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Kuniko Yagi on Los Angeles' Hinoki & The Bird

Kuniko Yagi on Los Angeles' Hinoki & The Bird

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The executive chef discusses David Myers' newest restaurant

Television viewers might know Kuniko Yagi as a popular cheftestant from this season of Top Chef, but in Los Angeles she's known for her cuisine. And her newest venture is with David Myers at Hinoki & The Bird in Los Angeles' Century City neighborhood. The restaurant melds Californian and Asian styles. "The concept is California cuisine with a touch of Asian flavors," says Yagi. "We wanted to create our own cuisine, not just a Japanese restaurant or an Asian restaurant. We use California products and groceries."

Some of the signature dishes include their lobster roll, which is seasoned with green curry paste as well as black cod served with cedar (a nod to the name Hinoki, which means cedar tree in Japanese).

The open planning and modern décor is part of an attempt to create an environment that feels a world away from the busy Los Angeles streets outside. "We wanted [the] diner to feel that they are in nowhere, not just LA. So we brought a touch of the Japanese feel," says Yagi. "For example, we use denim from Japan but it's the culture of America."

For more, watch the video above and if you're in Los Angeles you can try Hinoki & The Bird yourself!

Kuniko Yagi on Los Angeles' Hinoki & The Bird - Recipes

Hinoki & The Bird’s Lobster Roll

Photograph courtesy of Hinoki & The Bird

Kuniko : The experience we’re creating at Hinoki & the Bird is inspired by our travels all over the world, specifically throughout Japan and Southeast Asia, and the bounty of California ingredients. There’s an abundance of great farmers’ markets and access to local farms and farmers. Our climate is ideal for growing just about everything. The must tries on the menu include: the Lobster Roll, Chili Crab Toast and the Sambal Skate Wing.

Cocktails by bartender Brandyn Tepper

Photograph courtesy of Hinoki & The Bird

Brandyn: The cocktails follow the 18A Program that is instilled at all David Myers Group restaurants. An 18A cocktail encompasses classic cocktails done how they were originally made before prohibition, using quality spirits and the freshest ingredients available. At Hinoki, we might put a twist on the classics, however the formula and template remains the same.

Chicken Vermicelli Soup

In a large pot, combine the chicken parts with the corn cobs, scallions, ginger, garlic, 2 1/2 teaspoons of salt and 4 quarts of water and bring just to a boil. Simmer over moderately low heat, skimming the surface, until the stock is flavorful, about 2 hours.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan of salted boiling water, cook the vermicelli until al dente, about 2 minutes. Drain and cool under running water. Transfer the vermicelli to a bowl and toss with the oil to prevent sticking.

Strain the stock into the large saucepan. You should have about 2 1/2 quarts of stock add water if needed.

Add the chicken breasts to the saucepan and return the stock just to a boil. Remove the saucepan from the heat, cover and let stand until the chicken is just cooked through, about 20 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the chicken to a plate let cool slightly, then shred.

Add the corn kernels to the stock and bring just to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat until the corn is crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in the shredded chicken and the fish sauce and season with salt. To serve, fill bowls with the vermicelli and ladle the soup on top. Garnish with basil leaves and Thai chiles and serve.

Hinoki and the Bird, Los Angeles review

Tucked away beneath a condo tower just beyond the eastern edge of the 20 th 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

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?

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.

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!)

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!

Hangar Steak Tartare with Pickled Jalapeños

Hand-cut tartare has great texture. I prefer it to grinding in a machine and it's a wonderful thing to do at home. With this recipe, you don't want the meat to be too coarse. If you're using filet mignon, it's a different story but with hanger steak &mdash it's flavorful, but big chunks can have an uncomfortable mouth feel. Try cutting one teaspoon, then chew on it find the right texture.

&mdashAs told to Jessie Kissinger

Chef Kuniko Yagi, Hinoki and the Bird, Los Angeles

Rinse 4 oz. of hangar steak with filtered water and pat with a paper towel. Wrap tightly and freeze for about 20-30 minutes until the meat is cold and easy to cut.

As it freezes, mince 2 tsp. shallots. Fine dice 4 tsp. pickled jalapeño. And grate 4 tsp. parmagano regiano on a microplane.

With a sharp knife, hand cut to a chopped or coarse grind consistency. Mix with shallots, jalapeño, and Parmesan. As well as:

  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. dashi
  • 1/2 tsp. Tabasco sauce
  • Soy sauce to taste &mdash a dash
  • 1/4 lemon squeezed
  • Season with salt, pepper, and lemon as needed.

Transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with a half-teaspoon of toasted sesame seeds and more grated Parmesan as well as chopped chives. If you can find a quail egg, gently crack it open into a tiny bowl. Take only the yolk and place it on the tartare.

Serve immediately with country bread.

On dashi: Dashi is a Japanese fish stock made from bonito flakes &mdash dried, smoked skipjack tuna. "It's the essence of umami the flavor," explained Chef Kuniko Yagi. But if you can't find dashi, you can fine grind a bonito flake or two (they're available at places like Whole Foods) and mix it in dry. If you cannot find bonito flakes, add a little more soy sauce and a little less salt. "The soy sauce is for the flavor and umami, not the salt percentage. It gives more sweetness."

How to toast sesame seeds: If you feel like doing a small bit of cooking &mdash "In a small skillet toast the sesame seeds at low heat. Watch until you see the oil coming out of the seeds. When they are done toasting, they will be shiny and smell fragrant or even pop on your pan like popcorn."

Pickled jalapeños: You can buy these at the store, but they are also easy to make at home. Here's Chef Kuniko Yagi's recipe for quick pickles:

  • 1 cup rice wine vinegar (200 g)
  • 1/3 cup dark soy sauce (80 g)
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt (12 g)
  • 1/3 cup sugar (60 g)

Turn off the heat as soon as the sugar and salt has dissolved. Then add 8 medium or regular sized jalapeños halved lengthwise with the seeds removed. Let rest for at least 4 hours, or ideally overnight.

Hinoki & the Bird’s Kuniko Yagi hits New York for dumplings, old school steak and a lobster roll

Kuniko Yagi is the chef at David Myers’ new Century City restaurant, Hinoki & the Bird -- whose name evokes the same sense of celestial whimsy as her food. The stylish Asian-inflected menu includes bowls of green mussels in a coconut-curry broth with sausage and shaved raw cauliflower, lobster rolls whose buns are blackened with charcoal powder and cod scented with a thin sheet of burning Japanese cypress.

The inspiration for the restaurant was the flight of a bird through Japan and Southeast Asia, says Yagi.

Yagi travels too, including trips to New York at least twice a year to visit new restaurants and stop in at old favorites. She said she most recently flew there for a weekend to attend a cooking demonstration and “wanted to be sure to check out some of the restaurants I had been reading about, but also visit as many of my regular spots as possible! I was able to get in a late night visit to Joe’s Shanghai, early morning kouign amann from Dominique Ansel Bakery for breakfast and a round of oysters at the bar at Pearl Oyster. I’m hoping to squeeze some of the others in when I’m back in May.”

She shared with the L.A. Times some of her favorite restaurants and bakeries her New York recommendations are below:

I did an internship here several years ago and really got inspired by some of their dishes. The chefs always did an incredible job balancing American flavors, by incorporating traditional Japanese cooking techniques. They make fresh tofu every day -- you have to call ahead to find out when it will be served. Also, what lots of people don’t know about this restaurant is that their its is prepared to order, which is hard to find in New York these days.

435 Hudson St., New York, (212) 647-9196,

Knock-out kouign amann

The Dominique kouign amann [a flaky, buttery Breton pastry] is one of the best I’ve ever had.

189 Spring St., New York, (212) 219-2773,

Inspiring breads

This was one of the first bakeries I visited after moving to the United States. I was immediately inspired by their selection of breads and knew I wanted to eventually re-create my own versions. I always make sure to visit the bakery when I’m back in the city.

535 W. 47th St., New York, (212) 265-5580,

Whenever I visit Joe’s there’s always at least a 20-minute wait, but it’s worth it! I order the same thing every time I go -- the steamed pork soup dumplings and scallion pancakes.

9 Pell St., New York, (212) 233-8888,

Everything about the atmosphere at Peter Luger’s is worth the trip to Brooklyn. It’s the first old school steakhouse I ever visited. People often think of it as a tourist trap, but you’d be surprised how many New Yorkers you see when you dine there.

178 Broadway, Brooklyn, (718) 387-7400,

Pastis is another one of my favorite places to visit when I’m in New York. It was the first restaurant I visited in the U.S. that I actually felt as though I was back in Paris. If I lived in New York, I imagine it being the place I would go to try to “escape” the city without actually leaving it.

9 9th Ave., New York, (212) 929-4844,

A favorite lobster roll

I’ve eaten at Pearl Oyster Bar several times, and to this day, they still serve one of my favorite lobster rolls. I went right around the time we were planning the menu for Hinoki & the Bird, and it hit me -- I wanted us to do our own Hinoki version of the lobster roll. Their fluffy bun and simply prepared lobster is what keeps me going back whenever I can.

18 Cornelia St., New York, (212) 691-8211,

I love pastrami and of course had to try the famous Katz’s when I first visited New York. I’m the kind of person that keeps going back for something I really like, and that’s how I feel about the pastrami sandwich at Katz’s. You always know what you’re going to get.

David Myers’ Hinoki & the Bird to open in December

David Myers plans to open Hinoki & the Bird in Century City in late December, with Kuniko Yagi as chef. Yagi also helmed the kitchen at Myers’ erstwhile La Cienega restaurant Sona, and she returns with her and Myers’ mutual California-Asian aesthetic, focusing on the flavors of Southeast Asia and Japan.

Yagi, who will appear as a contestant on the next season of “Top Chef” debuting Nov. 7, says, “Hinoki is ‘cedar tree’ in Japanese, a symbol of Japan. What you imagine when you hear the word is the scent of it, distinctive and clean.” She says that’s the approach to the food at the new restaurant, located on the ground floor of the Century luxury condos. “And the bird is a symbol of traveling the world for inspiration.”

Since Sona closed in 2010, Yagi has been traveling: Paris, Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome, New York. She also cooked for several months in Japan, including at kaiseki restaurants Yachiyo and Michelin-three-star Ryugin in Tokyo and Kinobu in Kyoto. “It was tough, really tough,” she says. “The cooks [at Yachiyo] don’t even eat Western food . no spaghetti, no burgers. They’re not allowed to eat garlic.” In Tokyo, she also worked at sushi restaurant Shin, accompanying the chef every morning to the Tsukiji fish market.

Now she’s headed to Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore as she and Myers finalize the menu for Hinoki & the Bird. A draft menu of small plates lists: willow-smoked and marinated tuna with seaweed and garlic Malibu spinach, miso-aged cream cheese, tiny tomatoes and lemon vinaigrette Vietnamese green curry lobster roll with basil blossoms black pepper crab with cucumber and steamed bun and bincho-grilled beef with spiced carrot and goose-fat fried peanut potatoes.

Birds of a Feather

We are pleased to announce that David Myers has returned to form.

At the brand-new Hinoki & the Bird in Century City, the chef and co-owner of West Hollywood’s beloved but shuttered Sona has rekindled his fascination with Asian-inspired cooking.

Hinoki’s Modern Californian menu is directly influenced by the travels of Myers and his executive chef, Kuniko Yagi, along Asia’s historic Silk Road. The result is vibrant food that pays homage to tradition without feeling derivative.

Plump fried oysters ($12) are boosted with pungent black-garlic aioli. The chile crab toast ($15) captures the spice and salinity of the Singaporean classic in a few bites of toasted bread.

The lobster roll ($14), its meat tinted with green curry and cradled in a jet-black roll colored by charcoal powder, is easily the most visually stunning version in town--never mind one of the most delicious.

Myers’ obsession with the namesake hinoki, a type of Japanese cedar, appears not only in the handsome wooden furniture but also in the dish of roasted black cod ($24), which arrives with a wafer-thin sheet of hinoki set alight, scenting the plate.

Like many of the dishes at Hinoki & the Bird, it’s equal parts performance art and kitchen ingenuity.

[Los Angeles] Hinoki & the Bird

Categories: American (New), Fine Dining
Address: 10 Century Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90067 (Century City)
Hours: Tue-Fri 11:30 am - 2:30 pm, Tue-Sat 5:30 pm - 10 pm
Date visited: September 2013
Price: $115 for two, excluding tip and tax
Reservations: Yes
Verdict: 8/10. Worldly-inspired Californian fare with an embodiment of local ingredients and a sense of seasonality. The ambiance is comfortable, relaxed yet sophisticated.

Staple dishes: Chili crab toast, Hinoki scented black cod, Black lobster roll, Miso mochi “rice creams,” Miso donuts
My personal favorite: Crispy marinated chicken

There was a bird, and the bird loved to travel. He flew around seeking no home until he found the hinoki tree in Japan. The aroma felt so welcoming, so pleasant, that the bird decided to settle down and call it home. Long story short, this is the story behind restaurant name’s origin as the bird symbolizes the importance of the cultural collaboration in the creative process of creating new dishes.

A fragrant cypress tree, the hinoki tree holds a special place in Japanese culture. Known to release aromatic oils, the light-colored wood was the preferred wood for the Emperor’s palaces and caskets. It is also still often used in the making of Japanese hot springs (onsen) and the counters of prestigious sushi bars in Japan.

Now, about the restaurant itself. The Milo Garcia-designed dining space is split into two sections: a spacious modern indoor dining room where there are several sleek dark-wood tables, a bar and a view to the open kitchen, and then there's also a rustic-styled backend patio faintly reminiscent of a bourgeois private garden party. It feels urban and sophisticated, but at the same time homey and inviting.

The owner, renowned chef and restaurateur David Myers who also founded the Michelin-starred Sona, Comme Ça, and Pizzeria Ortica, says Hinoki and the Bird is all about “creating stories based on . . . travels.” His vision is to recreate the memories and influences which he experienced traveling on the Silk Road and reimagine them with the local ingredients of California.

The restaurant is listed on Bon Appétit magazine’s 2013 top 50 best new restaurants in the United States. Click here for the full list.

Mirroring the restaurant's theme of east meets west, the cocktail program is designed by none other than the legendary mixologist Sam Ross (Milk & Honey, New York) who carefully crafted some classically-grounded Asian-fusion cocktails for the restaurant. The creative drinks fall into one of four categories: “Cups,” “Swizzles,” “Negroni & the like,” and “Quaffers.”

Now, here are the things we sampled:

Hinoki swizzle, amontillado sherry, st germaine, fresh green apple, champagne ($14).

Crispy marinated chicken, lemon aioli ($11)

This was our first dish and it certainly set the bar high for the rest of the night. I’m usually not a fried chicken type of person, but this was hands down my favorite dish out of everything I tried. You’re probably thinking, what, of all things – fried chicken!? But yes. Simple and unadorned, it’s the tastiest fried chicken I’ve ever had in my life. The outsides were perfectly crispy, and not greasy. The meat inside was tender and juicy. Every bite was a moistly savory ride to heaven.

Chili crab toast, spicy cucumber, coriander ($16)

One of the restaurant’s most notable dishes. Singaporean-inspired and very flavorful, I can see why. However, I thought it was a tad too sweet. The house-made garlic bread was a good pair though.

Lobster roll, green curry, thai basil (MP)

Contrary to popular belief, the bread is not colored with squid ink. It’s charcoal-infused but don’t worry, it’s edible. The presentation is beautiful and I loved the toasted bread. It wasn’t quite what I expected (the curry taste is very faint), but a very interesting dish nonetheless. Another one of the restaurant’s most notable. Not mind-blowingly good but I’d order this again.

Caramel braised kurobuta pork belly, radish, mustard greens ($28).

The flavors here reminded me of Shanghainese-styled 紅燒肉 (hóngshāoròu, red braised pork belly). It wasn’t bad but with so many other choices on the menu to try, I would not recommend ordering this.

Roasted yam, crème fraîche, lardon ($9)

Rice cream: miso mochi, butterscotch, togarashi ($4)

Very unique. Sweet, creamy, but not overwhelming. I wasn’t sure what to expect given the peculiar combination (togarashi, or 唐辛子, is a popular Japanese chili powder seasoning) but I was pleasantly surprised. I recommend!

Overall, it was a good meal. We were there for a solid four hours, and the service was excellent. Our waitress was friendly and helpful, and the manager approached us at the end of the meal asking about our experience. He offered to introduce us to Executive Chef Kuniko Yagi, former Top Chef contestant and chef de cuisine at Sona before it closed in 2010. Needless to say, we excitedly accepted. Chef Kuniko was personable and chatted with us for over 15 minutes. She patiently answered our endless questions, took pictures with us and graciously waved us farewell.

Mmm, next time back I’ll for sure try the signature black cod and some of the grilled dishes. Although I didn't find any of the dishes particularly extraordinary (other than the crispy marinated chicken, *surprise surprise*), this is a solid choice when you're up for something classy but also fun and non-traditional. The atmosphere is unbeatable.

Watch the video: Consider The Uni. Chef Kuniko x Seiichi Yokota x Sonoko Sakaii


  1. Irwyn

    I join. I agree with all of the above. We can communicate on this theme.

  2. Caleb

    As well as to infinity is not far :)

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