Century City: Trying out Hinoki & The Bird
When Hinoki & The Bird opened recently, I was pretty excited. Like many new restaurants, I started seeing pictures on Instagram and fell in love with the carefully plated plates and wonderful-looking cocktails. I read a few good reviews and planned a night out.
My friend drove all the way from south Orange County to meet me. It is a bit confusing to find. Hinoki is hidden behind a high-rise. You turn into a non-descript driveway and find the tiny signs to guide you. I almost went into the parking structure when I realized the round-about was the valet area. Once you valet (and you must valet if you’re driving), you’re left to find entrance. Later I confirmed my friend had the same confusing experience and the valet guys aren’t of any help. The only reason I found the door was someone had opened it just as I got there. Oh, LA and its secrecy.
All irritation disappeared though once I entered. The hosts wearing long denim shirts that doubles as unbelted dresses were very friendly as were everyone I encountered at the restaurant.
We were seated “outside” though the patio is covered with wood beams, lighting fixtures and plants. I looked over the cocktails. Our server recommended a few things though none really appealed to me except Jungle Bird (black strap rum, pineapple, lime, Campari) for an opening drink. I found it under the quaffers section. I later thought about getting a swizzle or something from the “Negroni and the Like” section. The Harajuku (Hakushu single malt, Gran Classico) or the White Negroni (Amere Sauvage, blanco vermouth, grapefruit twist) sounded great.
I knew the thing I wanted the most was the lobster roll. I probably should have investigated a bit about the dark bread. I had just assumed it was squid ink. It turns out it was Japanese charcoal. I could not get the server to tell us the reasoning behind using the charcoal other than the chef wanting to emulate something the Japanese did. I just wanted to know if it would taste good. Or if it had health benefits.
As it turned out, the bread was really a non-issue. It didn’t taste like charcoal and actually it was a nice lobster roll. But other than the color of the bread, it wasn’t particularly different. I still prefer buttered lobster over lobster rolls with mayo.
On the other hand, the chile crab toast was amazing. This was hands down my favorite dish. Some might complain it needs a bit more spice but I thought it was perfect. Look at all that crab. We would have been happier ordering two orders of this toast.
My friend got the Tangerine Caipirissma as her first drink. She liked it but thought it went down too easy. She later said the Dark and Stormy was more bang for her buck.
I would have been okay without getting mussels. I feel like they’re on every menu. I love them though so that’s why I agreed to get them. The menu lists it as “coconut-curried mussels” with sausage and cauliflower. We were unprepared then for the load of greens on top of the mussels. I moved them off to the side and later found out they were supposed to be incorporated back in to be enjoyed with the broth. I had somehow unconsciously started doing that. Later, a manager told us he liked this dish best with a side of rice. Which reminded me of the amazing mussels and rice dish at MB Post.
These were good but I like MB Post’s mussels more. Oddly, the mussels at Hinoki were tiny. I really felt it was somewhat illegal to serve shellfish that small. Throw them back to grow more! The meat on some were the size of my pinkie tip.
Hinoki means cyrpress in Japanese. We got the cod which is scented with hinoki. It’s presented with a hinoki bark on fire. We loved the the dish even if I thought the presentation was a bit dramatic. Good thing dusk had settled when this dish came out.
My friend wanted to get a vegetable and we got the mustard greens. Sadly, I thought this was a throw-away dish. With just three stems (sorry, one got snatched and gobbled before I got to take a pic), the simply steamed greens with soy was irritating. I go out to eat for inspiration. I can make steamed veggies and put soy sauce on it on my own. We later discussed with the manager about upping the ante on the sauce. Maybe yuzu? Ponzu?
We had not intended to get any dessert but they sent out three mochi balls for us to try. I liked them all but my favorites were the miso and black sesame. The other one with honey is fairly standard for an American palate.
Overall, I probably should have done some research on this menu. Sometimes I like to go in “blind” and not read anything so I’d pick out dishes that appealed to me. I only got the lobster roll because it looked intriguing with the black bun. Later after talking with friends who had gone, they all liked dessert best. Perhaps this will be a cocktails and dessert place for me then.
© The Minty 2013