Hinoki and the Bird, Los Angeles review

Hinoki scented Black Cod - Hinoki and the Bird

Hinoki scented Black Cod

Tucked away beneath a condo tower just beyond the eastern edge of the 20th Century Fox backlot, you might discover one of the greatest stars this town has ever unveiled. Hinoki and the Bird – brainchild of Sona and Comme Ca chef David Myers and Kuniko Yagi, (a waitress-becomes-a-chef success story of her own) is a surprise-filled candy-box of an east-meets-west bistro defying any other SoCal dining experiences heretofore.

Hinoki and the Bird, Los Angeles

Hinoki and the Bird, Los Angeles

As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I was struck by the expanse of unfinished Japanese cedar wood planks (Hinoki) lining the walls, doors and floors, that under less subtle direction might have resembled the inside of a cuckoo clock or the Unabomber’s cabin, but Myers’ attention to detail and the pools of amber light and shadows creates a formative oasis – just rustic enough for an after-work foo-foo cocktail – yet utterly sophisticated enough for an original and transformative dining event.

Chef Yagi’s varied menu bounces between the familiar and the exotic like a restless ping-pong ball, from all across south-east Asia, with dominant overtones of her Japanese heritage to her adoptive California. Things start calmly enough with a raw bar including a silky Beef Tartare spiked with pickled jalapeño, and a couple of sashimi’s. Not being a huge fan of raw fish with fruit, the popular Hamachi seemed a touch out-powered by the intense sweetness of persimmon and pomegranate, but who cares when you practically gorge yourself on a milky, cheesy, yoghurty Japanese ranch dip on the backs of Dutch Potato Chips?

Lemongrass Lamb Sausage - Hinoki and the Bird

Lemongrass Lamb Sausage

We were issued deliberate instructions along with the nugget-sized Lemongrass Lamb Sausages, to tear off a piece of the hoja santa leaf they rode in on, bundle them up, and then dip them into the chili-lime sauce. As the complex flavors and textures began to unfold, from the furry aromatic leaf to the citrusy sauce surrounding the succulent meat, even the avid non-lamb-eater at the table couldn’t resist but to reach for more.

I couldn’t contain my curiosity as to why a sub-section of the menu is called Inspiration! I was politely informed that “those are dishes inspired by flavors from around the world.” Hmmm, which would suggest that all the other dishes must have been inspired from…someplace else? Regardless, this menu-within-a-menu includes notable signatures such as Coconut-curried Mussels with shaved cauliflower and crumbled sausage, and the conversation-stopping Hinoki scented Black Cod with maitake mushrooms and shishito peppers – which arrives with a thin canopy of burning wood, delivering wafts of smoldering cedar smoke over the delectably sake-laden and wonderfully juicy, miso-flavored fillet. Sake is also to blame for the fate of the impossibly tender and ridiculously delicious Drunken Duck Breast that could quite easily be sliced with the back of a spoon.

Of all the times I have ever enjoyed Short-rib (and there have been numerous), I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of it braised in cumin and coriander before. Chef Yagi if you’re reading this, please grant your Curry Short-rib special a permanent spot on the “Inspiration” section, as this has to be the most inspired and original execution of one of my favorite cuts of beef.

Roasted Yam - Hinoki and the Bird

Roasted Yam

There is nothing particularly remarkable about the names of the ample side dishes, but their preparations are so astonishingly original, it felt as though our table clocked a million frequent flier miles into the future: the rice is neither steamed nor fried – it’s grilled, the roast potato with crème fraiche and crunchy lardons is a toffee-sweet yam, the bok choy is smothered in lemongrass and shallot, the swiss chard on steroids is all about the sesame. (Somebody, stop me!)

Miso Donuts - Hinoki and the Bird

Miso Donuts

In addition to the Ice-creams, Sorbets and Mochi’s, desserts include a multi-textural death-by-chocolate Ice-cream Sandwich and the curiously salty and feather light-and-fluffy Miso Donuts with a sublime honey flavored caramel dipping sauce – the kind you can spread on an old shoe-brush and still enjoy.

Hinoki and the Bird, you are without doubt my restaurant of the month!



Flex Mussels review

Flex Mussels

Flex Mussels

Can we please hear it for mussels – those inexpensive, scrumptious, highly adaptable and relatively unsung heroes of the shellfish world?

"Bombay" Indian curry, star anise, garlic, cinnamon, white wine - Flex Mussels

“Bombay” Indian curry, star anise, garlic, cinnamon, white wine

While they might make an appearance on many a menu in many a city, they often seem to do well at being overlooked or under-ordered. Is it the size of their shells that belies the amount of flesh within? Or could it be because they require actual physical contact and dexterous assistance? Or maybe that their classic preparation (white wine, leeks and cream) fails to put the lust back into lackluster?

Thanks to Bobby & Laura Shapiro, the Canadian duo who are somehow able to haul in an endless catch of the most perfectly sized, beardless, Prince Edward Island farm raised bi-valves that snap open as they soak up flavors from all around the world at Flex Mussels.

The menu offers 23 different options that are as delicious as they are audacious. From simple, low-key ingredients you might expect to see in a pot of mussels: Dijon mustard, orange zest, fennel and tomatoes, to some you’d be surprised to see: curry coconut broth, pesto, spinach or Kalamata olives, to some you’d be outright flabbergasted to see: bacon, ham, chipotle adobo, prosciutto or blue cheese. The kitchen goes even further to include lobster, calamari, shrimp, crab and an entire sausage gumbo into some of their most memorable concoctions. My favorite is the Bisque, with hearty chunks of succulent lobster tail, sweet San Marzano tomatoes and a generous hint of brandy in the bread-dippingly delectable garlic cream.

"Gumbo" Andoille sausage, peppers, ochra, shrimp, roux - Flex Mussels

“Gumbo” Andoille sausage, peppers, ochra, shrimp, roux

The scene at both of their strictly informal Manhattan-based bistros (West Village and Upper East Side) is equal parts young, noisy, popular and energetic, with not much room for décor beyond a few enlargements of the Prince Edward Island setting sun, allowing the punch-line-printed (“Mussel-tov”), black T-shirt-wearing staff to deliver pot after steaming pot to the dozen or so crowded tables.

Curiously enough and contrary to the laws of nature and physics, the longer these pots sit on the table, and the deeper you dig to extract your harvest of delight, the hotter they get! Hmm.

Flex Donut Collection - Flex Mussels

Flex Donut Collection

The menu also offers a sizable Not Mussels section, including a wonderfully light and crispy, mixed seafood plate called Burnt Fingers, a very affordable selection of California and European White and Red wines (including a rarely-seen-in-these-parts Turley Old Vines Zinfandel) culminating in the Flex Donut Collection, where 4 or 6 (or more) tennis-ball sized donuts are served with a vanilla dipping sauce on a wooden rack, practically exploding with your choice of sinful fillings, from Salted Caramel and Wild Blueberry to Meyer Lemon…but it’s still all about the mussels!