Hinoki & The Bird

Hinoki

Perhaps one of the most exciting things in life (or your food life, depending on how important food is to your life) is to find a restaurant that you could easily eat the rest of your dinners at for the rest of your life. It’s like finding a unicorn – an edible, delicious unicorn. So meet my newest (and Japanese) unicorn: Hinoki & The Bird.

Dubbed by Zagat as “refined but not precious,” Hinoki is a hideaway tucked into the bottom of the historic Century Tower in Century City. Right off Avenue of the Stars, the Tower is known as the “priciest condo tower west of the Mississippi.” The infamous Ms. Candy Spelling just re-did a condo here for $35M – ya know, chump change. And she’s in good (wealthy) company: the rising Chef Nobu Matsuhisa of Nobu Restaurants even has an apartment here.

Chef David Myers’ newest restaurant has completely blown up this past year. Hinoki has been featured in several recent “Best of” and “Top Restaurant” lists, including Los Angeles Magazine’s Best New Restaurants of 2013Eater LA’s 38 Essential Los Angeles Restaurants of January 2014, Gayot’s 2014 Top 10 Restauarants with the Best Decor in LA - just to name a few.

So believe me when I say that I was shocked at how low key this place was. The entrance itself is nearly invisible, with the door outlined only by the dim lighting from the inside. And yeah, it was busy. But the waiters and waitresses weren’t hustling around (this always makes me nervous), and the volume level wasn’t unbearable. Also, I’m pretty sure the hostesses are required to wear oversized men’s button downs. It was random, and I wanted to be mad about it. Really, I did. But between the food and mood lighting (aka the martinis), I nearly asked the waitress if I could have a shirt of my own.

The entrance is elevated and overlooks the entire restaurant, which is half indoor and half outdoor. The dining room’s decor is mostly wood, dark gray steel, and glass that’s accented with modern furniture. The covered patio is decked out in greenery, exposed wood-plank ceilings, and classic white candles. The whole restaurant smells slightly like smoked wood, which I’ll get to later.

We had a reservation for 8:15pm on a Thursday and had no problem getting seated immediately, even though the two other people in our party were running late. Once they arrived we ordered our first round of drinks: two martinis, a beer, and a Tommy’s #2 - one of Hinoki‘s specialty cocktails. A mix of tequila (or mezcal, if you prefer), lime, orange & agave, everyone at our table loved it.

Okay, food time. Unicorn time. The menu offers a mix of small and large plates, and everything (seriously, everything) looks necessary. It seemed like half of the menu came heavily-suggested, so we wussed out on making any decisions at all and ended up with just about the whole menu on our table.

For the sake of this post, let’s just call our first round of food “appetizers.” We went with the chili crab toast, beef tartare (warning: cheese!), salt & pepper fried calamari, and the assorted housemade pickles.

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chili crab toast with spicy cucumber

The chili crab toast was similar to spicy tuna on crispy rice, but I promise you it’s not. Spicy cucumber and coriander, mmm. Must try.

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beef tartare with pickled jalapeno & parmigiano

Just to clarify, this is a spread. The tartare comes with toast to spread it on. And even though it’s mixed with parmigiano and a raw quail egg, I still had to try it. But luckily for my peeps, this is extremely flavorful – so one taste is more than enough.

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salt & pepper fried calamari

The table’s favorite “appetizer” by far. Each of us secretly (not so secretly) wanted to eat the whole plate ourselves. Man, shared plates can be tough sometimes.

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assorted housemade pickles

Skip the pickles and eat more calamari. Or go for the 1/2 dozen oysters or marinated tuna with lemongrass salad, both of which are dairy free.

Still hungry (you try splitting mini appetizers four ways), we ordered our second round before the first could get cold. We went for Hinoki‘s signature dish, the hinoki scented black cod, plus the crispy marinated chicken and the roasted yam.

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hinoki scented black cod w/ sweet potato & pistachio

So that restaurant-wide wood smell I referred to earlier… here’s your culprit. This dish comes served with a sheet of semi-burning hinoki cedar on top, and there are at least 15 of these coming out every 10 minutes. *Little known fact (meaning I had no idea until I visited the place): hinoki is a fragrant cypress tree used in Japan on sushi bars and in bathtubs. Hence, the restaurant’s namesake. So it probably doesn’t surprise you that this was my favorite dish of the night. So much so that I hogged it all to myself.

Losers, weepers. 

photo 4

crispy marinated chicken

The marinated chicken was more like your momma’s homemade chicken tenders and in no way is that a dig. You won’t be able to eat just one. My peeps: the lemon aioli comes on the side, so no need to special order.

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roasted yam w/ crème fraîche & lardon

We were all surprised how much we liked this one. Then I learned that lardon is a strip or cube of pork fat, and I wasn’t so surprised anymore. My peeps: make sure to avoid the crème fraîche, which is basically a fancy name for fancy sour cream.

Since we played the indecisive card all night, our waitress said we had to order the miso mochi for dessert. To split. Which was pretty funny given that the dessert isn’t even the size of a golf ball, but hey, gotta stay svelte somehow.

If you aren’t familiar with mochi (I’ll be honest, I hardly am), it’s basically just a rice cream. This Hinoki version came with a butterscotch and togarashi topping. And just because it’s made of rice, it still has cream. So hands off if you’re lactose (if you can help it).

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Another signature menu item we wanted to order but couldn’t physically handle it was the lobster roll. It’s served on a charcoal bun with green curry and thai basil, and I swear to you I heard a lady gasp after her first bite. That has to be the world’s purest form of testimony.

And you guys, you have to research Hinoki‘s owner and chef David Myers. He’s the mastermind behind LA and Vegas’ Comme Ca, as well as Ortica in the South Coast Plaza. He even has a chain of cafes in Japanese department stores. The man is a force. And it helps that he’s pretty adorable. I think I usually expect restaurant owners to look ragged, overweight, and slightly sweaty – but not him. I mean, that smile.

David Myers

chef and owner David Myers

Hinoki & The Bird has a great thing going on in Century City. And I’m not just referring to their pantsless hostesses or their dedicated list of signature negronis. The entire menu will not disappoint, and I guarantee you won’t leave wanting for more.

Except maybe the next day. Yeah, the next day you’ll want more.

Website {at) http://hinokiandthebird.com/

Find Hinoki & The Bird {at} 10 Century Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90067

Reservations {at} (310) 552-1200

Open {at) Lunch / Tues-Fri: 11:30am-2:30pm
                 Noodles / Tues-Fri: 5:30-7pm
                 Dinner / Tues-Sat: 5:30-10pm
                 Closed / Sun
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One thought on “Hinoki & The Bird

  1. Okay, I must experience this for myself pronto!
    That calamari looks and sounds dynamite, I almost want to eat it off the screen ha!

    P.S. Love your touch of humor :)

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