There’s Excellent Japanese-Mexican Food on the Rooftop of a Hollywood Apartment Building
Sorra, from the Hinoki & the Bird team, has suckling-pig bao and stunning views of the Hollywood Hills.
The high-flying restaurant group behind Hinoki & the Bird is at it again with another hot spot serving bold, boundary-blurring food in a sceney L.A. area. This time it’s Sorra, a rooftop restaurant and lounge that’s on the 22nd story of the sleek Columbia Square Living development in Hollywood. Hinoki & the Bird executive chef Brandon Kida is also working to open a ground-floor restaurant in the same apartment building this summer.
“I generally don’t do traditional food,” Kida says. “I was born and raised in Los Angeles. I don’t even know what traditional is. I just do food that speaks to me.”
Sorra serves bright, high-acid, spicy, umami-bomb Japanese-Mexican food. This is where you can get dazzling avocado tostadas with nori aioli and shiso, and suckling pig and red miso mole that you use to build your own baos. Exemplary dumplings filled with shiitake mushrooms sit atop guajillo dashi.
The first time Kida saw the Sorra space, it reminded him of Tulum. He looked at the blue sky and felt the rays of sunlight and knew that this would be a good place to give guests Mexican flavors.
“If you grow up in Los Angeles, you have a strong connection with Mexican cuisine,” he says. “The Japanese flavors come in because I’m Japanese-American and I have a hard time not pulling in that inspiration.”
This is thoroughly modern L.A. food, but it’s also influenced by the childhood fishing adventures Kida had with his uncle. Kida wants to serve the kind of seafood he ate growing up, so he serves hard-to-find local whitefish at Hinoki & the Bird and has California yellowtail sashimi at Sorra. That wonderful sashimi comes with a riff on aguachile liquid that’s steeped with kombu for a hit of umami.
Perfectly grilled skewers of asparagus (with lime aioli and togarashi), maitake mushrooms (with salsa verde), and hanger steak (with garlic miso and salsa roja) might remind you of robatayaki or just of summer barbecues. Either way, these skewers could be the most habit-forming items at Sorra.
A dry-aged Flannery Beef burger is served on a Japanese milk bun with green chile aioli. Kida understands that he’s on a rooftop in Hollywood, so he doesn’t want the dry-aged meat to “be overwhelming.” The nice funk of the meat, dry-aged for about a month, shouldn’t distract many people from the panoramic views of the Hollywood Hills at Sorra. If anything, we think a lot of guests will be happy to eat such serious food while staring directly at the Hollywood sign.
And we should talk about the “umami salt” that comes with Sorra’s hand-cut fries.
“A lot of people ask me about that: ‘What is umami’?” Kida says. “It’s really something that’s extremely difficult to explain until you start to bring in particular ingredients. The one that resonates most with me is when you dehydrate really ripe tomatoes and make a powder. To me, the depth of flavor that comes from that is exactly what umami is.”
So Kida put tomato powder and other ingredients with naturally occurring umami, like Parmesan rinds and shiitake mushrooms, into his salt. Kida says it’s kind of like his version of Lawry’s seasoned salt. Lawry’s is good, but this is better.
Kida wants Sorra and his forthcoming (and still unnamed) ground-floor restaurant, which will serve “grill-centric cuisine that draws inspiration from America and Japan,” to feel connected. He says both restaurants have a similar Tulum-esque vibe, and he’s a chef who carefully considers the demographics of where he is. So he’s thinking about the younger crowd in the middle of Hollywood and how he wants guests to use Sorra as a place for pre-dinner or post-dinner cocktails when the ground-floor spot is open. He also knows that Sorra can be a test kitchen for the other restaurant.
That said, Sorra should work nicely on its own as a summertime hangout. Barman Tanner Weston’s refreshing cocktails like the Strawberry Beach (with dark rum, mezcal, Campari, pineapple juice, strawberry, and lime), no doubt set the tone for a sunny-day outing. The stunning views don’t hurt either.
But like with everything operated by Culinary Lab, the restaurant group that opened Hinoki & the Bird in Century City six years ago and also runs Rosaliné and Blackship in West Hollywood, the unexpected flavors coming out of the kitchen are what really set Sorra apart. You know how a lot of places say they have “chef-driven food?” What Kida and Culinary Lab do is about as chef-driven as it gets.
“I don’t know how to cook any other food well besides the food I’m really interested in and has a connection to me personally,” Kida says. “It’s really difficult unless I’m drawing from flavors and experiences that I enjoy.”
Sorra, 1550 N. El Centro Ave., Los Angeles, 323-978-7377