Travel-Inspired is a new guest-chef series hosted by chef Brandon Kida at Hinoki and the Bird. The first chef to take over the Hinoki kitchen on Sunday and Monday evenings is Perfecto Rocher, formerly of smoke.oil.salt and Lazy Ox. I had not tried chef Rocher’s cooking before, but I heard his paella was excellent and was excited to hear that his Sunday dinners would be a family-style paella night at $55/person—Monday dinners would be longer tasting menu at $85/person. I signed up for the first night of service using Reserve.
The menu on the first night consists of four appetizers, from which each diner can select two, as well as three paella selections, which is meant to be shared by 2-3 people, and one dessert. A trio of cocktails by Jeremy Lake was created especially for the series. I decided to try the Amario Lopez (not sure if pun on the Saved by the Bell actor-slash entertainment host’s name, or some other reference that went over my head), which was good but was a little too potent for my taste, having no mixer in it at all, but I’d consider myself a relative lightweight when it comes to alcoholic beverages.
The two appetizer I selected were the Gaspatxo de Carlota, a refreshing carrot soup with crispy bits of jamón serrano floating within, and the Fesol de bajoqueta, a light yet rich dish of green beans, chorizo, and a fried egg.
For the main course, I selected the seafood option, Fideua de Senyoret, which was made with noodles instead of rice. I am an absolute novice when it comes to paella, so I was a little surprised to find that only the bottom half of the seafood that dotted the large paella pan was cooked, while the top half was still raw. I wasn’t instructed to do so, but I believe I was supposed to have stirred up the ingredients as soon as the pan was brought to my table, so the residual heat could continue to cook the ingredients.
The seafood in the dish was very fresh, and I enjoyed the mildly bitter astringency of the squid ink in the pasta, which was consistently al dente throughout the entire large pan. I actually wished that the dish had a little more textural contrast, though I’m not sure if the noodles are supposed to crisp up on the bottom of the pan like the desired rice socarrat crust that I’ve been told great paella should have.
The meal ended with a delicious Citrius Crema catalana dessert, which did have some textural contrast between the orange custard and crispy caramel pearls and sea salt flakes. Unfortunately, the patio had gotten so dark by that point that I did not get any usable shots of the dish.
Which brings me to the first issue I had with my meal. While my needs for lighting are different than the typical diner’s (due to my desire to take photos for my Instagram feed and this blog), I actually saw folks at other tables using their cell phones to light up their dishes, not for photographic purposes, but to see their food to be able to eat it. To get the shots above with my camera, I had to be obnoxious and use my phone as an external light source.
The second issue I had was with my bill. Two beers from the adjacent table were accidentally added to my check, an honest mistake that is normally easy an easy fix. In this case, however, since I used Reserve to book my table, one of the features of the app is not having to deal with the check at the end of the meal, as it is paid for through the app. With that convenience comes the rare inconvenience of adjusting a bill after it’s been closed out, if there’s an error (which, of course, was not on Reserve’s part). But the restaurant staff was professional and eventually got it all squared away.
Overall, I enjoyed my first taste of chef Rocher’s cooking, and the Travel-Inspired concept is a great one. I hope they can improve on the lighting issue. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to make it to one of the Monday night tasting menus this month, but I’m looking forward to seeing what other chefs Brandon Kida invites in the future. Chef Rocher continues his run through the month of October; the Monday night tasting menus look interesting, based on the sample menu on Travel-Inspired’s website.
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Hinoki and the Bird
10 W. Century Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90067