The Other Critics

J. Gold Hails Hinoki & The Bird; L.A. Weekly Drops ‘99 Essential Restaurants’

Hinoki's Thai basil lobster roll
Hinoki’s Thai basil lobster roll Photo: KevinEats

“Hinoki & the Bird, which serves elevated versions of the kale salad, fried calamari and braised pork belly you can find everywhere else in Los Angeles, may be far from kaiseki, but it can occasionally sing in the same key,” writes Jonathan Gold, entranced by David Myers and Kuniko Yagi’s food, if a little shaken by the “unserene ‘80s pop” soundtrack. Enjoying luxe takes on chili crab toast, black bread lobster roll, skate wing, and mussels and sausage in a “pretty Bond-villain lair,” he notes that this isn’t necessarily the “ethereal” cooking once found at Sona, but a style “more popular, more grounded in the sort of dishes people actually eat.” [LAT]

L.A. Weekly drops its “99 Essential Restaurants” list for the first time since Jonathan Gold’s departure. Besha Rodell explains that this issue is “more of a collaborative effort” now, and initially appears to be a little more driven by respect for and interest in L.A.’s innovative chefs and restaurants than the hole-in-the-walls of yore, though some gems are still shining through. New-comers to the party include Superba Snack Bar, Kang Ho Dong Baekjong, BierBeisl, Bestia, Baco Mercat, Alma, L&E; Oyster Bar, and Bar Ama, while places are carved out for the reinvented Spago and renamed Coni’Seafood. Overall, another strong testament to an incredible expanse of restaurants, chefs, and envelope-pushing passions. [LAW]

Wondering what the Hell he’s doing eating a dish named for Houston rapper Lil’ Troy, Brad A. Johnson ventures into Playground in Santa Ana and finds it just might be the best steak and eggs he’s ever experienced. Featuring a new menu almost every day, the critic digs Jason Quinn’s sense of whimsy and ability to improvise. “On one of my visits, the menu lists just 12 items. On another, the choices have swelled to 41. And the next time I’m in, they’ve come up with 25,” he writes. Initially struggling to judge a beef tartare that “tastes like taco filling from outer space,” the critic eventually enjoys the rhythm of sudden surprises and well-executed kitchen indulgences. Still, he slams the surfeit of ‘tude here, writing, “Just in case there was any confusion about why you’re dining at Playground, it’s for the chef-worship, not the hospitality…what I didn’t expect was a playground bully.” Two-and-a-half stars! [OCR]

J. Gold Hails Hinoki & The Bird; L.A. Weekly Drops ‘99 Essential Restaurants’