Hinoki hostess Alexandra DeMartini in the third incarnation of the shirt… (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles…)
So here you are at Hinoki & the Bird, a new restaurant in Century City where detail in pursuit of high-concept extends right down to the shoelaces worn by the waitstaff.
The entrance overlooks a sunken dining room awash in warm light, "a Bond-villain lair" as described by Jonathan Gold in a recent review. At the bar are suave cocktails such as gin and lemon poured over crushed grapes, and in the open kitchen, you’ll see thin sheets of the hinoki – a fragrant wood – set on fire then sent out on plates of black cod. A large patio of diners might seat a few celebrities.
But you're here for your own table. That’s when you see the hostesses. There might be a trio of them at the host's stand at the entrance. They glide across the dining room carrying menus, leading guests to their seats. But they’re not wearing pants. And you wonder if something went wrong.
Photos: Dining at Hinoki & the Bird
They’re in only somewhat oversized shirt dresses meant to hit thigh high. Very high thigh. You might pray that they don’t drop a menu. Picking up a fallen napkin seems out of the question. And if it weren’t for the platform strappy heels, you might wonder, as one diner said, if the women didn’t minutes ago step out of their (boyfriend’s) bedrooms.
As it turns out, that stark look is intended.
"The way the hostess looks sets the tone for the rest of the evening," said Greg Sato, who, with his business partner Min Young Lee, designed all of the staff uniforms.
"When it came to the hostesses, we wanted to present something different, something that separated them from the rest of the staff. We wanted the natural beauty of their faces, their character, their personality expressed in a feminine form."
And stand out they do. The rest of the staff wears unisex, comfortable clothes. Servers are in unwashed Levi's jeans, chambray shirts, Chuck Taylor sneakers and custom aprons tied with imported Japanese denim. If the server is male, his shoe laces are burnt orange. If female, those laces are navy blue.
When Hinoki & the Bird first opened, the hostess dresses were red, then pewter and in both cases, Sato said, those colors made them stand out too much. "The one thing we don’t want to do is take away from the food. You want [the uniforms] to be noticed, but you don’t want it to be the main attraction.
"Los Angeles has one of the best-looking restaurant staff in the whole world. Diners in the city have gotten used to a very attractive staff."
We’ll take another gin cocktail.
Top 10 noodle bowls in L.A.
Jonathan Gold quiz: It's sandwich time
Jonathan Gold reviews Hinoki & the Bird