Japanese chef Hiroyuki Naruke is a purist. He's turned Q, an omakase sushi restaurant slated to open Sept. 18 in downtown L.A., into a no-avocado, no-tempura, no-teriyaki zone.
"And no cut rolls," said Naruke behind his sushi bar with a shake of his head. He insists he'll only serve hand rolls if specifically requested.
[Updated August 27 11 a.m.: Based on new information from the restaurant, the chef will serve cut rolls by request and will not be serving hand rolls.]
Naruke is only interested in fresh fish and its preparation. He'll travel to local fish markets multiple times a week to seek out fresh bonito from the Tsukiji fish market in Japan or local abalone and sea urchin from Santa Barbara.
On Friday afternoon, Naruke is preparing a tasting for a small number of people at the restaurant. Included in the lunch party is the restaurant's designer Ryan Brown, Naruke's translator Mariko and John Quinn, founding partner of Quinn Emanuel law firm. Quinn is not Naruke's lawyer. He's one of the three lawyers who decided to open the restaurant.
Ryan Goldstein, one of the partners at Emanuel Quinn's Tokyo office, found Naruke's six-seat sushi restaurant in Roppongi, Tokyo. He frequented the restaurant with clients in the area and became a fan of Naruke's traditional style. After the tsunami hit in 2011, many businesses in Tokyo were affected, including Naruke's. Goldstein stepped in and offered Naruke a restaurant of his own in Los Angeles.
"It was entirely fortuitous that we got Hiro with the tsunami and that he wanted to come here," Quinn said. "And we thought there was a need for a certain type of sushi restaurant for a sophisticated sushi-eating population here."
Wearing a white chef's hat and thin wire-frame glasses, Naruke slices a thick maroon slab of bonito and serves it with green onions. Next is a local abalone he's cooked for eight hours in sake over low heat.
"It has to be fresh abalone," Naruke says. "No floating ones, no dead ones, only fresh ones."
He then starts to make his first item with rice. He takes a small amount of the sushi rice and begins to shape it with his right hand, using his thumb and forefinger to create a small oval against his palm. He then grates some fresh wasabi and puts a small dot on the rice. Next comes a thin piece of idiot fish (also known as shortspine thornyhead). He paints a small amount of his own soy sauce mixture on the top of the fish before serving.
Naruke uses a micro-brewed soy sauce; he boils it, then adds bonito flakes and other ingredients to the mix for his own blend. He also plans to serve his sushi with his own pickled ginger but has yet to find a suitable variety.
Next comes the shad, which Naruke informs us is the original sushi that was served when sushi was first made during the Edo period in Japan. It's a nod to his trying to keep everything as traditional and un-Americanized as possible. That also means Naruke doesn't put any sugar in his rice.
Naruke will also serve two types of sea urchin: one plain and the other marinated in miso paste. He works like a meticulous artist -- his hands constantly moving, cutting and shaping atop his cutting board canvas.
At Q, Naruke will serve Edomae sushi and appetizers in a 10-seat sushi bar and a small dining room that will seat 16. The restaurant is still under construction, but certain design elements are already in place.
Brown, of Brown Design Group, used an East-meets-West mentality for the space with an abacus bead centerpiece behind the sushi bar and specially designed lanterns with dangling leather strands meant to represent a traditional Japanese scroll weight. Globes of gold-wrapped lights hang from the not-yet-finished ceiling, which will feature planks of wood that will dip into a wave pattern.
Q will be open for lunch and dinner and offer wine, beer and a selection of sakes chosen by Naruke and his wife. The 20-course omakase will start at $165 per person.
521 W. 7th St., Los Angeles.