First Look: Stellar Sushi at Downtown's New Q
Q couldn't be more different than its neighbors on Seventh Street in Downtown LA. The subtle style - the gentle wave in the hand-crafted wood ceiling, the illuminated yellow orbs above your head, a line of abaci on the wall, chef Hiro Naruke's slick white eyeglasses - is the antithesis of the Bottega Louie clash, the tequila-fueled Mas Malo and the dark tartan Seven Grand. But there it sits, a chic little sushi den where the omakase experience is one of the most pure in town.
Naruke was discovered at his restaurant in Japan by some local lawyers from the firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan - the head of the Tokyo office admired the chef's attention to detail and refined techniques at his Nogizaka Sushi Yuki in Roppongi. After the tsunami took its toll on the restaurant industry there, he was wooed to LA to open another restaurant. Q debuted just before Thanksgiving, and while the waters might be calm now, we expect this to be one of the harder seats to get soon.
There are a few tables in the dining room, but you want a seat at the sushi bar to watch Naruke and his fellow chefs - one worked at Sushi Gen up until a month ago, and the other at Nobu, Katsuya and Maru. Naruke's wife calmly oversees the front, handing dishes from the chefs to your spot at the bar, pouring sake into pretty little carafes, making sure everyone has exactly what he or she needs.
Like any sushi bar, watching the chefs in action is part of the experience. They shape tiny ovals of vinegar-scented rice in their fingers, and slice through bright pink tuna like it's butter. They'll kiss small chunks of fatty otoro with a flame so it melts even more in your mouth, and swish housemade soy on the silvery skin of kohada, a shad, with a tiny delicate brush. They'll pluck a root of fresh wasabi from the bowl and grate it practically to order; a little dab will do ya. It's magic. The fish is sourced from Japan as well as local waters. Watching the care they take preparing each dish allows time to sit and savor every bite of nigiri, which comes in a wave after several courses of bite-size specialties like jellyfish with mushrooms and cucumber in sesame paste, monkfish liver with scallion and subtly complex miso soup.
Through design, food and vibe, they somehow hit a balance of style and grace without making you feel like you can't have fun or make special requests (the party on both sides of us enjoyed bottles of Champagne, sake and white and red wines; some requested sashimi only, but there are no hand rolls or cut rolls, so don't even ask). It's serious sushi without the intensity. While we all seemed to get the same dishes, there were a few specialties that didn't come our way, like whatever Naruke was doing with those snails he plucked straight from the shell. That's ok; we were full. The omakase menu is about 20 courses, more if you choose to keep going, and starts at $165 per person. Lunch will begin early next year. Here's a look at some sights and bites below.