Somewhere around the twelfth course, two seaweed “packages” were presented like a gift to my delight, filled with creamy Santa Barbara sea urchin and salmon eggs. Secretly, I was hoping for more uni, preferably from Japan and then sure enough it arrived, more petite than the Santa Barbara variety and richer in orange color but four tightly packed pieces in each seaweed roll wrap. The evening’s finale concluded with Japanese sea eel, a torro and onion roll, and our taste buds satiated with a sweet course – the rectangular tamago, a Japanese rolled desert-like dense omelet.
You could easily walk by the door to Q Sushi on the busy Downtown LA street near the swank Nomad Hotel sandwiched between the bustling Seven Grand bar and Seven Bar Lounge, without knowing you cruised by one of the best traditional Japanese experiences in Los Angeles. As we arrived a bit earlier than 8 PM, we were ushered to our seats at the omakase bar by a lovely Asian woman (who we later found out was the chef’s wife) where we would not order from a menu but entrust Chef Hiroyuki Naruke to select our 15 or more courses. As we admired the simple decor adorned with Edo period artifacts, we were told we could photograph the food but not anything else.
Once seated, highly regarded Chef “Hiro” quickly recommended the Dasaai 23 sake to begin our evening, which turned out to be an exquisite choice. This sake easily became our favorite aromatic sake pairing of the night which we returned to again after drinking Kubota Manjyu sake, still another excellent option. Both went down way too easily and provided absolutely no hangover the next day.
Slightly giddy with anticipation, a night like this was worth the almost 2-hour drive from Malibu to Downtown LA. Our reservations for this $200 per person seat (without gratuity or drinks) were booked before the 2019 Michelin Guide for California gave out their stars to L.A. for the first time. Not the biggest fan of these award systems, published originally as a dining guide to help French motorists find dining spots, the designations are still intriguing. The guide bestowed one star on 27 new restaurants — 18 in greater L.A. and two in Orange County. Q Sushi was one of twenty restaurants that earned one Michelin star the week prior to our visit while six restaurants in Los Angeles earned 2 stars.
Four other diners were seated near us at the omakase bar while there was room for a few more. My husband immediately recognized the founder of Uber a few seats away, which we learned is a regular and often comes for the same meal we were about to enjoy but on a faster track. And seated next to us was 23-year-old rapper Brennan Savage who revealed to us that this was his first visit to Q Sushi and he came because he loves really good sushi. We chatted about rap music while I admired his inspirational tats of beloved musicians all over his arms.
Unlike loud boisterous sushi joints you may have frequented with Americanized sushi dripping in sauces and frills, dinner at Q Sushi feels sacred, almost like going to church as guests eagerly waited with quiet anticipation – the only conversation for most of the evening were soft whispers to guests seated next to you.
In 2012 I perused Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market in the early morning hours to witness the world’s busiest fish market. My eyes widened with each passing turn in this warehouse crammed with fish and every odd creature that could be plucked from the sea – frozen fish the size of a car or live fish expertly staked and decapitated with a knife, ready to be shipped all over the world. Los Angeles is the welcome gateway to this luscious Japanese fish and Downtown LA is one of the first places the fish lands in America, so you can pretty much guarantee our city is one of best places to devour raw fish. My time in Japan made me question ever ordering sushi anywhere else in America but the west coast.
Like a captivating movie preview before the opening blockbuster film, our night began with the introductory prelude – a creamy oyster from Seattle, elegantly presented Japanese red snapper doused with a little soy sauce, fish eggs, and scallions, and white sliced giant octopus from Hokkaido, Japan with a dab of pickled ginger. Each bite was swiftly placed in front of us on the wooden bartop under show lights – displayed and matched carefully on a plate with the ultimate show and contrast. Chef Hiro would explain and identify each item and fly to his next task while our tongues salivated for the next bite. The chef’s wife who was refilling our sake efficiently reminded my husband never to bite but to take the whole sushi piece into one’s mouth.
Unlike Nozawa Bar (which also earned one Michelin star), no menu of the courses was present and guests did not all have to be seated at the same time. Somehow the chef could keep the various courses moving in different stages. His fingers actually looked muscular as he sliced each fish with delicate knife precision. It didn’t matter which course couples happened to be consuming, Chef Hiro’s rhythmic hand movements swiftly choreographed each plate as he glided from one couple to another like a dance. It was astounding to watch.
Chef Hiro moved to LA after running a six-seat sushi bar in Tokyo, lured to Los Angeles about 5 years ago after a regular customer in Tokyo, one of the partners at Quinn Emanuel, an LA law firm. The restaurant is named for the first letter of the law firm’s name. Even Jonathan Gold reviewed Q Sushi in 2014 recognizing Q as one of the first to establish purist edomae sushi. In Gold’s article, “At Q, sushi for connoisseurs” he acknowledges “there had been nothing like real edomae sushi in Los Angeles — plain-looking sushi that accentuates the flavor of the fish rather than of the rice or condiments, a universe of pickling and curing and aging whose culture may edge closer to a great charcuterie counter than to the sushi floor show at a place like Koi, but so subtly as to be almost imperceptible to a senior accountant stopping by for a quick expense-account lunch.”
After the introductory round or tsumami (small appetizers), assorted sashimi and nigiri sushi flows – from a plate of fatty tuna, scallops, and kampachi to what appeared to be seared Japanese bonito to succulent Japanese grouper. I slow my eating process to really savor each bite, especially when the jewel-like ruby-red bluefin tuna in soy marinade arrived. Next up is seaweed cured fluke, Japanese stripe jack, and giant raw crab all resting atop rice cultivated with a precise balance of red vinegar (brewed from aged sake cakes) and sea salt. Chef Hiro employs varied techniques to coax optimal flavor profiles from the fish, including aging (a process called nekaseru), curing, and adjusting temperatures just before serving. This exacting attention extends to the sauces, salts, and garnishes applied to evince the essence of each particular fish.
As soon as we left Q Sushi, the calm ended immediately as were thrust into the boisterous streets of Downtown LA, an In and Out truck greeted us out front with its greasy noxious burger smell. We actually contemplated getting one of LA’s finest meat patties for the road but recoiled in the thought of ruining such an exquisitely crafted Japanese meal.
Due to the price, Q Sushi is definitely reserved for most as a celebratory meal. Reservations are highly recommended. Two seatings are offered each evening for dinner from Tuesday through Saturday at 6:00 p.m and 8:00 p.m. while lunch seatings can be booked from Tuesday through Friday at 12:00 or 12:30 p.m. Valet begins at 7 PM.
521 W. 7th St.