Almost imperceptibly, downtown’s always demure Q has managed to turn one year old this month. The slim, wood-lined eatery garnered a nod from Bon Appetit as one of America’s 50 best new restaurants, and is considered the standard bearer for quality Edo-style sushi, but chef Hiroyuki Naruke remains as soft-spoken as ever.
Sitting in his quiet, well-lit Financial District restaurant before another night of coursing out $165 omakase meals to waiting diners, Hiro-san talked with Eater about his newfound appreciation for Los Angeles, and why serving only what he wants is so important.
What was your first day in business like? I can barely remember now. It was so long ago. I was nervous, but I’m nervous every day. I have a lot to do. I take care of many things, not only food. Maintenance of the facility, creating everything. I am in charge of everything here.
Is that something you enjoy? Yes and no. I want to focus on the food. It’s a tough question to say what is my favorite part of being here. I like interacting with the customers, too. Many come from the neighborhood here. Half of the customers are regulars, half are new. I like both, because I get to know some customers, and talk to new customers.
What other sushi places do you like visiting? That is hard, because I want to visit other sushi restaurants, but we are only closed on Sundays and holidays. Most of the sushi restaurants are closed the same days! So I cannot visit other restaurants.
Did you help design Q Sushi? For the interior design, I was not involved. I did only the measurements, the work space behind, the sushi bar height, things like that. That’s it. There are ten seats at the bar, and it is my favorite place in the restaurant.
And have you been settling into Los Angeles well? I was in Tokyo before here, but I like it. The weather is very nice here. Living in Los Angeles is very comfortable. I live downtown, by the restaurant, but I am mostly here. I have to be here almost all day.
Obviously, you are very dedicated to sushi. What about it has always appealed to you? The process. Sushi just seems right. People think it is very easy: cooked rice and raw fish. It seems very simple, but it’s not easy. That is my opinion. I like preparing the most. It is 80% to 90% of my job, getting ready to work.
You started doing lunch service pretty early on. Do you have plans for dinner to move beyond the omakase experience at all? I always want to do omakase only. We don’t do a la carte ordering because we buy very expensive ingredients. And it takes a long time from the morning to when we open in the evening, when we are working.
Most of the customers want to have sushi, but we are a business. If the customer doesn’t want sushi sometimes, it would be bad for us. We are a business, so we can only serve what we have. We don’t have menu items. I serve only the items that I select.