Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Hibi (Los Angeles, CA)

Hibi by Kabuki
3121 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90006
Wed 12/27/2023, 07:15p-09:30p

Hibi Exterior

One of the spots that I wanted to check out by the end of the year was Hibi, and I made it with days to spare. The food here is Korean-inflected Japanese, and just seemed rather interesting, hence my prioritized visit. Curiously, the place is part of Kaizen Dining Group, a company that's not exactly known for its ambitious cuisine. KDG traces its roots to Kabuki, the middling Japanese-ish chain of restaurants that was started back in 1991 by Korean-American restaurateur David Lee. In fact, it's his progeny Albert Lee and Solomon "Sol" Lee, in concert with Daniel Kim, who are the main principals behind Hibi (which, by the way, means "day to day" in Japanese).

About the Chefs: We'll start with Hibi co-founder Albert Lee, who grew up in the midst of his family's restaurants. Following graduation from Arcadia High School in 2002, he studied hospitality management at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (his father's alma mater), and also worked at the original Kabuki (at 3539 E Foothill Blvd in Pasadena). After starting out as a busboy, he moved up the ladder and eventually became part of the management team, but departed in 2012 in order to enroll in the Le Cordon Bleu program at the California School of Culinary Arts.

Once he finished his studies there, Albert became a line cook at Michael Cimarusti's seminal Providence, where he stayed until 2015. He subsequently relocated to New York, where he worked at Momosan Ramen & Sake, but was back with KDG by 2016. Albert conceptualized Tengoku Ramen Bar for the company, and opened the first location in Arcadia in October 2016, while a second debuted in Koreatown in May 2017; both have since shuttered. He then became KDG's Director of Strategy before launching Hibi with his younger (half-)brother Solomon Lee, who comes from the fashion and music worlds, and was even a musician in Korea.

Hibi thus soft-opened in September 2022 as a ghost kitchen type of setup serving rice bowls and such. It then became a proper restaurant in April this year, but was still very casual, and even popped up at Smorgasburg and MAMA's Nightmarket. However, that all changed in mid-August, when the Lees brought Chef Daniel Kim on board to completely revamp the menu.

Boasting over a decade of high-end restaurant experience, Kim cut his teeth at Le Cirque in Las Vegas. In the fall of 2013, he started working at Providence, where he stayed for a few years before moving over to Christopher Kostow's Michelin three-star The Restaurant at Meadowood in late 2016. He was a sous chef at TRaM, and during his tenure there, worked with John Hong and Katianna Hong, the couple behind Yangban. TRaM, sadly, was destroyed by the California wildfires of 2020, and following the restaurant's closure, Kim began hosting pop-up dinners under the Elmira banner and selling homemade chili sauce before being recruited to run Hibi as chef/partner.

Hibi Interior
Hibi takes over the former home of the short-lived 760 Prime butcher shop. It's a small space to be sure, and what's pictured above is pretty much the whole restaurant.

Hibi Menu Hibi Beverage List
Here we see Hibi's refreshingly compact menu. The restaurant's wine list and selection of beer, sake, and soju are also abbreviated, so you'll probably want to make use of that corkage fee, which is $35 a bottle, limit two. Click for larger versions.

truffle tuna
truffle tuna (6 pcs) [$29.00] | sliced bluefin tuna, winter truffle vinaigrette, puffed rice
Ruby-hued bolts of Spanish bluefin ate slick and savory, and combined perfectly with the nutty crunch of puffed rice and the oceany kick of gamtae, all while that truffle-boosted vin tied the dish together. A strong start.

potato salad
potato salad [$9.00] | potatoes, corn, pickled cucumbers, pickled carrots
A Korean-style gamja salad had that creamy consistency I was expecting, and I appreciated both the tang and crunch of the various veggies.

2019 de Garde The Broken Truck
To drink, I brought along the 2019 de Garde The Broken Truck, a blend of four spontaneously-fermented, oak-aged wild ales, created in collaboration with the former Tin Bucket beer bar out in Portland, OR. The nose was all about inviting aromas of peach and apricot, supported by a cast of sour, funky nuances. Taking a sip, I found the ale earthy and invigorating, its tart, spicy, herbal components joined by more of those stone fruit notes. This was drinking great tonight, and still has plenty of life left in it.

kinmedai crudo
kinmedai crudo (6 pcs) [$34.00] | golden eye snapper, yuzu ponzu, scallion oil, smoked young ginger oil, weiser farms daikon, pickled pearl onions
Cuts of splendid alfonsino arrived supple and satisfying, with a clean, sweet taste that married perfectly with the depth and pungency of the scallion-ginger combo, while daikon and onion lightened the mood. It was such a smart, almost profound amalgam of flavors, one that actually wowed me a bit. However, my quibble here was that some sections of the fish's skin were tougher than I'd like.

k.f.c. [$18.00] | korean fried hamachi collar, golden sauce, kimchi powder
Twice-fried yellowtail collar came out juicy, sweet, and assertively saline, with a delicate crust infused with somewhat of a celery-like zing, I'm assuming from the kimchi powder. The fish opened up nicely with a squirt of binchotan-grilled Meyer lemon, and also paired well with that Japanese-inspired golden sauce, which was almost Thousand Island-y in nature.

maitake mushrooms
maitake mushrooms [$17.00] | binchotan grilled mountain meadow maitake mushrooms, egg dashi sabayon, fermented mushroom powder
The hen-of-the-woods was another highlight. The mushroom had that semi-firm, multifaceted texture I wanted, while its gratifyingly earthy flavors matched up easily with the creaminess of that sabayon, with the shavings of cured egg yolk imparting further facets to the dish.

abalone [$19.00] | binchotan grilled abalone, roasted konbu oil, gamtae
Grilled abalone was pretty much spot-on texturally, with a tender, yet slightly chewy bite. Its smoky, savory flavors were on display, and linked up swimmingly with the grassiness of that gamtae seaweed.

miso butter cauliflower
miso butter cauliflower [$20.00] | mendoza farms cauliflower, miso butter, crisp iberico, wasabina purée, kizami wasabi
The cauliflower was a favorite of mine. I loved its crunchy, yet yielding texture, and how its smokiness and miso-fueled depth were paired with an almost cheese-y quality and just a hint of heat. Also appreciated was the dollop of purée on the side, which helped brighten things up.

bara uni toast
bara uni toast [$42.00] | toasted sourdough bread, bara uni, fresh ikura, miso butter, aged provolone cheese
This sea urchin toast managed to be an unexpected standout. I was a fan of how the sweet, creamy nature of the uni coalesced with all the smoky, savory forces in the dish, but the real surprise was how well the provolone melded with everything without becoming overpowering. Meanwhile, the miso butter was also crucial, since it served as a sort of overarching element that helped integrate the dish.

scallops (3 pcs) [$28.00] | hokkaido scallops, roasted butternut squash, butternut squash purée, white kimchi
Scallops were cooked a tad more than I would've liked, but fortunately that didn't pose too much of a concern. I was actually really impressed by how well the butternut squash functioned, given that I tend to find the ingredient overly sugary. However, that wasn't the case here, and instead, I got this curry-like sweet spice that meshed with the scallops surprisingly beautifully.

stuffed chicken wings
stuffed chicken wings (4 pcs) [$21.00] | binchotan grilled chicken wings, taré, stuffed with garlic ginger rice, perilla leaves
Charcoal-grilled wings demonstrated a lovely smoke, and I enjoyed the ease with which the bird combined with its filling of delicately-seasoned rice and zippy perilla.

kyoto white yuzu ale
With the de Garde above dispensed with, I ordered a bottle of the kyoto white yuzu ale [$12] to last me the rest of the meal. As expected, the beer was easy-going and refreshing, and stood up admirably to the food thanks to its floral, spicy, yuzu-spiked flavors.

seasonal catch (undressed)
seasonal catch
seasonal catch [$65.00] | binchotan grilled seasonal fish, yuzu beurre blanc, fresh ikura
The catch of the day was kurodai, or black seabream. The snapper was as juicy and saline as I was expecting, and showed off a delectably crispy skin to boot. At the same time, the beurre blanc was quite delicate, and actually paired better than I anticipated with the fish, complementing it without ever getting in the way. I got some nice pops of salt from the salmon roe, too.

grilled seasonal vegetables
Our black snapper was accompanied by a few side dishes. The broccolini was my favorite of the bunch due to its delightful smoke, perked up by pinpricks of tartness.

assorted japanese pickles
A trio of pickled vegetables comprised what seemed like cauliflower kimchi, something suan cai-esque, and a fairly familiar fukujinzuke.

coal roasted sweet potatoes
Charcoal-roasted sweet potatoes were comfortingly soft and sticky, and featured both a smokiness and a sour heat to go along with their inherent sweetness.

garlic ginger rice
The rice was unexpectedly tasty, even on its own, and boasted a lovely garlickiness and a just-sticky-enough texture.

miso caramel bar
miso caramel bar [$18.00] | black pepper ice cream, kinako, cinnamon crumble, miso caramel sauce
There's but one dessert at Hibi, and it did seem like a bit of an afterthought. I was hoping for something crisp on the outside but gooey on the inside, but the cake ate drier and tougher than it should've. That being said, the flavors were on point, with the richness of the caramel really making a lot of sense with the ice cream and the dessert's subtly sweet spices.

Hibi ended up being a great way to close out 2023 with, and in fact, this is some of the most exciting food I've had in LA all year. The kitchen's Michelin-level training was evident, and manifested itself in some clever cooking that was simultaneously brash yet finessed, gusty yet elegant. The team here really shows a lot of promise, and things look like they're only going to get better. In early 2024, Hibi will be shifting to a tasting menu format, which I'm confident will allow the restaurant to elevate the cuisine even further, so I'm definitely anticipating that.


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