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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Bosphorous

108 S Park Ave. Winter Park, FL 32789 (407) 644-8609 bosphorousrestaurant.com

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Considering my wife is Turkish and I visit Turkey for a few weeks at least once a year, I would say I’m a pretty good judge of Turkish cuisine. Therefore, by the power vested in me, I pronounce Bosphorus to be the real McCoy. One bite and you feel like you’re sitting in Istanbul enjoying mezes (appetizers) and sipping raki (anise Turkish booze). Everything is as authentic as it gets and once upon a time it was pretty damn good too. But ever since they opened a second location in Dr. Phillips, the food at both has slid downhill. Particularly at the Dr. Phillips location. So if you if you’re going, head to Winter Park instead.

That said, there are still a few things that remain strong, like the lavas (a giant puffy bread) with cacik (yogurt mixed with garlic and herbs), the lahmacun (ground lamb flat bread: pictured), the babaganoush and humus. The rest is sadly a shell of its former self, from the oily mucver (zucchini pancakes) to the flavorless okra dish to the adana kebabs that are not very adana (spicy).

But at least the staff is still very friendly, so if you need additional guidance, feel free to let them show you around the menu. Also, two things; I recommend going with three or more people so you can try lots of different things and second, don’t go if you are in a rush. Turks like to take their time and so should you. Besides, it’s not good to eat too fast. And yes, I am your mother.

3 teeth

The Gumbo Bros.

Columbus Circle New York, NY 10019(347) 719-4579thegumbobros.com

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This is another food-only review courtesy of Madison Eats so definitely don’t take it as a holistic restaurant review, because it’s truthfully only a very narrow sampling. But sometimes you can tell a lot from a first impression, so I wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Funny you should mention water, because that’s my first gripe. I find their gumbo way too watery. I much prefer it thick and hearty, loaded with chunks upon chunks of spicy goodies. But to be fair, within their soupy shrimp and okra bowl (pictured, although I assure you it looks nothing like that in person) there was still a decent amount of both floating about. Floating being the key word here. For example that scoop of rice you see above, it dispersed into the watery depths like someone firing gunshots in a crowd.

Also, I found the shrimp itself disappointing on two levels. First because it was shrimp instead of crawfish. WTF?! Isn’t that gumbo 101? And second, the shrimp was a touch under cooked and thus slimy. Luckily the impending stomach ache was averted, perhaps due to the ample use of heat, which was very much too my liking and probably the thing that killed off whatever the under cooked shrimp might’ve been carrying.

So let’s chalk it up to a bullet dodged and I’ll chalk up Gumbo Bros. as a pretty weak showing worthy of a deuce.

2 teeth

Yardbird

1600 Lenox Ave. Miami Beach, FL 33139 • (305) 538-5220 runchickenrun.com

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This place makes me happy. Just one toe through the front door and I knew we were dancing. Great contemporary, rustic Southern décor. Awesome music, like Aretha Franklin’s “The Weight,” pumping out of the speakers. And when it came to service, textbook Southern hospitality.

Every slurp, sip, gulp and bite was a crowd-pleaser and judging from the menu, there’s more where that came from. Fortunately I live over 1000 miles away or I’d be getting my arteries bilged about every other week.

Served in mason jars, the cocktails are as potent and flavorful as they are irresistibly charming. I recommend both the Blackberry Bourbon Lemonade, if you want something more refreshing, or the Bloody Mary, if want something spicy… and packed with goodies (like okra, a pickled green bean, a cornichon stuffed olive and a crispy strip of bacon, because how could you not?).

As a starter we shared the fried green tomato BLT with pork belly (pictured), tomato jam and a homemade pimento cheese. It’s got a little something for everyone. The refreshing acidity of the tomatoes. The savory decadence of the pork. The spice of the jam and cheese. I highly recommend next to the kale salad.

The kale salad being my wife’s idea to be fair. It’s made with cheddar, apple, golden raisins, red onion and cornbread croutons. Definitely one to add to the Ultimate Salad list, I mean c’mon- corn bread croutons!

And I had the eggs benny. Two poached eggs served in a skillet, casserole style, along with a buttermilk biscuit crumble, cured bacon, and cheese grits I believe – just awesome!

Thankfully we were too full to take the waiter up on his suggestion for a maple glazed bacon donut, otherwise I think we’d still be trying to crawl out from under the table.

I’ll tell you what though, next time I’m in Miami, this place is at the top of my list. And that donut is going down… into my belly (to be read in a thick Scottish, Fat Bastard accent).

5 teeth

Vinegar Hill House

72 Hudson Ave. Brooklyn, NY 11201(718) 522-1018vinegarhillhouse.com

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Two words: Short ribs. My God! I know everyone raves about the chop, but my wife and I had them side by side and the chop paled by comparison. Served as a stew with a medley of vegetables and Gorgonzola, it was one dreamy bite after another and among the best short rib dishes I’ve ever had. And what an incredible feat to put out such mastery from a kitchen the size of a walk-in closet.

As a whole, everything was excellent that first meal. I had the octopus app and wifey had the watermelon salad. Both solid. Then the mains came, and we know who won that battle (see above).  But the okra & zucchini side we got was also pretty killer.

And for dessert, the Guinness Chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting held it’s own as well, managing to satiate our sugar cravings, but without being all that sweet necessarily. Tempered by the beer I suppose. Oh, speaking of booze, even our cocktails were quite good.

In fact, the only nits we had were it’s location, which isn’t the most convenient on Earth, and the hostess who is often sporting a bit of a tude. Upon returning, however, a bit of spottiness has arisen. The menu has changed to be much more hit and miss, but when it comes to the pork entrees they still seem to know how to wow you just enough to keep you coming back.

So, in summary, what might’ve been five knives once upon a time has slid to four. It’s still fantastic and totally worth the wait, as they don’t take reservations, but the misses as of late have pulled it back a hair from perfection.

4 teeth

Pera

303 Madison Ave. New York, NY 10017(212) 878-6301peranyc.com

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The stars are primarily for the food. The service is actually hit and miss. First time we went it was pretty slow. And by slow, I mean if we didn’t ask for things to be sped along, we’d still probably be there. But the second time we went it was as though they remembered us and redeemed themselves in spades. Hard to say until I go a third time for the tie-breaker.

As for the decor, it’s nice. Simple and elegant, but nothing too lavish either. And the crowd seems to be more business than pleasure. But VERY packed regardless. Not an open table in the place at 6:30pm on a Tuesday.

But forget about all of that, because the moment the bread hits the table, Pera shines. What I mean by that is the bread is like nothing you’ve ever had. Akin to a souffle, it is light and airy and served with crumbled feta that literally melts into the steam of the bread.

The dolma (stuffed grape leaves) are also solid. Made turkish style with currants, the way I like them.

And the dates wrapped in pastirma (Turkish sopressata) were also pretty awesome.

But then, the dark horse rode in. The fried calamari. A dish I’m seldom a fan of, so much so, that when my wife wanted to order it, I rolled my eyes. Well, I wound up eating a lot of crow on this one. And a ton of calamari along with it. It was easily the best I’ve ever had. By a wide margin. Served with hot peppers, chives and sucuk (spicy sausage).

Then for entrees, I had the Lamb Adana, which was solid. But nothing better than it is at other Turkish haunts in the city. That said if you’re craving lamb, I would skip it and go for the lamb “tacos.” HIGHLY recommend. Can’t decide which is more amazing, those or the fried calamari.

Also worthy of note, the salmon entree was excellent, especially considering it’s not a Turkish fish.

Now for the only two misses: I found the okra entree to be a touch bland. And for dessert, the chocolate volcano was just okay- shoulda gone with the Baklava. And I will… Next time.

4 teeth