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Monkfish liver is served with homemade yuzu ponzu, scallions and spicy daikon radish.
Wait for the Qby Lesley Balla | Photography by Andrea Bricco | Angeleno magazine | February 3, 2014
Watching Q chef Hiroyuki Naruke grate fresh wasabi is a Zen-like experience. His hands move the root in a circular motion over a small grater, a bright green paste forming on the underside. Once finished, he swipes it into a bowl, dotting it onto a piece of fish atop a small oval of rice before handing us the plate over the bar. The wasabi is potent, but you can taste the freshness distinctly.
This is a hallmark of chef Hiro, as he likes to be called, who does everything he can in-house, like making his own soy sauce and ponzu, selecting the freshest fish he can find at local markets, and seasoning his rice with a special red vinegar and sea salt to his exacting specifications. It’s small details like this that make a good sushi restaurant great.
Hiro is new to L.A. He was discovered at his restaurant in Roppongi, Japan, by Ryan Goldstein, the head of local law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan’s Tokyo office. After the 2011 tsunami took its toll on the restaurant industry there, Goldstein, along with partners John Quinn and Shon Morgan, wooed the chef to the States to open another restaurant, preferably within blocks of their downtown office.
The subtle style of interior designer Ryan Brown’s aesthetic—the gentle wave in the handcrafted wood ceiling, the illuminated yellow orbs above your head, a wall of abaci behind the sushi bar—is the antithesis of the Bottega Louie clash, the tequila-fueled Más Malo and the dark tartan Seven Grand that share the same block. Chef Hiro, with his slick white eyeglasses and his two assisting chefs—one who worked at Little Tokyo’s Sushi Gen, the other from Nobu—quietly move around their stations. But they’re quick with a smile, even when focused on slicing beautiful pink slips of otoro or picking pristine Santa Barbara sea urchin from a little wooden box.
Since this is omakase-only dining, look forward to at least 20 bites of nigiri, sashimi and more, but don’t expect any cut or hand rolls (the latter, maybe, if you ask nicely). Chef Hiro isn’t so stringent that he won’t take some requests. One group sitting along the bar next to us ordered only sashimi for a few people in the group, and announced their dislikes, which the chefs took into consideration.
There are a couple of servers helping with sake and some instruction. I was so grateful for our server’s knowledge of sakes; he explained our choices for carafes (we wanted to sample a variety) with ease. And Hiro’s wife gracefully helps in the dining room, which makes it feel special, as if you were in her home.
There are a few tables in the restaurant, but angle for a seat at the sushi bar for the personal attention, and really, for the show. The offerings will change based on what chef Hiro finds at the fish markets—he sources both local seafood, like uni from Santa Barbara or San Diego, but also serves specials flown in directly from Japan. The only thing you’ll see on the menu is an explanation of what’s in store, plus drink options. The chefs take care of everything else.
First comes bite-size specialties, like tiny squares of fresh fluke topped with a dot of bright yellow egg sauce; a tangle of jellyfish with mushrooms and cucumber in sesame paste; slices of monkfish liver in a pool of ponzu and topped with grated radish; and a subtly complex miso soup. Then a wave of nigiri: golden eye snapper; baby snapper with shrimp flakes; small pieces of white kinki, or idiot fish, with its gorgeous orange scaly skin; silvery kohada; and plump fresh sea scallop. A trio of toro comes out in succession: bright pink tuna, a medium fatty toro kissed with a blowtorch to bring out the richness, and wonderful otoro.
When we were completely blissed out, the chefs asked if we wanted to continue. “Yes” is always the answer, and we received one of my favorite bites of food all year: fresh San Diego uni marinated in miso paste. The miso gives the sea urchin a slightly firmer texture and fermented taste. It’s served alone, simply, in a pretty bowl. We were also rewarded with a bowl of salmon roe atop a tiny pile of rice. Again, a pairing of flavors and textures so perfect, no other adornment is necessary.
Watching the care they take with each task—shaping the rice, slicing through hunks of fish like it’s butter, grating the wasabi or fresh yuzu rind—allows you to sit and savor each morsel. Shut your eyes for a moment: Through design, food and atmosphere, you will be transported.
Q will soon open for lunch featuring a slightly smaller omakase menu (and lower price point).
What to Wear
You’ll know the lawyers by their suit jackets, but it’s really an everything-goes type of place. Just keep it downtown chic.
What to Drink
There’s beer on tap and by the bottle, and sake by the bottle and carafe. The Dassai Junmai Daiginjo is a lovely place to start.
521 W. 7th St., L.A., 213.225.6285
Hours: Dinner Mon.-Sat., 6pm-close
Cost: Omakase starts at $165 per person