Edomae-Style Sushi in Los Angeles

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See the full piece and more photos here on KCET.

Q in downtown Los Angeles is the city’s newest sushi bar. It’s an omakase-only joint– which means you pay the fee and for the rest of the dinner, you trust the chef that he’ll be serving you only the best.

The food starts at $165 per person, so it won’t become a regular part of anyone’s restaurant rotation. But, while there are plenty of other high-end, exorbitantly priced sushi bars, (Urasawa in Beverly Hills, for example, cinches the title for the second most expensive restaurant in the United States) Q distinguishes itself for being one of the few places out there serving Edomae-style sushi. It’s a style that originates from the Edo period, where simplicity was paramount.

A history lesson:

What we commonly know as raw fish over rice is actually fairly recent even to the Japanese culture. Sushi, which means sour in Japanese, was initially a way to preserve and ferment fish. No raw fish was involved. The protein would be stuffed with salt, stored, weighed down by a stone and left to dry for six months. It started out in Southeast Asia along the Mekong River, spread up China to Yunnan, and then made its way up to Japan.

Rice was then added in the process, but the makers would discard it after the fermentation period was over. Soon vinegar was introduced into the mix, and it wasn’t until the Edo period in the 18th century that what we now know as sushi — raw fish over rice — was invented.

It was initially a fast food item, meant to be eaten quickly, as refrigeration wasn’t readily available back then. According to Yoko Isassi, a Japanese food historian and cooking class teacher in Los Angeles, it was primarily because of the constant building fires in the Edo period. “Because of the fires, there was always construction,” she said. “To feed those construction workers, there were many food stalls on the street. Soba, tempura, and sushi, or what we call Edomae-sushi, were the popular selections on the street.”

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As time progressed and as refrigeration became more prolific, so did the sushi. Today, colorful rolls dotted with various hues of mayonnaise and hot sauces grace our sushi counters.

There are few traditionalists, even in Japan. Chef Hiroyuki Naruke, who owned a six-seat Tokyo restaurant, was one of few — known for his Edomae-style preparation methods. “Although Edomae nowadays can mean just a slice of raw fish with rice, Edomae-style sushi chefs have more pride to serve the best of the best,” Isassi said.

Naruke was discovered by sushi enthusiasts from the law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. They fished him (pun intended) out of Tokyo to Los Angeles following the 2011 tsunami and fears of contaminated fish. As of December, he’s now here in downtown Los Angeles at an intimate 26-seat space restaurant. Q, named after Quinn, is all about preserving the purity of Edomae-style sushi.

For example, Naruke is adamant on using red vinegar for his rice. “Red vinegar was the more common vinegar back then,” Isassi explained, “It’s tinted just a little bit so it won’t color the rice much.

He adds a pinch of salt and unlike other joints, forgoes the use of sugar, “Edomae-style doesn’t use much sugar at all,” Isassi said. “It’s all about balance of rice, vinegar and salt. Some chefs claim that rice was naturally sweeter in old days and therefore there was no need to use sugar.”

There are also certain fish preparation techniques unique to Edomae sushi chefs.

“They used seasonal fish that was caught in the Tokyo Bay area,” she said. “Eel is cut from the back as opposed to belly side which was common in Kansai, Kyoto, and Osaka area. Tokyo, or Edo, was a samurai society and cutting the belly was a taboo. There are popular clams in Edomae, but those are prohibited from being exported to the States. Some curing or cooking was actually done to most of the fishes as there were no refrigerator back then.”

Q imports its fish from around the world, though their uni comes from San Diego, and abalone is sourced from Santa Barbara. During one sitting, we had three dishes from Spain, red snapper from New Zealand, and geoduck and aoyagi (a yellow round clam) from Boston. A typically meal runs 20 courses long. Wasabi isn’t just handed to you; it’s carefully glazed on top. Some bites come brushed with a hint of miso and others, a delicate soy sauce. You’re expected to eat the pieces in one bite. The entire process is remarkably simplistic and if you pay close attention — invaluably educational.

521 W 7th Street, Los Angeles, CA, 90014.

toro

  • aronoff

    Clarissa –

    I much tell you I do enjoy Jpn food; I have traveled there a number of times.

    But $165 for a meal??? Ouch!

    Bob (respectfully,courtesy of a response necessary; that’s way over my spending for 1 meal)

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  • aronoff

    Clarissa –

    I happen to like Asian buffets, Jpn, Chinese and Korea.

    Gold Coast Buffet (GCB) in Alhambra is nothing special but it is good for a change of pace. It is clean, the service nothing special, either. The food seems freshly changed. Lots on non-Chinese eat but the main diners are Asian. I think non-Chinese think if Chinese patronize a Chinese eatery, that they must know (inherently and beyond any doubt) that this is a “good” place to eat. I don’t 100% buy that. If Whites patronize a “white” restaurant, does that mean the food inherently has to be good? Be that as it may, if you may want to try GCB it is located at: 2223 West Commonwealth Avenue, Alhambra 626 / 5476-7688 (well, at least they got two “8” in the telephone number!)

    They are located in the same (large) block that Costco is but not connected to Costco or Costco parking lot. There was a similar buffet next to and in the parking for the Irwindale Costco. Without a doubt these buffets are a love of labor and I think chow hounds really eat into their profits (pardon the pun). I can imagine is it just a daily grind. After saying that, as I think of the buffets, particularly Chinese ones, the employees don’t smile too much or if at all because of the grind I assume the work to be. I also suspect a good deal of illegal aliens (undocumented aliens) work in Chinese restaurants. They are culturally comfortable at work, I suspect they are exploited by long hours by their employers accompanying probably low pay (not being proficient in English, they may not even know of minimum wage laws), and they probably live “hidden” in a society (ours) where Mandarin is rarely spoken by non-Chinese. Truly an exploited class yet everyone is breakdown our fences to get into this country. Don’t want to go further on the subject, want to keep it to food matters but these thoughts always come to mind when eating in buffets, Chinese or not.

    [ Not just illegal aliens from China, but due to our non-discrimination laws, Hispanics are also sheltered by restaurants of every kind. I have a facility with Spanish and ask the Spanish speakers I see in Chinese restaurants, “ are you learning any Mandarin”. To my discouragement they just smile and say “no”. That is a “downer” to me. What an opportunity they have and waste it away. If I were kid again, I might like to work in a different Asian buffet where I could pick up and learn some very basic foreign language skills in each language. ]

    Another buffet I like is called “Zen”. I don’t know its exact address but it is on Rosemead Blvd in Temple City about a third of a mile below Las Tunas Boulevard. I live in Pasadena so I don’t go over there much but every time I do, I like its presentation. It is a few hundred feet on the same side of Rosemead across the street from a Home Town buffet – truly quantity over quality in food but passable for a once-a-year visit or every two-year visit.

    Thanks but no need to reply. I only want to add to your broad repertoire of SGV Chinese restaurant knowledge.

    Bob

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