By MICHAEL AUSHENKER | Contributing Writer
Photography by Rich Schmitt | Staff Photographer
In terms of Los Angeles, there’s nothing exactly conventional about Hinoki + The Bird.
You have to push open a wood-paneled door, vault-like, to get into the otherwise concealed eatery before descending into the sunken, Studio MAI-designed indoor/outdoor space, contemporary Japanese sleek replete with transparent kitchen, bustling bar, grand Asian-style patio and peek-a-boo shrubbery, and the occasional dangling lantern.
The loftily named destination is an experiential restaurant so contemporary and stylish, it practically dares you not to enjoy yourself. Sommelier Jon Cross described Hinoki’s fare as California cuisine with Asian (largely Japanese) accents.
“It’s really highlighting the chefs and their ideas,” Cross said, likening it to the original Patina or Spago.
This dazzling Century City odyssey began in late 2012, when former owner Chef David Myers (of Sona and Comme Ca fame) and original executive chef Kuniko Yagi (as featured on “Top Chef”) joined forces to open this establishment.
Today, Walter Schild’s company Culinary Lab, also headquartered in Century City, owns Hinoki + the Bird as well as Rosaline and the imminent Blackship in West Hollywood.
Hinoki’s kitchen remains in sturdy hands and on a steady course under Executive Chef Brandon Kida, a Culinary Institute of America graduate who honed his skills at L’Orangerie, and Lutèce and Asiate in New York.
Since joining Hinoki, Kida has made his imprint, specifically with courses such as Salmon Tataki with brown butter soy and the 16 Oz. Dry-Aged New York Strip, a 28-day aged steak with umami butter.
From the Nama (raw) part of the menu came another Kida creation: Uni Baguette, with housemade ricotta and local honey, which, even if you don’t care for uni, will convert you into a fan.
A safer bet (also served on a wooden paddle) may be the Shea (share) menu’s Lobster Roll, which is not sushi but chopped lobster meat, green curry and Thai basil within a bun. Another good move in the Shea section: Wild Boar Ribs, a hefty crosshatching of rubbed meat with Szechuan peppercorn and kaffir lime that is feral with flavor.
A chunk of the restaurant’s cocktail program was developed by former bartender Sam Ross and they include some of the house’s best drinks—the popular Son of a Bee Sting (gin, ginger, lemon and rosewater, which with the hulking slices of ginger gives the whole affair a saffron-type flavor); S.O.S. Scotch, a tall, skinny, colorful glass topped by a bulbous strawberry; and a darker, spicier libation packing a nice bite known as the Gordita, tequila with cucumber and lime spiced up by the dusting of Fresno chili along the rim.
As someone normally averse to spicy foods, I must admit that the Gordita won me over and perhaps would have been my favorite cocktail at Hinoki had I not ordered the Bee Sting, which, while sweeter and with less tooth, is borderline addictive.
They happened to be out of a key ingredient to concoct a bourbon-based cocktail Paper Plane, so instead we enjoyed the off-menu GPS (Griffith Park Swizzle), an E-ticket drink with simple syrup, bourbon, lemon juice, bitters, mint garnish and absinthe that is worth the price of admission (and available only upon request).
Oki means “large” and so came our entrees, one after the other. Kurobuta Pork Chop, made char siu (roasted by skewer), is a filling and fulfilling meal; hefty porcine portions you can literally pig out on.
We also had to try Roast Duck, bathed in a tamarind jus; the meat tasted tender, succulent and flavorful. Other options include Hinoki Scented Black Cod and Kida’s aforementioned salmon and steak plates. Some excellent sides include the house’s fried rice and farro with scallions.
Another off-menu item we had to try was the Okonomiyaki Burger; off the main menu, at least, this item can be ordered the restaurant’s happy hour window Tuesday through Friday, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
What compelled us to try it: Eater Los Angeles rated it the number seven hamburger of 2017, deeming it “the buzziest burger on this list.” Served on a sweet potato bun, this burger comes packed with double patties, sharp white cheddar, bonito-spiked mayo, Fresno chili, carrots, pickled jalapeno slices and tonkatsu (barbecue) sauce.
Matcha Affogato arrives with vanilla and green tea ice cream scoops, sesame shortbread, and a matcha pour-over in the Italian tradition. You can also purchase a plate of Braeburn Apple Donuts, with dipping sides of honey caramel and chai. My favorite, Miso Mochi, was a delectable morsel covered in an irresistible brand of butterscotch and togarashi (chili pepper).
Additionally, one can order the Citrus Panna Cotta or various exotic flavors of ice cream (burnt Tahitian vanilla bean) and sorbets (lychee, guava). Ice Cream Sandwich here utilizes Vietnamese coffee ice cream.
If I have one quibble with this restaurant, parking can be trying and/or expensive. Yet that’s mostly a Century City thing and a small price to pay for a memorable experience.
Poetic and elegant in execution and atmosphere, Hinoki + the Bird is a perfect storm of quality dining; a confluence of ambiance, haute cuisine and excellent service not to be missed.