!
From the little I can see of the rice, it looks like he's going easy on the akasu, correct? It doesn't look at all muddy.
Anything special about his curing of the kohada?
And have you had the SB uni at Nozomi?
Downtown is finally getting exceptional sushi with Zo opened recently as well. Exciting times.
Nice report. Yuko was asking about this place last time I was at Shunji, if anyone I knew had tried it yet. A little bit of personal and professional curiosity, I think. I told her it hadn't opened yet and there just wasn't much information on it.
Possible downhill alert: I'm hearing reports back from 2 separate friends (both of whom having eaten at Q in the last 2 weeks) that the rice is even colder than ambient. These are friends who I would consider experienced sushi-philes.
Edomae style sushi takes getting used to, 'cuz it's just not what we're used to here in L.A., but even then (and if true), the shari shouldn't be that cool.
I may have to visit again to see if I need to revise my initial recommendations on this place...
Finally made it to Q! Initial impression, beautiful contemporary space, I think it the best looking sushi bar by far in LA. Very cool custom chopsticks - pointed on both ends nice touch. Great beverage selection. No shoyu dishes provided for any wretched attempts to mix wasabi and shoyu bwaaaaahahaha!!!!
Fish quality overall was very good - as JL noted they tend to be aged. Imagine 'dry aged' fish - more intense fish flavor in a good way.
Several standout courses for me - the seared otoro with the spicy garnish, tamago prepared with minced shrimp, steamed abalone accompanied by its liver, steamed sea snails - very tender, wonderful red miso soup. However the highlight for me was the unexpected tofu cured with miso. Looked totally like a wedge of Camembert with the moldy rind. The tofu had a dense texture and intensity from the miso curing - very unusual but tasty. Would be interesting to see what happens if they aged it longer towards the stinky tofu spectrum, could be an interesting alternative for the gluten free market.
Now the negatives. I was not crazy about the rice, I found it on the cool side and bland. I was hoping for a more pronounced vinegar flavor. Chef Hiro did not prepare the sushi, he functioned more as the assistant prepping and slicing the appetizers - surprised and disappointed. Limited exotic fishes - offerings were a bit pedestrian albeit of very high quality.
At the end of the day my recent meal at shunji left a stronger impression foodwise vs Q. Will have to revisit both places for another comparison.
I don't think it will service at that price point in that location unless it's up there with Urasawa.
Think they might open up to an a la carte style or less dear omakase style ????
Btw. Did anyone ever visit Shihoya in Sherman Oaks in a motel of all places ?????
JL, for you on your sole visit so far, what was it better than ?
Kiriko, Mori, Shunji, Zo, on an only sush basis, natch ??????
I cannot prognosticate whether Naruke-san will go a la carte anytime soon at Q.
The place is barely a month old. I would bet that for now, Naruke-san is trying to make his niche in the Edomae omakase style (which is his forte) to see if he can attract a loyal following to make a go of it long-term financially. If he goes a la carte now, he may run the risk of prematurely being relegated to just another "me too" sushi option.
As I hinted in my initial review, Q is for intermediate to experienced sushi eaters who want to experience sushi as it probably was in the Edo era. If you go in with those expectations, Q does a very good job. But if you are expecting a Shunji/Kiriko/Mori type of meal, you may find it somewhat different.