Kuniko Yagi, in the kitchen at Sona, will be chef of Hinoki and the Bird in… (David Myers Group )
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.
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