Hinoki and the Bird – a Beautiful Place

10 Jul

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Admittedly, I usually oscillate between nitpicking and gushing in my reviews. Hinoki and the Bird left me thinking this place is pretty great, although somehow not effusive. I’m not entirely sure why.

First off, the place is beautiful. Located at the base of the Century, a shockingly expensive condo tower in Century City, Hinoki is in posh digs. Unfortunately that means valet parking only, but $8.50 isn’t as gouging as it could be.

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Hinoki is beautiful all around. Open the heavy fortress-like door, step down to the dining room, and you look over a comfortable, dark dining room with a bar on one side and an open kitchen, of course. The outside eating area is even more beautiful, with comfortable mid-century-esque furniture, a large fireplace divider, a retractable roof, and strange terrariums hung above.

There’s also a bizarre detail – the hostesses are dressed in huge oversized chambray shirts and no pants. It was so unnecessary that I didn’t know what to make of it.

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Anyways, the food was generally excellent, starting with the lobster roll. Seafood shacks are having a moment in LA (Fishing with Dynamite, Connie and Ted’s), so the lobster roll may be becoming the new grilled cheese. Hinoki does two fascinating tricks with their version. The bread is a charcoal roll, which has a faint smokiness and an obviously interesting appearance. The lobster is mixed with Thai green curry, which is the last thing I thought I would want on my lobster. But the chef has a light hand, a theme thoroughout the meal, and the balance of flavors is perfect. Chopped fresh basil is on top, again accenting the Thai flavor well.

Note that the menu is divided into fun bites, inspiration, simply grilled, and vegetables & grains. There’s a long booze list, highlighted by the awesomely named Nakatomi Plaza.

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The fried chicken was pretty good, but not incredible. The seasoning was too light for my taste. Some might like that, as the flavor of the chicken was more “pure” as a result. The aioli and lemon were great as an accent, not getting in the way at all.

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The shrimp toast is one of the most popular “fun bites” – a slightly spicy blend of shrimp on a slice of rustic toast (note: every bread is baked in-house daily). It was a bit too salty for me, but packed a lot of flavor.

They actually feature three different toast dishes – a spicy crab toast and a pumpkin toast. I think every table had a least one of these toasts.

Oh, and sitting next to the toast is the grilled brown rice ball. Not super exciting and probably a ripoff at $5, but well-executed for what it is.

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We got the grilled mushrooms. Plain but perfect. Brushed with oil, sprinkle of sea salt, perfectly grilled, and served with a lemon wedge. Pure mushroom flavor. This is a great example of confident cooking. The dish didn’t need some cute fusion or modernist twist, it just needed a deft hand with seasoning and grilling.

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Unfortunately we got a bad batch of mussels, which I’m sure was an anomaly. From the brief taste I had, it’s notable for the light touch they had with the green curry. It’s an interesting comparison to the MB Post or Jitlada versions of green curry mussels. Those versions are much more forward with the curry. The Hinoki version was more refined.

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And here’s the must get dish, the Hinoki-scented cod.

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Served with a thin sheet of Hinoki (Japanese cedar) that is set aflame on one edge and snuffed out, it’s intended to be a sensory experience. I found the gimmick a little off-putting, as the smoke was too strong in my face for the first five seconds. It’s not subtle.

Anyways, set the Hinoki aside and marvel at one of the best cooked pieces of fish I’ve ever had. Butter poached with a nice sear, it is incredibly meaty and moist. My only regret was that you want the piece to be bigger.

The cod is served with grilled mushrooms (hongshimeiji, I think) which are pretty similar to the side dish. Great. The other side is an unfortunate weird choice – matcha mashed potatoes with pistachios. The green tea is the flavor that didn’t go with everything else, a weird misstep in an otherwise perfect dish.

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We finished with a trio of the mochi ice cream, what they call rice creams. The flavors were super interesting, including a miso flavor and one accented with togarashi chile flakes. The texture of the mochi, however, was no better than a good batch of Mikawaya from the supermarket freezer.

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The chef, Kuniko Yagi, came out to shake hands with favored patrons. David Myers was also tramping around.

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KevinEats did a nice write up if you’re looking for more info.

Hinoki and the Bird
10 W Century Dr.
Century City, CA 90067
310.552.1200

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One Response to “Hinoki and the Bird – a Beautiful Place”

  1. Franklin July 27, 2013 at 11:05 pm #

    Awesome review!! can’t wait to give this a try!

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