521 W 7th St
Los Angeles, CA 90014
Sushi is so hot right now in LA. Not that it wasn’t before, but nowadays diners have evolved from the mere specialty rolls to the elegant tastings known as omakase, where chefs dazzle with an array of appetizers and nigiri that can easily run bills into triple digits. While this movement has been for the better, it has also dumbed-down the definition and experience of the meaning and value of an omakase in general. Restaurants have been trying to “outdo” one another with excess and gluttony with regards to their “omakase,” not taking into consideration the delicacy and skill involved in preparing and progressing the extended experience without losing a step.
With all of that being said, LA as a city is fortunate to have so many quality high-end sushi options. There’s Kiriko, who can dish out nigiri both classic and modern as well as anyone, all while more than happy to appease the diner next to you who has ordered a California roll. There’s Mori, who walks down a more traditional path and has gotten the rice part of the sushi down to an exact science. There’s Shunji, who now has the most impressive array of quality fishes that can finally hang with Shunji-san’s world-class cooking. And if you’re making seven figures and going to Urasawa on a regular basis, more power to you.
Q Sushi opened to much fanfare last November. Probably not to the general public, but sushi connoisseurs had been keeping a very close eye on the restaurant, and the B-list food media (i.e. Tasting Table, Thrillist) and some bloggers were quick to jump on the bandwagon. Q’s selling point was that it brought over a chef from Japan whose specialty was intimate, carefully-prepared sushi, and that they would be strictly focusing on Edomae-style sushi, at least in the sense that everything would be done the old-fashioned way. That means, among various things, more marinated and cured fishes, because that was how they were kept fresh back in the day. Also, the sushi rice doesn’t contain any sugar, and is served at slightly above room temperature.
Not that I don’t appreciate taking it back old-school, but I do think that the scope of sushi has evolved to a point where we don’t have to be restricted by such confines that were mainly established due to the limitations of the time period. If I were to approach any of the quality sushi restaurants I mentioned above to serve me an omakase where it was kept strictly Edomae, I bet it can be done with ease, because that’s basically Sushi 101 for these masters. So it wasn’t as if Q was bringing something new to the table, because Edomae sushi exists everywhere. And for these very reasons, I wasn’t ready to sip the Q Kool-Aid just yet, especially at a starting price that is pretty much the second most-expensive in town (tied with Mori, and behind Urasawa).
I finally pulled the trigger on dining at Q for two reasons: 1) I recently started working at a new job that is within walking distance of the restaurant (albeit at a firm that rivals the restaurant’s namesake – I’ll leave it at just that), and 2) J. Gold wrote a positive review of the place a few weeks ago, and if I ever wanted to try the place I’d have to do it soon. So there I was recently, dining solo amongst an intimate group of ten at the sushi bar, looking up at all the decorations and wood that showed off the $2 million dollars’ worth of construction and interior design, and eating what was repeatedly said to me was LA’s first true Edomae experience.
If you read up to this far, it does appear that I went into the dinner with some preconceptions of the restaurant, and I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t true. However, I did keep an open mind, and was, for the most part, rewarded in doing so. There was a tranquil aspect of dining at Q, from the meditation-inducing interior design, to the calm appearance of the sushi bar, to the cool and collected sushi chefs, down to the server speaking in a hushed tone. And while I was never truly off-my-seat thrilled at any point during my dinner, I did appreciate the cohesiveness and pacing of it. In the BBC version of LA’s sushi scene, you can say that Q isn’t Doctor Who or Sherlock, but rather, Downton Abbey.
My 20-course omakase comprised of six appetizers and fourteen pieces of nigiri, to which I added a couple of extras. The chefs were quick and detailed in their description of each course, down to where the seafood was from, an encouraging sign. It’s easy to love true wild bluefin tuna (however controversial it may be) and hard to mess up, but the flight of nigiri I had of it was excellent, and even moreso the seared otoro that was served with a unrefined miso/sansho pepper/chili oil concoction that was like crack (picture a Japanese XO sauce of sorts). And yes, there were various fishes served in kobujime form (kelp-cured, one of the main aspects of Edomae sushi), but the three-day cure was just right, as was the wonderfully-pickled kohada (gizzard shad), proving Q was true to its word in executing the Edomae aspect of the meal with perfection.
Among other highlights, the Saikyo miso (from Kyoto) of the marinated Santa Barbara uni (which I added as a supplement) really brought out the sweetness of both components. And the sake-braised octopus was tender and flavorful, although I wasn’t the biggest fan of the way it was cut. Overall, the pristine seafood was just that, of excellent quality, but the roster of fishes wasn’t anything a seasoned veteran of sushi would be truly impressed or surprised by (it can be said that the roster was kept fairly close to Edomae availability, but not the restaurant’s true intention in my opinion). So while a piece of engawa nigiri isn’t going to blow my mind, I definitely acknowledged the quality of the halibut fin served. And I’m not saying this from a price perspective; my favorite piece of nigiri is iwashi, which is sardine. Despite it being a rather cheap cut, not many places in town serve it, because it really takes a lot of skill and work in preparation.
With all of that being said, I think there’s a certain aspect of Q that should be highlighted – it’s an excellent place for novices of high-end sushi and omakase dining. For those who are trying to get into the game, a meal at Q can be life-changing and educational even. Like I previously mentioned, the chefs are extremely informative and courteous in pointing out the nuances of your dinner, as was my server. Although attending an opera before a rock concert isn’t a prerequisite, going to Q is a great way of easing into high-end sushi before you’re unwillingly exposed to all the weird stuff I’ve come to love, all while taking a walk down memory lane.
I actually don’t have anything truly negative to say about Q, but I will say that the sushi rice wasn’t really my cup of tea, so to speak. The restaurant keeps to tradition in the sense that only red vinegar was used, and the rice was served slightly above room temperature. By now, most in town have actually had experience to warmer sushi rice (due to the Nozawa family of restaurants and their offspring), so that’s not really a shocking thing anymore. And I myself do like my rice along the temperature Q has it, but I did find it on the…dry side. There was a certain “al dente” toothsome texture to it, which kind of highlighted that slight dryness. But it wasn’t bad – just not my thing.
In the end, my preconceptions of Q turned out to be true, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Take away the glitz and glamour of the media hype and the price of admission, Q is a great sushi restaurant for beginners of high-end sushi and omakase dining. It’s not the next great sushi bar that will further LA’s claim to the domestic throne of the cuisine, but it’s a good restaurant that doesn’t look out of place in a city full of contenders. I still encourage sushi connoisseurs to take this university course on Edomae sushi, but it’s purely an elective – there are still five or so required sushi courses before Q.
Kampachi w/ Onion Soy
Kumamoto Oyster w/ Bonito Dashi
Seared Otoro w/ Miso-Sansho-Chili Oil Topping
Okoze w/ Ponzu
Miso Soup w/ Grated Carrots, Sansho & Sake Lees
Cuisine: Japanese, Sushi
Price: $$$$+ (~20-course omakase is $165, but there’s a $75 10-course lunch on weekdays)