Thursday, January 31, 2013

City Club (Los Angeles, CA)

City Club on Bunker Hill
333 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90071
Thu 01/31/2013, 07:15p-09:30p

When you think of private social clubs in LA, old-line names such as the Jonathan Club, California Club, and Los Angeles Athletic Club inevitably come to mind. However, you may not be aware of the newest member of that pantheon: the City Club on Bunker Hill. As a relative fledgling to the scene (it launched in 1989), the City Club prides itself on maintaining a more diverse (both in terms of race and gender), younger membership base. To that effect, the Club supports a Young Executive Committee, which just so happens to be chaired by Danni Li, a colleague of mine from Project by Project. Given Mr. Li's foodist tendencies, he's instituted the so-called YEX Test Kitchen, wherein the Club's Executive Chef Brian Ayers gets to create a special menu outside of the bounds of his normal offerings. Dining here is usually closed to non-members, so I figured that it was a good opportunity to see what the place was all about.

City Club Tom Bradley Room
We were seated in the City Club's Tom Bradley Room, which provided for some great views of the Downtown LA skyline from the 54th floor of the Wells Fargo Center.

Young Executive Test Kitchen Menu
The Young Executive Test Kitchen menu comprised four courses at a very reasonable $35pp, with optional wine pairings. Click for a larger version.

Bread and Butter
Bread was your standard dinner roll--pretty prototypical, but it did its job and had me going back for seconds.

Hamachi, Yuzu, Serrano, Avocado
1: Hamachi, Yuzu, Serrano, Avocado
Ayers' first course of yellowtail was the standout dish of the night. The fish itself was exactly what you'd expect, with a slightly fatty, slightly briny character that was nicely paired against the lush, creamy goodness of that avocado purée. Yuzu and cilantro, meanwhile, added some well-placed pricks of acidity and herbaceousness, but even better was the sharp, lingering heat imparted by the slices of serrano. I quite appreciated the small mound of wakame seaweed on the side, too, which served to augment the ocean-y flavors of the hamachi. A table favorite.

Roasted Corn Soup, Shrimp Dumplings, Chorizo Oil, Cilantro
2: Roasted Corn Soup, Shrimp Dumplings, Chorizo Oil, Cilantro
Our next course really showed off the essence of corn. It was a touch on the sugary side, but the use of chorizo oil did help balance that out. The soup worked well with the dumplings though, which I quite liked given their springy texture and tasty blend of savory and sweet flavors. The greenery, meanwhile, was key here too, adding a much-needed jolt of levity to the dish.

Slow Braised Berkshire Pork Belly, Vegetable Hash, Green Apple, Calvados Sauce
3: Slow Braised Berkshire Pork Belly, Vegetable Hash, Green Apple, Calvados Sauce
Pork belly was as tender and fatty as you'd expect, loaded with piggy flavors and a bevy of deep, dark nuances that conveyed an almost Asian-y tinge. At the same time, the mix of vegetables played foil to the meat, though I would've liked some more brightness and textural contrast on the plate to counteract the heft of the belly.

Saffron, Smoked Paprika and Confit Garlic Roasted Chicken Thigh, Cauliflower Puree, Olive Salsa and Goats Cheese
4: Saffron, Smoked Paprika and Confit Garlic Roasted Chicken Thigh, Cauliflower Puree, Olive Salsa and Goats Cheese
Our final savory brought out a confit'd thigh of chicken. The bird took on the flavors of the saffron-paprika-garlic combo quite nicely, showing off some delectable flavors, though it was a tad dry in certain places. The smoked goat cheese and olive added further complexity to the plate, and I appreciated the cauliflower as well, which served as a moderating base to the dish.

There was no dessert course per se, but rather, we were provided bowls of cookies, chocolates, and berries.

I was pretty satisfied with what the kitchen was able to turn out tonight. I mean, Wolvesmouth need not feel threatened here, but the plates were generally tasty, and certainly better than any event venue food I've had, not to mention the dreck I've been served at the Jonathan Club. I would say that the cocktail program here needs some work though, and I wasn't in love with the wine pairing either. Overall, I can't complain too much given the circumstances.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Wolvesmouth Underground Dinner (Los Angeles, CA) [4]

Wolvesmouth Underground Dinner
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Tue 01/29/2013, 07:30p-11:30p

As I'm sure you've heard, Craig Thornton's inimitable Wolvesden is moving. That's right, the City's preeminent underground chef will be on the up-and-up come later this year, his hand forced by the inevitable limitations of running such an ephemeral eatery. Ever since my first Wolvesmouth meal (when they were still being run out of Shaun White's house), I've always deemed it undoubtedly one of LA's premier dining experiences. As such, a return trip was certainly in order prior to the big move, and a private dinner hosted by longtime reader Paul Lee was a great opportunity to revisit.

venison - pine - beet - blackberry beet - cauliflower - hen of the woods - blueberry meringue
1: venison - pine - beet - blackberry beet - cauliflower - hen of the woods - blueberry meringue
The evening got off to a robust start with an absolutely visually-striking plate of venison. The deer was about as perfect as you can get, with a great depth and complexity and an almost fishy flair (from the pine?) that I really appreciated--wonderful. Also fitting were the accoutrements: the earthy mushrooms were a natural pair with the meat, and I enjoyed the lightness imparted by the cauliflower as well. However, the best part was the incorporation of blackberry, blueberry, and raspberry. Pairing berries with venison is old hat by this point, but the use of the fruit in various forms here lent a sort of overarching, yet subtle sweetness that really worked. I loved how Thornton served what would typically amount to a final savory course as his first dish; to hell with the amuse bouche!

Chimay Spéciale Cent Cinquante
Wolvesmouth has always been a BYOB affair, and we took full advantage of that fact. As you can probably tell, I've been on a bit of a beer binge as of late, so I ended up contributing six bottles from my stash. Starting things off was the Chimay Spéciale Cent Cinquante, which I imagine must be the brewery's first new beer in decades. It was made to commemorate their 150th anniversary, and 2,500 cases were distributed to only six states in the US, so this one was pretty rare. The beer did not disappoint, displaying a sort of Chimay White character, but with a spicier taste (from cardamom and coriander apparently) and a touch more hoppiness. An absolutely lovely tripel.

tuna - ponzu - squid ink tofu yuzukosho - mizuna - wasabi pea - snap pea - green onion - bok choy - sesame - uni
2: tuna - ponzu - squid ink tofu yuzukosho - mizuna - wasabi pea - snap pea - green onion - bok choy - sesame - uni
In New American cooking, is there anything more clichéd than seared tuna (preferably sesame crusted)? Well, here, Thornton takes what could be a trite dish and turns it completely on its head. The fish was on point to be sure, but what really made this special was how the various veggies complemented the tuna, bringing forth a bevy of bright, verdant flavors and multifaceted textures, all tied together by that tangy ponzu. If that wasn't enough, the combo of urchin and avocado added a palpable lushness to the plate that played foil to the greenery, and I loved the crunch and sheer savoriness of those wasabi peas as well.

broccoli - broccoli stalk - black cod - broccoli puree - lime
3: broccoli - broccoli stalk - black cod - broccoli puree - lime
The Chef then delivered a seemingly simple-looking plate that held another stroke of brilliance. I'm a bit of a broccoli fiend, so the course was right up my alley, offering it up in tempura'd, stalk, and puréed with lime forms--a real celebration of the vegetable. The fish, though, was just as inviting: supple and buttery, a bit fatty, and rather profound, it was probably the best bite of black cod that I've ever had, and fantastic when taken with the broccoli in all its guises.

Birrificio Montegioco Tibir
Our next bottle was an obscure Italian, the Birrificio Montegioco Tibir, an ale brewed with the addition of Timorasso grapes (used to make grappa) and aged in oak. This one was also to my liking, with its slightly bready, slightly funky flair and a delectably vinous character.

delicata - carrot - cabbage - coffee lime yogurt - cabbage-carrot - cocoa coffee - mustard
4: delicata - carrot - cabbage - coffee lime yogurt - cabbage-carrot - cocoa coffee - mustard
Carrot and squash: usually not a good combination given my disdain for their sweetness. This dish, though, worked, and had the added benefit of being rather stunning to look at (loved that shade of purple). The key, thus, was the use of crunchy shards of cabbage to counteract the sugariness inherent on the plate--genius. It was a stupendous match-up, and I quite appreciated the enveloping astringency imparted by the cocoa-coffee crumbles too.

crepe - red pepper harissa soubise - rabbit - celery root - cherry - brussels
5: crepe - red pepper harissa soubise - rabbit - celery root - cherry - brussels
With his "Swiss fondue," Thornton already holds the title for my favorite preparation of rabbit ever, but this dish is certainly a contender as well. Indeed, the meatballs here--all tender and juicy--were simply bursting with flavor; my mind was a bit blown given how much taste he was able to extract. I could've eaten a whole bunch of 'em all alone, but that would be missing the point, as that harissa was fantastic, providing just a light touch of heat and piquancy to go along with the meat. Let's not forget about the moderating effect of the crepe, and of course I was a fan of those pleasantly-bitter, cider-glazed Brussels sprouts as well.

Het Anker Cuvée Van De Keizer Rood
For our third beer, we returned to Belgium with the Het Anker Cuvée Van De Keizer Rood, a strong pale ale from Flanders that's only brewed once a year on the birthday of Charles V (February 24th). This particular example was of the 2010 vintage and managed to be a table favorite, showing off the essence of a classic pale ale, but with something extra that I couldn't quite put my finger on--sort of like a sweet, earthy depth that I adored.

potato green garlic velouté - kiwi - egg - fried potato
6: potato green garlic velouté - kiwi - egg - fried potato
Potato and egg are two of my favorite ingredients, so this was sort of a no-brainer. The egg arrived perfectly poached, and when pierced, unleashed a torrent of lush, rich goodness into the velouté, forming a delectable marriage that was then accented by the saltiness of those wonderfully crunchy potato chips. I really appreciated the use of pea tendril here to add some lightness into the mix too, while the kiwi provided a bright point of tartness to things. Classic flavors, but done up Wolvesmouth style.

Uinta Birthday Suit
The first American beer of the night was the Uinta Birthday Suit, an ale brewed with cherries. It was easily the most polarizing drink of the night given its marked, puckering sourness and balance of fruity sweetness, all laced with a hint of earthy funk.

green apple - grilled pineapple - lobster - sweet potato latkes - pork belly - lobster sauce - radish - chive
7: green apple - grilled pineapple - lobster - sweet potato latkes - pork belly - lobster sauce - radish - chive
Thornton described his pork belly as "unabashedly savory" upon arriving at the table, and it was hard to argue with that. Indeed, the meat, a deft balance of lean and fat, conveyed all the headiness that you'd expect, but was further amped up by its accompanying lobster head sauce. The sauce, thus, also served to link the belly up with the fresh, sweet chunks of lobster on the side, and I positively adored those latkes as well--they were something that you'd just want a big plate of.

Rogue XS Imperial India Pale Ale
To pair with the heartier courses, I went with the Rogue XS Imperial India Pale Ale, a great example of the IPA style really, everything that you'd expect, with an apt balance between the hops and the caramel-y malt. Loved the ceramic bottle on this one, too.

blue cheese buttermilk - quail - cucumber - peanut - green tomato - pink lady - turnip - cucumber juice - grilled baby gem
8: blue cheese buttermilk - quail - cucumber - peanut - green tomato - pink lady - turnip - cucumber juice - grilled baby gem
Rounding out the savory portion of our meal was this buttermilk-fried, cornichon-marinated quail. The bird I found full of flavor, tender and juicy on the inside but coated with a delightfully crisp batter, all while the blue cheese added a certain tanginess to the overall effort. The use of cucumber in two forms, meanwhile, contributed a nice balance to the dish, but even better that was grilled baby gem and its crisp bite and char bitterness.

Birrificio Di Como Malthus Baluba
The final birra of the night, another hard-to-find Italian, was perhaps my favorite. The Birrificio Di Como Malthus Baluba was something that I'd had back in 2009 at Sage in Las Vegas. I fell in love with it then, and the memory of the beer stayed with me throughout the years until I finally decided to seek out a bottle. A dark ale produced with apricot, pineapple, ginger, and rue, it wowed a lot of us at the table with its combination of saccharine, acidic, wine-like flavors and an almost effervescent levity. A bit esoteric, but utterly divine.

cajeta - pistachio - banana - chocolate - glazed banana - freeze dried banana
9: cajeta - pistachio - banana - chocolate - glazed banana - freeze dried banana
Banana haters need not apply for our first dessert, which did an admirable job in showing off the fruit in various forms. As prevalent as the banana was, though, it was never overwhelming, but rather served as a restrained base to the dish, working seamlessly with the nutty pistachio cake while the cajeta added a touch of sugary spice to the fray.

mandarin - green tea - clementine - black sesame cake - black sesame parfait - yuzu curd
10: mandarin - green tea - clementine - black sesame cake - black sesame parfait - yuzu curd
We concluded the evening with a course featuring one of my favorite dessert ingredients: black sesame. The sweet-yet-sorta-savory character of the sesame was flawlessly conveyed here, and I appreciated how it arrived into two forms. What really made this work, though, was its interplay with the tartness of the citrus fruit, making for a good mix of the sugary and the sour. Topping things off was a sprinkling of "pop rocks," which added a whimsical touch to the dish.

Wolvesmouth Crew
The current Wolvesmouth team: Andy, Shane, Craig, Caleb, Julian, Kimchi (dog). Not pictured: Bone and Paz.

It'd been a while since my last Wolvesmouth dinner, and tonight just reminded me of why the place needs to be on everyone's radar. The food was delicious sure, but also unconventional, beautiful, and painstakingly precise, with a certain confidence, clarity, and vision that's hard to come by--Thornton's cooking has gotten even better. Nobody's doing food quite like him in LA, and that's a fantastic thing. As for his future place, it'll be a small, intimate spot, with maybe two dozen seats, one that'll allow the Chef to offer the type of experience that he's made a name for himself with. The restaurant will likely be located in close proximity to his current loft near Little Tokyo, and may offer a lunch/take-out component as well. Sign me up.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Royce (Pasadena, CA) [6]

The Royce at The Langham
1401 S Oak Knoll Ave, Pasadena, CA 91106
Sat 01/26/2013, 07:30p-01:25a

The Royce

The Langham just can't seem to catch a break when it comes to its flagship restaurant. Old timey readers may recall that I was there for Michael Voltaggio's last night at The Dining Room back in July 2010. His stint there didn't even last a year, and he himself was a replacement for Craig Strong, who left to head up the kitchens of Studio down in Laguna Beach. I'm sad to say that I recently closed out the tenure of another chef, the talented David Féau, during the final night of service at The Royce. Ever since my first visit to the restaurant, I'd recognized the considerable skills of Chef Féau, who has consistently turned out plate after plate of some of the finest cuisine the Southland has seen. In the back of my mind, however, I always had an inkling that the place wouldn't last. Féau's cooking had too much finesse, too much complexity for guests of the old line hotel, and denizens of Pasadena in general. It never was a great fit I suppose, and though the Chef and his staff hung on for over two years, the Langham finally pulled the plug last December. It was a surprise to me, but then again, it sort of wasn't sadly.

The Royce Chef's Table Menu
Tonight, the menu for the whole restaurant was a $150 tasting with an optional $75 wine pairing, though Féau did include a few extra courses for our party at the Chef's Table. Click for a larger version.

1: "SENSES AMUSE" | sucré - acid - salé - fumé - croquant
Our first course comprised a striking quenelle of beet sorbet, coated with crème fraîche, dotted with caviar, and dusted with kaffir lime. It was a masterful presentation of beet, a stimulating jolt that deftly played the inherent sugariness of the root veggie against the salty, smoky roe and sharp sourness of the lime, all while the crème fraîche served to moderate and integrate the dish.

Baguette, Olive Bread, Bacon Bread
The housemade bread this evening included olive, bacon, and French baguette varieties.

2: SPINY LOBSTER | DAIKON RADISH | raw marinated spiny lobster, horseradish daikon "remoulade", sesame beets, escarole
Our first "bonus" course was spiny lobster from nearby Santa Barbara. The crustacean itself was spot on: supple and snappy, with a lovely freshness to it along with a subtly sweet brine. It was superb alone, but also went well with its pairing of a reimagined remoulade, which lent a certain savory, piquant weight and slight bitterness to the dish. Lovely crunch from the daikon as well, and I appreciated the sort of overarching sesame notes here too.

3: CLAMS | SEAWEED | steamed razor clams, "french kimchi", seaweed broth
The Chef's preparation of razor clam was easily one of the best I've had. The bivalve arrived steamed to a wonderfully firm, yet tender consistency, and was just teeming with a briny goodness that was only enhanced by the heady, aromatic clam-seaweed broth. Sea lettuce powder and sea grapes provided further points of interest in the dish, but the best accoutrement here was that "kimchi," which offered up a beautiful countervailing tanginess. Toward the end, I eagerly supped up the remaining liquid with my bread.

4: ARTICHOKE | LARDO | anzo artichoke "tulipe", white mushroom, lardo, mache bouquet
A "tulip" of artichoke came out looking quite handsome, grilled and draped with a veil of lardo and drizzled with espelette. The heart and stem here were certainly tender, with an earthy, vegetal flair that played off the considerable weight of the fatback, as well as the sweet-spicy flavors in the dish.

Turbot Plating Turbot Tableside
Next up was a gorgeous fillet of turbot, presented and plated tableside by Chef Féau.

5: TURBOT | MUSHROOM | seared turbot cheek, celery fish stock, cauliflower "tofu", hedgehog mushrooms, ginkgo nut
The turbot was just about perfect, with a beautiful texture (especially the cheek portion) and a refined, yet robust flavor. It was mouth-wateringly delicious alone, but the additional earthiness of the hedgehogs and lightness of the celery really made the dish sing. This just might've been the best turbot I'd ever had.

6: BLACK MULLET | FISH SOUP | seared black mullet fillet à la plancha, potato emulsion, canella fish jus, carrot-candy, fennel
In our next extra course, black mullet came out in flawless fashion, perfectly seared and just teeming with a fishy savoriness that was expertly played off of the tangy flavors of the fennel, tomatillo, and scarlet turnip. If that wasn't enough, we were also provided a potage made with fish head, shallot, and paprika, all contained under a potato espuma. The soup was something else, delivering a punch of ocean-y intensity, only slightly tempered by the potato.

Périgord Truffles Shaving Truffles
At this point, Chef Féau teased us with a trio of French black Périgord truffles placed on the table, which he then proceed to shave generously over the next course. It was the height of truffle season, so the perfume on these was pretty incredible.

7: LENTILS | BLACK TRUFFLE | green lentils "du puy" & sweet peas ragoutté, pumpkin seeds, shaved winter black truffle
The famed lentils from the French region of Le Puy were done proud here. Served with pepitas, the amalgam of nutty, crunchy, and earthy sensations was beautifully set off by the amazing depth of the truffles, all while the peas added a contrasting sweetness and brightness to the course. A perfect dish--I just wanted to keep eating and eating.

The first of two beef preparations was the bone marrow "tempura." It reminded me a bit of a cromesquis, and its liquid-y center was just teeming with the rich, heady flavors of the moelle osseuse. A bordelaise sauce added further interest to the fritter, while the layers of shaved foie gras actually served to lighten the dish. There was a lovely peppery finish to the course, but I would've liked something--more acidity, more bitterness--to balance out the heft of the marrow.

Our final savory course brought us a Rossini-inspired cut of wagyu rib eye cap with bordelaise. The steak I found expectedly tender and fatty, with a boatload of bovine goodness and a nice char bitterness, all while the included greens provided a trace of levity to things. The foie gras, meanwhile, was presented in classic fashion, well-seared, and with lovely pricks of offsetting salinity; the portion size should've been smaller though.

9: GOAT TOMME | WHITE TRUFFLE | tomme de chevre, crispin apple, hazelnut, piemonte white truffle honey
Chef Féau has always been good about presenting some really strong, inventive cheese courses, and this dish just continued that trend. The Tomme here was dehydrated I believe, giving it a wonderfully salty, yet subdued flavor profile that paired in stellar fashion with the tart, juicy, translucent sheets of apple and sugary lines of honey, while the shavings of black truffle offered up a profound earthiness that did a great job in enveloping the entire dish. Bravo!

10: SUSHI RICE | LEMON GRASS | creamy vanilla "sushi rice", lemon grass milk
Our sort of pre-dessert was a dollop of vinegared rice pudding, set against a lemongrass milk. It was a light, refreshing smack to the palate, with the rice playing well off of the sweet, herby nuances in the dish.

Petit Fours
Three types of petit fours were then brought out: nutty-sweet chocolate nougats, tart 'n' savory mini key lime pies, and my favorite, the delightful cheese tarts.

11: CREPE SUZETTE | WHITE CHOCOLATE | "crepe suzette", frozen chocolate ganache, valencia orange grand marnier, grapefruit ice cream
Dessert was a riff on the classic crêpe Suzette. It really did a nice job in conveying the quintessence of the traditional dish, with the sugary, boozy, and citrus notes working together here in good harmony. Lovely texture on the actual crêpe, too. I found the whole thing strangely reminiscent of an orange creamsicle!

12: PETIT FOURS & CHOCOLATE | the royce selection
Finishing things off was The Royce's signature squares of chocolate (fleur de sel dark, espresso milk, espelette white) and a cup of espresso.

By the time you read this, The Royce as we know it will be done, finished, fini. The restaurant will be revamped a bit, and will transform into a high-end steakhouse. It's not the most exciting concept, but at least it might become a candidate to take over the void left by CUT. The Royce v2.0 is slated to launch soon, in late February/early March, and I imagine I'll be there opening night in classic kevinEats fashion.

What's more interesting, though, is the fate of David Feau. Fortunately for us, he's not done with LA yet, and is planning his next move, probably a small, intimate place connected to a retail/wholesale boutique and boulangerie in South Pasadena. It's the type of venue that I think is better suited for the Chef's style of cooking, and the shop section of the business should provide for more financial stability. Look for the boutique to come to fruition in the coming months, with the restaurant to follow sometime after. À bientôt David!

David Feau

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hinoki & the Bird (Los Angeles, CA)

Hinoki and the Bird
10 W Century Dr, Century City, CA 90067
Thu 01/17/2013, 08:00p-11:40p

This year's first "big" debut comes to us in the form of the whimsically-monikered Hinoki & the Bird, the latest project from the David Myers Group and quite possibly the successor to Sona that we've been waiting for these past few years. The restaurant is housed on the ground floor of The Century, the priciest condo tower west of the Mississippi, and is helmed by Myers' prized protégé Kuniko Yagi, a current contestant on Top Chef: Seattle. As for the name, hinoki is a type of cypress tree that is meant to represent the spirit of Japan, while the "bird" encompasses Myers, Yagi, and the staff, whose worldly travels have ostensibly influenced the modern Cal-Asian cooking here.

About the Chef: Yagi hails from Maebashi, the capital city of Japan's Gunma Prefecture. She first began taking an interest in food due to her mother's cooking, but declined to pursue a career in the kitchen, instead opting for a "safer" profession, resulting in an unsatisfying position at a bank in Tokyo. She yearned to do something more creative, something that would allow her to create using her hands. As an escape, Yagi married an American and moved to Southern California in 2003. The marriage, however, was brief, and she soon found herself alone and looking for a job.

Given her limited English skills at the time, Yagi ended up working as a server at Ubon, Nobu Matsuhisa's ill-fated noodle house. Here, her love of food was rekindled, and it just so happened that one of Ubon's regular customers was none other than David Myers. The two began talking, and Myers, impressed by her zeal and enthusiasm, offered her a job at Sona. She was 26 at this point. Thus, in 2004, Yagi began working at one of the best restaurants in LA, starting in prep, then the amuse station, then working her way up the line to sous before being named Chef de Cuisine in late 2007. She excelled in this post, even becoming one of StarChefs' Rising Stars, and held the position up until Sona's unfortunate shutter in May 2010.

After the closure, Yagi traveled to her homeland, staging across a number of eateries in Japan, including traditional Kyoto kaiseki restaurants Yachiyo and Konobu, under Chef Takuji Takahashi. In Tokyo, she interned at Seiji Yamamoto's much-talked-about modernist kaiseki joint Ryugin, as well as at Sushi Shin, where she made numerous visits to the famed Tsukiji fish market. Returning from Japan in mid-2011, Yagi worked a stint at EN Japanese Brasserie in New York, under Chef Abe Hiroki, then traveled to Paris and Italy (Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome) for additional inspiration. At this point, she became Executive Chef of Comme Ça here in LA, then left to film Season 10 of Top Chef. Following, Yagi took a tour of Southeast Asia to further broaden her horizons, and started work on bringing Hinoki & the Bird to life.

Hinoki & the Bird Interior
The Milo Garcia/MAI Studio-penned decor is a slight departure from the LA norm, which is appreciated. It's an indoor/outdoor space, wood-y and homey and multifaceted on the inside, anchored by a copper-topped communal table, cozy bar, and gleaming open kitchen (replete with binchotan charcoal grill). Further seating is available in the adjacent enclosed patio.

Hinoki & the Bird Menu Hinoki & the Bird Menu Hinoki & the Bird Cocktail List
The Hinoki & the Bird menu is surprisingly lengthy, a celebration of globally-inflected Cali cooking split among smaller plates good for sharing, heartier mains, and some appealing sides. It's a dinner-only affair at the moment, but there are indeed plans to add lunch as well, and I'd love to see them offer a tasting menu option. Also worthy of note is the cocktail list, an intriguing selection with good breadth crafted by none other than New Yorker Sam Ross (Attaboy, Milk and Honey, Little Branch, Pegu Club, East Side Company Bar). Click for larger versions.

Hinoki & the Bird Wines by the Glass Hinoki & the Bird Wine List Hinoki & the Bird Wine List
For all you winos out there, H&tB offers up a formidable wine list as well. Click for larger versions.

gordon's cup / bird cup / nakatomi plaza
gordon's cup [$14.00] | gin, muddled lime, cucumber, szechuan pepper, salt
bird cup [$14.00] | our take on a pimms cup, muddled citrus
nakatomi plaza [$14.00] | choya plum wine, yamazaki, fresh pressed green apple
We were in a cocktail sort of mood though, and would eventually wind up sampling every single one of Ross' 14 creations. Our first round began with the Gordon's Cup, sort of the requisite gin-cucumber cocktail on the menu, but a good one at that; sure, the classic pairing of the cool cucumber and zesty, aromatic gin was spot on, but what really made this special was the spicy, savory overtones from the Sichuan pepper and salt. The Bird Cup, meanwhile, was the restaurant's version of the famed Pimm's Cup, lightly boozy and highly quaffable, with a tangy, fruity character over a somewhat medicinal backbone. Last up was the Die Hard-inspired Nakatomi Plaza (actually the nearby Fox Plaza), a neat little cocktail featuring an almost candy-esque apple-y sweetness intertwined with the smoky heft of the whiskey. Yippie-ki-yay.

scallops, grapefruit, lime leaf
scallops, grapefruit, lime leaf [$16.00]
Our first course brought us some supple medallions of scallop, mild and delicate, yet nicely accented by the bittersweet taste of its accompaniments. The crux of the dish, though, was the use of toasted rice, which added a fantastic savoriness on the finish, as well as a lovely crunch.

beef tartare, pickled jalapeno, parmigiano
beef tartare, pickled jalapeno, parmigiano [$15.00]
Yagi's beef tartar, quite simply, may very well have been the best I've ever had. I loved the Asian-y slant of the dish, with its supple, springy chunks of steak expertly highlighted by the use of Parmesan and quail egg, while the jalapeño added a spicy, piquant contrast that lingered just on and on. It was a perfect mélange of flavors, gorgeously set on some wonderfully crusty, toasty pieces of bread.

marinated tuna, lemongrass salad
marinated tuna, lemongrass salad [$16.00]
Tiles of tuna arrived at the table subtle and sticky, with a slight ocean-y savor that paired well against the bright, zesty nuances of the lemongrass salad.

1/2 dozen oysters, pear mignonette
1/2 dozen oysters, pear mignonette [$18.00]
Our oyster plate featured the Forbidden varietal, harvested from a private farm in Yorktown, VA, right on the Chesapeake Bay. I don't think I'd ever actually had these before, but they were on point: plump and crisp, with a focused salinity that paired nicely with the tangy sweetness of the pear mignonette.

hinoki swizzle / griffith park swizzle / jungle bird
hinoki swizzle [$14.00] | amontillado sherry, st germaine, fresh green apple & champagne
griffith park swizzle [$14.00] | bourbon, mint, lime, bitters & absinthe
jungle bird [$14.00] | black strap rum, pineapple, lime & campari
Round #2 commenced with the Hinoki Swizzle, a fascinating concoction with a coffee-like character from the sherry set off against the fruity, effervescent nature of the rest of the drink. The Griffith Park Swizzle, meanwhile, was considerably more intense, showing off an almost cough syrup-y nature from the booze, bitters, and absinthe that was only slightly moderated by the lime and mint used. The Jungle Bird, finally, was easily the most polarizing of the trio, a dark, viscous, saccharine, spicy libation with a bittersweet tinge that left some of us scratching our heads.

salt & pepper marinated calamari, ajwain-tomato jam
salt & pepper marinated calamari, ajwain-tomato jam [$13.00]
The "fun bites" portion of the menu (which almost seems like drinking food, a concession to the bar patrons) got off to a strong start with one of the best preparations of fried calamari that I'd ever eaten. One of my common complaints with the dish is an overly thick batter, but that wasn't the case here. Instead, the "crust" was light and thin, with a mouth-watering savor that transitioned gracefully to the supple cuts of squid contained within. The fritters were delicious alone, but the tangy, Indian-inflected dipping sauce was appreciated as well.

crispy marinated chicken, lemon aoli
crispy marinated chicken, lemon aoli [$14.00]
Yagi's fried chicken (karaage?) was similarly delectable: tender and juicy, set in a delicate layer of batter and brimming with chicken-y goodness. Just think of these as the best chicken tenders you've ever had. The included sauce wasn't even necessary.

chili crab toast, spicy cucumber, coriander
chili crab toast, spicy cucumber, coriander [$15.00]
The Chef's chili crab toast was another standout, actually reminding me of the excellent version of the dish at Starry Kitchen. I loved how the inherent sweetness and texture of the crab was so perfectly displayed here, yet not overwhelmed by the sharp, lingering heat in the dish. A must try.

fried oysters, black garlic aoli
fried oysters, black garlic aoli [$12.00]
Kaki furai were just as I expected, crisp and crunchy, with a well-placed brininess from the huge Hama Hamas. The interesting thing here was the included aioli, topped with a bit of black garlic that made the sauce a fitting temper to the bite of the oysters.

white negroni / harajuku / kingston negroni
white negroni [$14.00] | amère sauvage (bitter gentian), bianco vermouth, rocks, grapefruit twist
harajuku [$14.00] | hakushu single malt whiskey, gran classico, byrrh quinquina & chocolate bitters
kingston negroni [$14.00] | smith + cross jamaican rum, gran classico, sweet vermouth, rocks, orange twist
Our third set of cocktails brought us variations on the negroni, reportedly Sam Ross' favorite drink. The White Negroni conveyed a base of vegetal, bittersweet flavors courtesy of the Amere Sauvage, balance by citrus-y overtones from the grapefruit. The Harajuku, on the other hand, had a sugary, almost candy-esque sweetness to it countered by a hefty base of booze and bitters. Rounding out the threesome was the Kingston Negroni, with the rum serving as a fitting replacement for the traditional gin, providing a bolder, sweeter taste to go along with the medicinal notes in the cocktail.

hinoki scented black cod, sweet potato, pistachio hinoki scented black cod, sweet potato, pistachio
hinoki scented black cod, sweet potato, pistachio [$24.00]
The most intriguing section of the menu is titled "inspiration," and we delved into it with this beautifully-cooked black cod, replete with a sheet of burning hinoki that lent a sort of smoky veil to the dish. The fish was marvelous, one of the best preparations of black cod I've tasted: super flaky, meltingly tender, and undeniably buttery. It was superb alone, but the earthy mushrooms by its side were spot on as well. My only concern was the sweet potato, which I found overly sugary; I would've preferred a standard potato instead.

coconut-curried mussels, sausage, cauliflower
coconut-curried mussels, sausage, cauliflower [$19.00]
It seems like I've been having some really good luck with mussel dishes recently (e.g. Bestia), and this course just continued that trend. The mussels themselves, first off, were spot on: plump and satisfying, with a good brine to 'em. The key, though, was that phenomenal coconut curry, which put forth some mouth-watering sweet and herb-y notes that melded flawlessly with the mollusks. At the same time, the bits of sausage thrown it added a delightful saltiness to the course, while the cauliflower did wonders in providing a touch of lightness.

lobster roll, green curry, thai basil
lobster roll, green curry, thai basil [$16.00]
I have a feeling that this is the dish that everyone will be talking about, and for good reason. It just might've been the tastiest version of the New England classic I've eaten, even beating out my current favorite at Son of a Gun. The lobster itself I found utterly sweet and springy, a spot-on presentation that was perfectly accented by the use of a wonderfully aromatic lemongrass-y curry. If that wasn't enough, the dark-as-night charcoal powder bread lent a fascinating visual cue to the dish, and also served as a fitting counterpoint to the crustacean.

caramel braised kurobuta pork belly, radish, mustard greens
caramel braised kurobuta pork belly, radish, mustard greens [$28.00]
The requisite pork belly course brought out something that was undoubtedly inspired by the classic Chinese hong shao rou. Unsurprisingly, the meat was falling-apart tender and fatty, with boatloads of deep, dark, umami-laced flavors tinged with a marked sweetness. Given the heft of the pork, I much appreciated the crisp mustard greens here, which really helped counteract the considerable weight of the belly.

clam chowder, celery leaf
clam chowder, celery leaf [$11.00]
We concluded this part of the menu with Yagi's riff on clam chowder. It was pretty amazing, with what little actual soup there was conveying the heady essence of the sea, augmented by actual bits of clam, and taken up yet another notch by the wonderfully salty dices of bacon. Tiny cubes of potato, meanwhile, served as a moderating element in the chowder, adding heft and body, while the celery provided a lovely touch of levity and vegetal astringency to the course.

tangerine caipirissima / seasonal fix / tommy's #2
tangerine caipirissima [$14.00] | white rum, lime, tangerine & brown sugar
seasonal fix [$14.00] | gin, rum, vodka or tequila, served with fresh lemon over muddled season fruit
tommy's #2 [$14.00] | tequila and/or mezcal, lime, orange & agave
Even more cocktails: The Tangerine Caipirissima was basically a caipirinha in essence, with a delightfully citrus-y character paired with an appealing sweetness from the brown sugar--quite refreshing. The Seasonal Fix gives imbibers a choice of base liquors and fruit. We requested a "dealer's choice," which resulted in a gin and grape concoction that was actually quite nice, with the bright flavors of the grape playing well with the floral, fragrant gin. Our version of Tommy's #2, lastly, came with mezcal, and it was a prototypical presentation of the spirit, contrasting the smoky, woody taste of the booze against the light, juicy citrus nuances present.

drunken duck breast
drunken duck breast [$24.00]
At this point, it was time to venture into the "simply grilled" dishes, which, I imagine, might be there to appeal to the less adventurous eaters that are bound to visit the restaurant (e.g. residents of The Century). Kicking things off was this duck, which I quite enjoyed. It actually possessed a pretty profound depth, with an immensely savory relish to it that might be too much for some--it definitely tasted like duck, that's for sure. The persimmons, meanwhile, were unnecessarily sweet, though some of my dining companions appreciated the fruit. Personally, I would've wanted to see some lighter, bitter greens to counteract the intensity of the bird.

maine lobster
maine lobster [$38.00]
An entire lobster arrived halved and grilled. The course showed off the classic notes of the crustacean that you'd expect, but tarted up by the use of ginger, cilantro, and a hefty sauce that somehow managed not to completely overwhelm the main ingredient. My concern here was that lobster was just a shade tough in certain places.

wagyu strip loin wagyu strip loin
wagyu strip loin [$38.00]
Hinoki & the Bird's strip loin would put that at a lot of steakhouses to shame. Done to a properly rare temperature, it was tender to the bite, and displayed an immense beefy goodness that was keenly accented by a salty outer crust. The greenery on the plate, meanwhile, provided a fitting, bitter temper to the meat. Just a lovely steak overall.

sambal skate wing
sambal skate wing [$21.00]
The skate wing was my favorite item in this section, and one of my favorite preparations of the fish ever. Served on the bone, the skate was oh-so tender, and even slightly gelatinous, with a fantastic touch of heat from the sambal. The included bowl of pungent fish sauce provided even more complexity to the dish, but wasn't strictly necessary for me.

grilled winter mushrooms, sea salt, lime
grilled winter mushrooms, sea salt, lime [$12.00]
Moving on to the side dishes now, our server recommended these mushrooms, and she was right on the money. We had here oyster and shiitake varieties, and they each were spot on, really conveying the earthy, umami-laden flavors that I was expecting, but taken up a notch by a dash of lime and sea salt.

haricot vert, sesame
haricot vert, sesame [$9.00]
The green beans were excellent: crisp and bright, but with a fantastic counterpoint in the form of that toasty, savory sesame.

braised shitake mushroom
braised shitake mushroom [$11.00]
Our final side comprised more shiitakes, but this time in braised form. They were utterly classic in essence, but with a really smart complement in the form of that spicy-salty yuzukosho.

classic negroni / dark 'n stormy
classic negroni [$14.00] | gin, sweet vermouth & campari, rocks, orange twist
dark 'n stormy [$14.00] | bermudan rum, fresh ginger & lime
At this point, I don't think we really needed more cocktails, but we were two away from "gamuting" the list, so we figured what the hell. The Classic Negroni was just that, a quintessential expression of the drink highlighting its bittersweet taste. The Dark 'n Stormy was similarly prototypical, with a perfect balance of boozy and fruity flavors against an undercurrent of refreshing ginger notes.

braised lamb, tiny potatoes, cumin seed
braised lamb, tiny potatoes, cumin seed [$25.00]
We were ready for dessert now, but we had two go-backs on the menu. The first was this lamb, requested by one of my fellow diners. Tender, though a touch dry, the meat was fairly intense, with distinct lamb-y flavors that might veer toward overly gamy for some. The yellow curry, thus, was much appreciated, providing a South Asian-inspired counterweight to the meat. I loved those hearty pee wee potatoes as well.

kale, crispy and raw, curried almonds, pecorino, red wine vinaigrette
kale, crispy and raw, curried almonds, pecorino, red wine vinaigrette [$12.00]
Our final savory came courtesy of the Nick, the restaurant's affable General Manager. It's one of his favorite items on the menu, and became one of mine as well. In fact, it was the best salad I've had since the one I had at Bereket, which, coincidentally, also featured kale. The veggie arrived in three forms and three preparations--braised, fried, and raw--making for a multifaceted bitterness that was beautifully accentuated by the delightful curry almonds and salty shavings of Pecorino cheese. The vinaigrette, meanwhile, added an overarching tanginess to the course that did wonders in tying all the elements together.

Hinoki & the Bird Dessert Menu
Desserts here at Hinoki & the Bird are handled by none other than Pastry Chef Ramon Perez, whom we last encountered at a special 5weet & Savory dinner at Breadbar. Click for a larger version.

miso ice cream, butterscotch, togarashi
miso ice cream, butterscotch, togarashi [$4.00]
Perez offers up a rotating selection of "rice creams," which basically amount to mochi ice cream, and naturally, we had to try 'em all. The first really worked in showing off the savory flair of the miso, which went flawlessly against the unabashed sugariness of the butterscotch, all while togarashi added an extra hint of spice to the mix.

black sesame ice cream, lemon, hibiscus
black sesame ice cream, lemon, hibiscus [$4.00]
The black sesame version was all up in-your-face, offering up a bold blast of sweet sesame goodness that recalled the potency of tangyuan filling. To that, lemon and hibiscus served as apt foils to the intensity of the ice cream.

honey ice cream, persimmon, licorice caramel
honey ice cream, persimmon, licorice caramel [$4.00]
The honey ice cream, as you'd imagine, was unapologetically saccharine, and augmented even more by that rich, viscous caramel. The licorice element in there actually served to moderate the overt sweetness at play, as did the diced persimmon.

meyer lemon shaved ice, pink lady apple, greek yogurt, pistachio
meyer lemon shaved ice, pink lady apple, greek yogurt, pistachio [$8.00]
Next, we moved on to Perez's plated desserts, which definitely had a certain avant garde flair to them. The first did an admirable job in putting together some disparate tastes and textures, really conveying an interplay of sweet, sour, and almost perfume-y flavors set off by a focused savory element.

steamed banana cake, saffron cremeux, frozen coconut, hazelnut
steamed banana cake, saffron cremeux, frozen coconut, hazelnut [$8.00]
The banana cake didn't get much love around the table, though I enjoyed it. The star of the show here was clearly that cake, which was dense and substantial, loaded with sugary banana flavors. What made it work, though, was the layering of flavors from the grassy saffron and subtly sweet coconut.

matcha zephyr, matcha sponge cake, zephyr namelaka, yuzu
matcha zephyr, matcha sponge cake, zephyr namelaka, yuzu [$8.00]
What ended up being the table favorite among the desserts was this matcha cake, which really did a nice job in setting the bittersweet flavors of the cake against the tart and tangy bite of yuzu. Some lovely textures here, too.

chocolate-praline, malt cake, milk chocolate jelly, cocoa nib
chocolate-praline, malt cake, milk chocolate jelly, cocoa nib [$8.00]
Last up, natch, was Perez's chocolate dessert, which had a base of nutty, chocolate-y, and satisfying sweetness that I found reminiscent of gianduja. It was great to see the various forms and facets of cacao here, and I especially appreciated the bright, herbaceous accents in the dish.

Hinoki & the Bird Team
David Myers, Kuniko Yagi, Ramon Perez, and the entire Hinoki & the Bird opening crew.

This was an impressive meal overall, and Hinoki & the Bird is no doubt a worthy addition to Myers' burgeoning empire. Chef Yagi has clearly upped her game since we last saw her at Sona. Her cooking has progressed nicely, and the plates we witnessed tonight point toward a focused, almost minimalistic, yet organic style that oozes vibrancy and robustness in flavors--a deft blend of Asian influences and modern American flair. Desserts and cocktails, meanwhile, were also on point, undoubtedly contributing to the appeal of the place. There's no question that H&tB is one of the most promising new debuts in recent times--a bit less formal than Sona, but just as engaging, and arguably even more exciting. I'm looking forward to seeing how this all evolves.