Wishing Upon Star-Crossed Lovers at Hinoki & the Bird’s Tanabata Dinner

A romantic Japanese festival plays backstory to a five-course meal



An ancient folklore explaining the Japanese festival Tanabata or Star Festival has us looking up heavenward to the Milky Way galaxy. High above in the celestial body, two stars are separated from one another—Altair and Vega. Altair represents a cowherder named Hikoboshi, and Vega is the star of Orihime, the weaver. They were introduced by Orihime’s father who hoped to bring romantic love into his daughter’s life.

However, the cowherder and weaver fell into such deep love that they neglected their work. This upset the father, who kept them apart and forbade them to be together. But because of his pity for his daughter, he does allow the lovers to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month, July 7, by crossing the Milky Way. They literally are star-crossed lovers.

Our own Hinoki & the Bird in Century City—with its newly installed executive chef Brandon Kida (who replaces opening chef Kuniko Yagi) and executive sous chef Kei-Ichi Kurobe—commemorates Tanabata with a five-course dinner that works in the philosophy of time and space lining up.

Chef Kida explains, “Tanabata is a celebration of two star-crossed lovers; the celebration reminds me of the importance of time and place. Many of the dishes I create are based on the philosophy of time and place and the importance of appreciating what Mother Nature has to offer in a given moment in time and location.”

From that we can gather the menu will represent with seasonal and local ingredients. The Momotaro tomato is one of those seasonal, local ingredients. If you’ve ever seen one at the farmer’s market, you wouldn’t forget it. Momotaros are deep red and beautiful. Chef Kida makes it the centerpiece of his summer salad.

Course two of Santa Barbara spot prawns keep with the locally sourced freshness and are worked in with stone fruits, the official fruit of summer. Then, prawns segue to halibut in Peking duck broth and maitake mushrooms. The savory duck broth and earthy maitake are the perfect platform for enhancing the light fish.

It wouldn’t be summer if there was no barbecue. “Summer also reminds me of grilling,” says Kida, so a luscious American Wagyu with miso, eggplant, and cucumber became the meat course. Although not a Japanese Wagyu, this cut came pretty close in texture and flavor.

A colorful and meticulously constructed Japanese cheesecake with seasonal strawberries (of course) sweetly concludes the Tanabata meal.

Per tradition, guests jot down wishes on strips of paper and then fasten them to bamboo or a plant. Children generally wish for better sewing or handwriting skills. Not me, I know better. My wish was for another Wagyu course.

Hinoki & the Bird, 10 Century Drive, Century City, 310-552-1200

A limited amount of five-course tasting menus nightly for $85 per person. Menus will change based on market discoveries. The Tanabata menu is limited to 10 people per night and is available by reservation only Tuesday – Friday evenings throughout July. Reservations may be made by calling the restaurant. Beverage pairings are also available.