Hinoki and the Bird

10 W Century Dr. Los Angeles, CA 90067(310) 552-1200hinokiandthebird.com

Hinoki And The Bird, 10 Century Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90067

Frequented by the agents at CA, this extremely trendy haunt rose up from demand, managing to fill that mid-city void between the beach and West Hollywood. Set downstairs in a building just behind Century City, the décor is clean and modern with high ceilings, a huge windowed outdoor space, and a dining room walled with earthy materials and flanked by a trendy open kitchen on one side, and an equally hip bar on the other, sporting a handsome list of cocktails, wine and sake (including the sparking variety).

Because of our large party we “ordered the menu,” which is my second favorite way to dine… Other than with the wife, of course. So please don’t think that I had each of this dishes in full at one sitting. If I did, I’d be dead by now.

So, kicking things off, let’s start with the starters. And the Ultimate within, the crab toast. A dish I normally find to be a bid of a whatevs, but this crustacean is on fleek. Not too mayonnaisey, a little heaty with it’s chili, coriander and spicy cucumber and a lotta goody. Another dish I’d call tops is the unique prep of the okra, served roasted in a simple, yet artful row, dusted with cumin and superb to the taste.

Also impressive were the roasted Brussels sprouts, which were refreshingly unfancied up, compared to those at Cleo, Ilili or All’onda. Another veggie side sure to please are the yams done as a slightly contemporary twist on the classic, using Asian (purple) yams with a sour cream/crème fraiche drizzle.

The third side, the mushrooms, were the only bore of the trio, marinated in nothing out of the ordinary and served in an equally pedestrian way. But if you dig on the fungi, they are far from bad. Unfortunately they are just as far from memorable.

Another starter sure to put a smile on your face is the lobster roll, which looks remarkably like a cigar, due to it’s narrow stature and its black bun. It’s only about two bites big, but by mixing green curry and Thai basil into the mayo, they are a flavor-packed couple of chews.

Another solid starter is the crispy suckling pig with apple jam and chili, albeit that one is somewhat of a lay up by description alone. Whereas the fried chicken is much more of a surprise with its perfect contrast from crispy crust to moisty bird. But both were outdone by the black cod (pictured), which might be the best I’ve had since Matsuisha invented the dish decades before.

As for the last of the starters, the fluke flunked. Just your standard sashimi with nothing unique to write about, and nothing so fresh to even swoon about.

But things starting with “fl” seem to cause Hinoki big trouble in little China, because the flank steak was also flucked up. So chewy, my jaw gave out after about three bites. Thankfully my friend with the kurobuta pork chop was kind enough for sharesies and while the chop wasn’t exactly divine swine, it was much better than chew toy on my plate.

And the downward spiral of entrees only kept spiraling through dessert as I found myself wanting to flick Hinoki the bird for wasting my caloric intake with buzz killers like the doughnuts with caramel dip and the ice cream sandwiches.

As a result, should you wish to follow suit, I think you would be much better served by ordering meze style here, with lots of starters and sides, as opposed to the traditional three course app, entrée, dessert. I know it almost doesn’t seem worth it to go now, but I give you my ferocious guarantee that if you stick to the top of the menu, you will be so happy with your order you won’t even think twice about what you’re missing, which isn’t much.

3 teeth

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Giorgio Baldi

114 W Channel Rd. Santa Monica, CA 90402(310) 573-1660giorgiobaldi.us

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I know it’s probably blasphemous to say this, but I honestly find LA to have better high end Italian restaurants than NYC. Now with that said, Giorgio Baldi is not among them.

Terrible service. Rude and affected. Which would’ve been semi-tolerable had the food at least been worth the abuse, but in all fairness there are so many other great Italian options in Santa Monica alone, that I’m not sure why anyone would ever bother with a blowhard like Giorgio’s? I assume the prima donna’s there are doing it because Hollywood royalty eats there. Whatevs. It’s LA baby. Hollywood royalty eats everywhere. So lose the tude pisan!

Not one dish we had was memorable. Whereas places like Capo, Via Veneto, Piccolo and even Valentino’s all managed to wow far moreso than Blah-di’s.

2 teeth

The French Laundry

6640 Washington St. Yountville, CA 94599 • (707) 944-2380frenchlaundry.com

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Granted it takes selling a vital organ to get a reservation at this place. And the cost of dinner will be more than the airfare you paid to get there from JFK… AND, it’s hyped like no other restaurant on the face of the Earth- BUT, with all of that said, I can honestly say, it’s still pretty worth it.

The amuse bouche of salmon tartar on a cone filled with creme fraiche set the tone by giving my wife and I a simultaneous foodgasm right out of the gate – sorry for the TMI.

There were, however, a few courses here and there that were just okay, but then came the foie gras terrine with assorted salts including one dating back 40 million years! Now, while I do loves me some foie gras, I am more of a seared foie gras kinda guy – but I must say, this was the best terrine I have ever had.

And speaking of the “best,” the highlight of the meal was the rib-eye. Easily the Ultimate steak of my 44 year life.

A deconstructed cobbler for dessert was also quite stellar as were the little cookies and the amazing macadamia nuts rolled in chocolate, dusted with pistachio.

Then, as an added surprise, for my birthday they took us on a tour of the kitchen where they literally have a giant flat screen TV hooked up to a live feed with the kitchen at Per Se in NYC, so they can keep an eye on both places at once.

So why the four knives and not five? The decor is actually a bit of a let down to be honest. I know Keller likes to keep things minimal so as not to detract from the food, but I don’t buy it. I have been to many an amazing meal where the decor is jaw-dropping and in my not-so-humble opinion, actually ADDED to the experience. Just like service and presentation, which he seems to value greatly, as exhibited by the judicious use of great precision and artistry.

Also, one other pretty significant ding, compared to Cyrus (R.I.P.), I found the courses to be far more inconsistent. Some incredible. Some great. Some just okay. Whereas at Cryus, out of nearly a dozen courses, there was maybe one miss, with more than double the number of hits. And it was half the price.

Oh, and one more nit. We had a wine pairing with each course and I have to say, I have had better pairings at Frasca in Boulder, CO and at Aja (R.I.P.) in NYC.

But 4 knives is nothing to sneeze at. I sincerely can’t wait to go back- ideally on someone else’s dime.

4 teeth

The Ultimate Pasta Dish

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Piccolo – Venice, CA

Unlike the other pastas on this list, Piccolo’s Venison, Clove and Cinnamon Pasta is a bit on the wintery side. And after the insanely brutal winter we just endured I’m sure about half of you just skipped to the next one. Well, your loss. This pasta is truly something special. And unique. I haven’t had anything like it anywhere. Nor have I ever even seen it on a menu since. But I can tell you this, shitty winter or not, next time I’m at Piccolo, I’m getting it again.

Capo – Santa Monica, CA

The Quattro Fromaggi is like a pillowcase stuffed with dreams. Only the case is made of pasta and the dreams are made from four of the creamiest cheeses to ever explode in your mouth. It’s literally as if fireworks made of cheese are putting on a show for your taste buds. And it’s about a dozen other metaphors I could think of as well, but some of them are sexual and gross, so perhaps the single most compelling thing I can say is this: One time my wife couldn’t make the trip to LA with me, so I begged the chef to vacuum seal an order of the pasta, so I could fly back with it and she could have it at home. Yes, it’s THAT good. And yes, I remind her of that every time I do something stupid… So about once a day.

NoMad – New York, NY

The crab pasta is so deceptively simple that you’ll likely overlook it on the menu. Well, that is, unless you heed my advice. So what makes this pasta all that? Balance. Proportions. It is a clinic on the alchemy of cooking, made effortless by the way its impeccable ingredients come together. The spicy hit from the black pepper. The acidity from the lemon. The tender, meaty, saltiness of the crabmeat. And the starchy, crunchy bed of al dente pasta. It’s simply divine.

Osteria – Philadelphia, PA

You won’t find it on the menu, which only makes it that much more fun to order, because you’ll impress anyone else at the table who’s not in the know. And impress them you will, because it’s easily the best thing they make. Now, for some of you, here’s the rub. It’s chicken liver pasta. But wait, wait, wait! It’s friggin’ awesome chicken liver pasta. So rich and savory. I mean if there was ever a time to give chicken livers their day in court, this is it.

Manzo – New York, NY

It’s not often that you come across a pasta that can hold its own in the company of steak and pork belly. But the anglionotti at Manzo does so quite handily. As if the juices from a perfectly cooked rib eye were somehow magically injected into the dumplings, so when you bite into them, it’s that exact same sensation you get when you bite into a wonderful, medium rare cut. Bellissimo!

Pizzeria Mozza

641 N Highland Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90036(323) 297-0101 • pizzeriamozza.com & 800 W Coast Hwy. Newport Beach, CA 92663(949) 945-1126
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Considering the chef, Nancy Silverton, was just honored with a James Beard award, which is especially rare for LA (1998 was the last time, given to Wolfgang Puck), I felt compelled to make this my next review.

Now, I have actually eaten in two locations. The one in Newport Beach and the one in L.A. and while both were very good, I think the edge has to go to the original in LA. Partly do to the energy of the place. The vibe is so lively and fun you almost can’t help but enjoy yourself. Whereas the Newport Beach location feels a bit more highfalutin, which is odd for a pizza joint. But I’m guessing if you live in Newport Beach, a Batali restaurant is a pretty big deal.

Now, in terms of pizza in general, sad to say it, but California is woefully behind the rest of the country. Sure they brought us the whole California-style pizza thing, but if you want something more than toppings. If you want a sound foundation of sauce and crust, you used to have to hop on a plane. Well, not anymore.

Sure, you still have you fancy California toppings like the squash blossom pizza, which is friggin’ yum, but you also have your staples like funghi and quattro fromaggi and margherita- done with a culinary twist of course. But perhaps the true belle of the ball is the blanca pie with fennel sausage. Plus, everything is served with a staggeringly good selection of wines by the glass (and bottle) as well as birre.

Also, I just want to give a shout out to service as well. In both locations they were friendly, down-to-earth, helpful and attentive. The highfalutin thing in Newport only came from the crowd and the bar.

So, congrats Nancy. Much deserved. I’ve been a fan dating back to when Campanile was still in business. RIP.

P.S. This review does not include Osteria Mozza next door, which pales in comparison. Skip it. Trust me.

4 teeth

 

Animal

435 N. Fairfax Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90036 • (323) 782-9225 • animalrestaurant.com

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I think the only way to describe Animal’s menu is “gourmet stoner food.” No joke. Throw everything you know about food out the window should you choose to dine here. The combinations going on in virtually every dish seem like they were thrown together by a crazy man. Crazy like a fox. Because they work like gang busters. Foie gras biscuits with maple gravy? What?! Are you kidding? No- it’s friggin’ genius! As is the steak smothered in parm truffle fondue. Even the bacon brittle for dessert.

The grilled octopus is also amazing, as are the calf brains and the lamb cavatelli. And one bite of the pork belly sliders and you’ll see god. Or whichever deity you worship. Also, one more dessert to add to my list of lovin’, the tres leche is just punch yourself in the face killer. Oh, and the sticky toffee bread pudding aint too shabby either- I guess at this point it’s safe to say that this is my favorite restaurant in LA. And top ten worldwide. Ballsy, I know, but I promise it lives up to the hype.

Also, one of the better selections of wines by the glass (as opposed to bottle) should you be the one driving home afterwards.

P.S. Skip the Poutine. Not sure why people rave about it amidst SO many better dishes.

5 teeth

Bread and Cocoa

199 Sutter St. San Francisco, CA 94104 • (415) 956-7200breadandcocoa.com

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After reading the reviews post visiting, I’m a little pissed I didn’t get the chocolate chai, but I suppose that’s what tomorrow is for. That said, the Haight (egg sandwich with white cheddar, shrooms and spinach on focaccia was pretty awesome. And fast. Making for a very nice speed to awesome ratio.

Plus, I dig the vibe. It’s sort of a Panera meets Le Pain kinda vibe with its communal tables mixed in with cafe.

My one nit is with the fresh squeezed OJ. C’mon people, what’s the point unless it has pulp? Take it from a purist who grew up in Florida. Keep the strainer in the drawer.

***Okay, it’s tomorrow. Just had the chocolate chai and let me say I am VERY glad that I live nowhere near this place, otherwise I might turn into a two-seater by drinking these damn things every day!

4 teeth

The Ultimate Steak

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French Laundry – Yountville, CA

If you know anything about steak, then you probably realize by now that the best steaks are most certainly not served at steakhouses. Sure, they do a good job of it when you have to consider pesky things like quantity, but when quantity is no longer a factor, the sky’s the limit.

And speaking of the sky, the stratosphere is where this steak lives. A rib eye so selectively chosen it’s probably easier to win at Powerball than it is to make it onto one of Thomas Keller’s plates. This is no exaggeration. They literally only source one farm and from that farm, the cut they use is only the most tender portion of the rib eye, making it about a third to a quarter of the size you might find at other restaurants.

Now, all of this pomp and circumstance might seem like a bit much when all you want to do is sink your teeth into the side of a cow already, but I promise you that it is worth it. Because in that split second that your teeth penetrate the outer layer of steak heaven, it’s as though you have never truly eaten steak before in your life. And then you cry… tears of joy.