Brandon Kida, the executive chef at acclaimed Los Angeles restaurant Hinoki & the Bird, where Asian-inspired California cuisine reigns supreme, is an Angeleno through and through. The Koreatown native spent a lot of time cooking in New York at places like Asiate, Blenheim Hill Farm and Clement at the Peninsula Hotel, where he earned four stars by Forbes Travel Guide in 2015. But L.A. beckoned, and Kida returned home to take over at Hinoki. Here he talks about his love of whiskey and L.A. dive bars.
Hinoki & the Bird is a travel-inspired dining concept. Where have you traveled lately that has inspired you?
Recently I was in Taiwan for five days and Vietnam and Japan—in Kyoto and Tokyo. That’s a natural progression for people who get inspired, and travel is a good tool to open your eyes to different ways to thinking about your menu and different cuisines and food in general.
Hinoki & the Bird
Did you pick up any new ideas over there?
I had a great opportunity to eat at restaurants I wouldn’t normally have the budget to eat at, especially in Kyoto, where it’s super hyperlocal and based off kaiseki. There’s a progression and parameters to stay within for the meal, and they take you through a journey. At Hinoki, we do tastings on Wednesdays and go to the market and do all our shopping that day. We create the menu for that night and stay within the parameters of kaiseki rules.
Do you also get inspired around cocktails, or is it mostly food?
The two go hand in hand, for sure. Take for instance when you eat sushi and it’s natural to have sake with it and it opens your eyes to how that beverage reacts to your palate and you realize why those are together in the first place and why it makes a great pairing. I see wine and alcohol as another tool, another flavor, another taste experience for the guest.
The Century at Hinoki & the Bird
What do you like to drink when you get off work?
It’s boring in a way, but I like to drink either a glass of whiskey or a bourbon with a couple of rocks and that’s it. That’s my preference. I enjoy cocktails and wine, but if I had to choose one thing at the end of a shift, that’s it for me.
Any go-to whiskeys?
I love Blanton’s, WhistlePig and all the Japanese whiskies. It’s really cool what they’re doing over there, like the aged Hibikis.
Hinoki & the Bird
Your favorite Hinoki & the Bird cocktails are the Gordito and the Century. Why?
I like the Gordito. I took a trip a couple of years back and went to Tulum [Mexico] and was blown away by mezcal. I’d tried it before and didn’t respond to it well, but it was something about being there. I remember that combination of charred chiles and mezcal, and it makes total sense and you get it. And the Century is because it’s whiskey and [bar manager] Gregory [Westcott] washed that thing with duck fat. I don’t know how that works, and I see him make it and think it’s going to be disgusting. But when he made it for me, it just made sense. It changed the texture of the spirit, which I appreciated. You don’t have that last finish with the burn; it mellowed it out.
What are some local spots you like to hit for drinks when you’re off work?
I go back to my old neighborhood in Koreatown. I have friends who opened a bar on Beverly near Western called Blipsy Bar, on the block where we grew up. It’s a hole in the wall but a fun place that brings me back. I go to Rustic Canyon for wine and snacks. Ye Rustic Inn is another one. It’s just a hole in the wall near K-Town and one of those places that’s comfortable to have a drink in. It’s an old-school place at the bottom of a hotel.