[Los Angeles] Hinoki & the Bird
Categories: American (New), Fine Dining
Address: 10 Century Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90067 (Century City)
Hours: Tue-Fri 11:30 am - 2:30 pm, Tue-Sat 5:30 pm - 10 pm
Date visited: September 2013
Price: $115 for two, excluding tip and tax
Verdict: 8/10. Worldly-inspired Californian fare with an embodiment of local ingredients and a sense of seasonality. The ambiance is comfortable, relaxed yet sophisticated.
Staple dishes: Chili crab toast, Hinoki scented black cod, Black lobster roll, Miso mochi “rice creams,” Miso donuts
My personal favorite: Crispy marinated chicken
There was a bird, and the bird loved to travel. He flew around seeking no home until he found the hinoki tree in Japan. The aroma felt so welcoming, so pleasant, that the bird decided to settle down and call it home. Long story short, this is the story behind restaurant name’s origin as the bird symbolizes the importance of the cultural collaboration in the creative process of creating new dishes.
A fragrant cypress tree, the hinoki tree holds a special place in Japanese culture. Known to release aromatic oils, the light-colored wood was the preferred wood for the Emperor’s palaces and caskets. It is also still often used in the making of Japanese hot springs (onsen) and the counters of prestigious sushi bars in Japan.
Now, about the restaurant itself. The Milo Garcia-designed dining space is split into two sections: a spacious modern indoor dining room where there are several sleek dark-wood tables, a bar and a view to the open kitchen, and then there's also a rustic-styled backend patio faintly reminiscent of a bourgeois private garden party. It feels urban and sophisticated, but at the same time homey and inviting.
The owner, renowned chef and restaurateur David Myers who also founded the Michelin-starred Sona, Comme Ça, and Pizzeria Ortica, says Hinoki and the Bird is all about “creating stories based on . . . travels.” His vision is to recreate the memories and influences which he experienced traveling on the Silk Road and reimagine them with the local ingredients of California.
The restaurant is listed on Bon Appétit magazine’s 2013 top 50 best new restaurants in the United States. Click here for the full list.
Mirroring the restaurant's theme of east meets west, the cocktail program is designed by none other than the legendary mixologist Sam Ross (Milk & Honey, New York) who carefully crafted some classically-grounded Asian-fusion cocktails for the restaurant. The creative drinks fall into one of four categories: “Cups,” “Swizzles,” “Negroni & the like,” and “Quaffers.”
Now, here are the things we sampled:
Hinoki swizzle, amontillado sherry, st germaine, fresh green apple, champagne ($14).
Crispy marinated chicken, lemon aioli ($11)
This was our first dish and it certainly set the bar high for the rest of the night. I’m usually not a fried chicken type of person, but this was hands down my favorite dish out of everything I tried. You’re probably thinking, what, of all things – fried chicken!? But yes. Simple and unadorned, it’s the tastiest fried chicken I’ve ever had in my life. The outsides were perfectly crispy, and not greasy. The meat inside was tender and juicy. Every bite was a moistly savory ride to heaven.
Chili crab toast, spicy cucumber, coriander ($16)
One of the restaurant’s most notable dishes. Singaporean-inspired and very flavorful, I can see why. However, I thought it was a tad too sweet. The house-made garlic bread was a good pair though.
Lobster roll, green curry, thai basil (MP)
Contrary to popular belief, the bread is not colored with squid ink. It’s charcoal-infused but don’t worry, it’s edible. The presentation is beautiful and I loved the toasted bread. It wasn’t quite what I expected (the curry taste is very faint), but a very interesting dish nonetheless. Another one of the restaurant’s most notable. Not mind-blowingly good but I’d order this again.
Caramel braised kurobuta pork belly, radish, mustard greens ($28).
The flavors here reminded me of Shanghainese-styled 紅燒肉 (hóngshāoròu, red braised pork belly). It wasn’t bad but with so many other choices on the menu to try, I would not recommend ordering this.
Roasted yam, crème fraîche, lardon ($9)
Rice cream: miso mochi, butterscotch, togarashi ($4)
Very unique. Sweet, creamy, but not overwhelming. I wasn’t sure what to expect given the peculiar combination (togarashi, or 唐辛子, is a popular Japanese chili powder seasoning) but I was pleasantly surprised. I recommend!
Overall, it was a good meal. We were there for a solid four hours, and the service was excellent. Our waitress was friendly and helpful, and the manager approached us at the end of the meal asking about our experience. He offered to introduce us to Executive Chef Kuniko Yagi, former Top Chef contestant and chef de cuisine at Sona before it closed in 2010. Needless to say, we excitedly accepted. Chef Kuniko was personable and chatted with us for over 15 minutes. She patiently answered our endless questions, took pictures with us and graciously waved us farewell.
Mmm, next time back I’ll for sure try the signature black cod and some of the grilled dishes. Although I didn't find any of the dishes particularly extraordinary (other than the crispy marinated chicken, *surprise surprise*), this is a solid choice when you're up for something classy but also fun and non-traditional. The atmosphere is unbeatable.