Q Sushi

Q Sushi
521 W 7th St
Los Angeles, CA 90014
(213) 225-6285
qsushila.com

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.

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Seared Hirame

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

Suzuki Kobujime

Kurodai

Engawa

Sumi Ika

Akami Zuke

Chutoro

Otoro

Kohada

Shima Aji

Sake

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Tako

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Shiro Ebi

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Anago

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Tamago

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Uni Saikyo

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Aoyagi

Grade: B+
Cuisine: Japanese, Sushi
Neighborhood: Downtown
Price: $$$$+ (~20-course omakase is $165, but there’s a $75 10-course lunch on weekdays)

Q Sushi on Urbanspoon

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Alma

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Alma
952 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90015
(213) 444-1422
www.alma-la.com

It’s good to be Ari Taymor these days. You have your own critically-acclaimed restaurant in Downtown LA, praised in particular by Jonathan Gold, who named Alma one of his 101 Best Restaurants in LA + having one of his 10 best dishes of 2012. And now, you’re on the national stage, being named as THE Best New Restaurant in the entire country by Bon Appetit. All of this accomplished at the age of 27 (same as me!), armed with an impressive resume that includes the likes of Bar Tartine and Flour + Water in SF, as well as the pop-up that led to the current restaurant of the same name.

Alma had been high on my to-dine list for quite some time, and one day in early August I decided to just pull the trigger on OpenTable for a solo dinner, as a treat to myself for all the fine work I’ve accomplished (ha!). The process wasn’t very difficult – there were tables available online during prime hours for a weekday, and I was going to go at around their 6 pm opening anyways (plus I was a solo diner sitting at the bar). I was beginning to fear that LA diners might not appreciate dining of this caliber and execution, as the restaurant’s style always felt like it belonged more in SF in my opinion.

However, the Bon Appetit honor was released less than a week after I made my reservation, and the atmosphere during my dinner definitely reflected the restaurant as the sudden new hotness. I arrived at around 6:10 pm for my dinner, and the restaurant was already more than half full. By the end of my dinner, there were at least a dozen people waiting to be seated out front, most of them patiently waiting with a glass of wine in their hands, happy to have a chance to dine at a nationally-acclaimed restaurant.

The restaurant has an a la carte menu of roughly over a dozen of dishes, most of them on the smaller side. There is also a tasting menu available, which consists of 10 courses at $90. The latter is at a very reasonable price point in my opinion, as a similar restaurant in SF serving a tasting of this length would probably be closer to $150. Despite some of the a la carte-only dishes sounding very promising, I went with the tasting. Please note that after November 29, the restaurant plans to nix the a la carte option, and go to prix fixe only: 5 courses for $65, or a longer tasting menu for $110 (length not specified).

Snacks:
oyster with herbs
brown butter bearnaise with corn silk
seaweed & tofu beignet, yuzu kosho, lime
English muffin, uni, burrata, caviar, liquorice herbs

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The tasting menu began with 4 snacks, 2 of which are available to order as a la carte. The fresh oyster came with an herb foam/mousse of sorts, and tasted quite…herbal. With the brown butter bearnaise, it was kind of interesting to see a sauce/condiment as the central component of a dish. But those 2 bites were just warm-up pitches. The seaweed and tofu beignet is probably the restaurant’s most well-known dish. It kind of looked like a darker version of the fried seaweed fish you’d find at Chinese restaurants, and it was heavier/thicker than I expected. But the acidic components of the yuzu kosho and the lime aioli worked well with the beignet’s creamy tofu filling. And you really can’t go wrong with a combination of uni + burrata + caviar on top of that housemade English muffin. Alma’s baked goods are really something.

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“summer vegetables”

The first real course was this vegetable medley, which also included a corn fritter, in a “BBQ sauce” (that’s what they called it according to my notes). Simple and effective. This is just a dish that allows the ingredients to shine, most of which were picked from the restaurant’s own garden in Venice.

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tomato, watermelon, black garlic, macadamia nut, epazote

Next up was this composed salad. The cubes you see are compressed watermelon, brushed with black garlic oil. Quite interesting. The highlight here was the fresh heirloom tomato – ridiculously sweet and juicy.

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mackerel, plum, succulents

The same said about the heirloom tomato above can also be applied to the plum here, which was also presented here as a consomme. The consomme and actual pieces combined to give off a very…canned fruit type of flavor, and I meant that in the nicest way possible. What I’m trying to get across is that those plum bits were absolutely juicy and sweet, as if they were concentrated. Would’ve been great as a base for a dessert. As a result, the mackerel got lost in the dish. It was also not as briny as I like my mackerel.

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chicken liver, smoked maple, coffee

This was an interesting take on the traditional chicken liver you’d find at Jewish delis. I didn’t mention it previously, but despite its reputation for being ingredient-driven, Alma is quite the “progressive” restaurant. Much of the kitchen’s repertoire involves such gadgetry and techniques (the liquid nitrogen was busted out frequently, in particular). This dish had the traditional flavors, but was presented as frozen crumbles, which melted into a creamy mousse as you ate it.

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summer corn soup, vadouvan, nasturtium

And here is a soup, in the middle of a tasting menu. Meh, right? But wait just a minute – this was actually the best dish of the night, no joke. This summer corn soup, which also included the corn kernels, was just a good, hearty bowl of deliciousness. The vadouvan added plenty of depth, and the nasturtium ice cream acted as the cooling chaser (like a yogurt or raita) to counter the soup. A deceptively sophisticated dish.

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housemade bread with cultured butter ($5)

During the soup course, this additional plate was brought out. What a great idea, as the bread was nice for dipping into the soup and sopping up the last drop, and it was a nice gesture. In fact, it appears that every diner who ordered the tasting menu received the bread as part of the course. Not sure if it was intended, or if the restaurant was kind (a couple of a la carte diners received an extra course as well). But the bread, hot upon arrival, man was it good. There was a beer & rye bread to the left, and a squid ink epi to the right, served with a wonderfully whipped cultured butter. Both were crusty, then soft, with each bite. More people should be talking about the bread at Alma.

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roasted abalone, shellfish, zucchini

The shellfish here, besides abalone, were clams and mussels. They, along with zucchini and summer squash, were served with a “soup” (what they said), which I assume was made from the shellfish present here. Very mild, especially following the previously course.

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“Tisane of Terroir”

The palate cleanser (oddly served before the main course) was an herbal tea infused with grapefruit and dashi. Had a weird sweet and savory flavor to it (along with the grapefruit’s bitter aftertaste).

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dry aged rib-eye, alliums, sunflower

A straightforward dish, but well-executed. The 45-day aged ribeye was cooked to a perfect rare, and went well with the sunflower & onion puree. There was also onion done 3 ways here. Despite the 45-day age, the meat was actually rather mild, but at the same time quite meaty still.

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watermelon & gin

Now to the desserts. We have a scoop each of watermelon and gin-flavored sorbet (though one of them might have been a semifreddo – sorry don’t remember). Those compressed watermelon cubes (sans black garlic oil, obviously) come back in play here, and the combination makes for a refreshing dessert.

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“frozen summer”

This is a very ambitious dessert. The components here consisted of the vegetables from their garden, served as a chamomile semifreddo, sorrel sorbet, and other grassy goodness. It was indeed a green dessert. But while I appreciate the effort in this farm-to-table dessert, it was kind of like eating sweet wheatgrass ice cream. Nice try though.

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plum & tarragon pate de fruit

I enjoyed my dinner at Alma. However, I would say that I appreciated and respected my meal more than truly loved it as is. Ingredients were served at the prime of their availability, and execution was in top form. But most of the dishes just didn’t wow me as much as I thought they would – I only just liked them (with the exceptions of the summer corn soup and breads). There was also the dilemma of the a la carte menu’s presence. I felt that some of the dishes and desserts there were more interesting by menu description (and from what I read on various blogs, that proved to be somewhat accurate). But I almost always go the tasting route when available – who am I to say that I know a restaurant’s best dishes and progression more than its own?

The restaurant itself isn’t very big, and that kitchen is just downright small for the number of chefs working in it. Decor was extremely simple, like a living room layout you’d find in IKEA catalogs. The interior was kind of dark after the sun set, but gave off a very homey feel, which I attribute to the IKEA look. The service was warm, but I think the increased business got to them with regards to the front of the house execution and timing. I would wait a few minutes for one course, and wait 20+ for the next. Also, not that I need the attention, but for those who really care, they do disappear at times. Some are short with the descriptions, while some are extremely detailed. Not a big deal at all, but just a FYI…

I think Alma is only going to get better as time passes. It feels as if they’re still trying to find their stride, as some things just don’t appear to be fully thought-out or composed. But the blueprint is there, and the talent is definitely there. The move to a tasting-only format should help with the menu’s focus, and I think that Taymor has a bright future ahead of him. For a while, it felt like a restaurant that was appreciated more by out-of-towners than the locals (see: Red Medicine). But with the recent honors, Alma definitely has the opportunity to attract more diners, and will do well to keep them coming back as they progress themselves.

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
American Downtown $$$ B+

Alma on Urbanspoon

LudoBites Best of Foie Gras @ Gram & Papa’s

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I am fortunate to have attended the last two LudoBites events – in LA that is :)

Originally, the LudoBites Best of Foie Gras night was a one-night event only, held this past Tuesday (and it was a five-course dinner @ $105 instead of the usual a la carte). However, because the demand for it was so high, they added an extra night. And Tracy was lucky enough to snag a reservation for four @ 9pm. So Tracy, Eugenia, Linh-Nam, and myself headed to the usual LudoBites spot at Gram & Papa’s in Downtown last night to get our fill of foie gras before the ban begins in July. And who better to honor the foie than the often-mercurial, ever-so-talented Frenchman, Chef Ludo?

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Foie Gras Cromesqui “MM”

We started with this amuse bouche, croquettes of liquified foie gras, which was dipped in liquid nitrogen then fried. The outside was fried, while the filling remained liquid and creamy. Krissy said that you had to eat it all in one bite, or else it’s going to get everywhere. Luckily there was no molecular gastronomy accident this time around (i.e. Eugenia popping a liquid mozzarella ball on her black dress at The Bazaar). A delicious and fun way to start the meal, and we got two per person (heard each diner only got one on Tuesday)!

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Foie Gras Dynamite, Tuna, Lichi

Chef Ludo always manages to play with different cuisines and ingredients in fun and harmonious fashions. A nicely seared piece of foie gras (which had been fridged for a period of time shortly before service to match the temperature of the other ingredients on the plate) sat on a bed of chopped tuna tartare of sorts with lychee. It was topped off the a dynamite sauce (complete with the requisite masago), and surrounded by a meyer lemon aioli. Great interaction between the lean tuna and the fatty foie, and the sauces added plenty of body.

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Foie Gras Miso Soup, Radish, Turnips

We had a Thai version of this foie gras soup at LudoBites 8.0, and I really liked it. This one was ever better. The fatty pieces of foie cooked in the soup, and basically melted into the broth. The soup itself was creamy and comforting, with the radish and turnip adding a nice crunchy contrast.

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Foie Gras Black Croque-Monsieur, Grapes

Apparently this is one of the all-time LudoBites favorites, and I’m glad to have finally experienced it. Arguably my favorite dish of the night. As if a croque monsieur couldn’t get any better, this one manages to one-up all the previous versions I’ve had. Serrano ham, foie terrine, cheese, bread dipped in squid ink before being toasted (that’s why the bread is all-black) – just sandwich perfection. Oh, and the grape jam was a nice condiment to dip the sandwich in too, giving it a good sweet and savory flavor.

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Foie Gras “Crepinette,” Morels, Pears, Green Asparagus

A deceiving complex dish. A normal crepinette is a small sausage of sorts wrapped in caul fat. Here, the foie and some other ingredients (I forgot what what exactly in this, but I remember hearing “sweetbread”) are wrapped in the fat, sat over a potato puree and chopped morels and pears, and topped off with the cheese foam you see on many of Chef Ludo’s previous dishes. There was a grilled ramp on the side as well. Don’t recall seeing any asparagus though. Overall, another great foie dish of the night.

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Foie Gras Sundae, Brioche, Black Berries

One of the servers brought this and joked that they ran out of dessert, so they decided to buy Pinkberry for everyone. Served in your typical frozen yogurt cup, this was a foie gras ice cream, topped with strawberries and blackberries, brioche croutons, and a Courvoisier chocolate sauce. The ice cream had more of a whipped cream-consistency, but tasted great. The real star, in my opinion, was the brioche crouton. Tasted like Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal.

Again, I consider myself very lucky to have attended another LudoBites outing (more like lucky to have lucky friends). We even saw the same server from 8.0 who always said “rock on!,” although he kept it to a basic “enjoy” this time around – what a tease (that guy is great at describing these complex dishes BTW). Another spot-on dinner by Chef Ludo, and it made me realize how much I would really miss foie gras come July. I’m praying for another one of these dinners come June.

Chris Hei grade: A-

LudoBites Best of Foie Gras @ Gram & Papa’s
227 E 9th St
Los Angeles, CA 90015
(213) 624-7272

Best of LudoBites (Foie Gras Night 4/17/12) on Urbanspoon