Pine & Crane leaves you pining for more

I’ve often driven by Pine & Crane and have noticed a long line of people winding out the door. The popular Taiwanese-Chinese restaurant is a fast-casual operation where guests place their order at the counter and then find a table or spot at the wooden communal table. There’s room for 40 diners inside, or you can find a seat outside at the Sunset Triangle space, but, you must take your food to go.

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The vegetables used to make the innovative dishes are from chef Vivian Ku’s family farm in Bakersfield. (photo by Jill Weinlein)

My friend Mary and I looked over the chalkboard menu of shareable small plates, vegetables and noodles, and selected a beverage. There is a choice of exotic Chinese and Taiwanese loose leaf teas, iced teas including a floral jasmine green tea, passionfruit black tea, and bubble milk teas made with whole milk, house simple syrup and optional Boba pearls. Bubble tea is a Taiwanese tea-based drink invented in Tainan and Taichung in the 1980s. The taro milk tea is a creamy lavender color made with real taro, whole milk, taro powder and optional chewy tapioca balls resting on the bottom of the glass. Mary ordered the sea salt black milk tea topped with an in-house sea salt whipped cream. They also make a sea salt jasmine tea that is a delightful balance of sweet and savory.

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For beer and wine drinkers they offer a rotating selection of beers on draft including Smog City Little Bo Pils and a Boulevard Tropical Pale Ale that offers bright refreshing flavors of grapefruit and passion fruit accented by citrusy hops. It’s the perfect pairing with the beef roll.

Wine can be ordered by the glass or bottle. The rotating list might include a Teutonic Riesling from the Willamette Valley offering notes of apple, honeysuckle and pear. The Chahalem Chardonnay offers ripe golden apples with hints of peach and papaya. It pairs nicely with the autumn Kabocha squash dumplings.

For those looking for sake, they offer a Gekkeikan Nigori which is thicker, cloudy and creamier in texture. They also pour a connoisseur glass of sake, Sho Chiku Bai Junmai Ginjo offering a silky-smooth, rich texture with fruity flavor.

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We found a table for two along the wood banquette wall and admired the modern dining room with concrete flooring, light wood ceiling and natural light streaming in from the front windows. Our dishes were delivered to our table rather quickly and first to arrive were four panfried Kabocha squash dumplings. Kabocha is also known as Japanese pumpkin, with an orange, fluffy texture that offers a sweeter than butternut squash flavor.

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Pine & Crane’s owner and chef Vivian Ku offers organic, seasonal produce in many of the dishes. She gets her veggies from her family farm in Bakersfield. The Ku farm has supplied Asian markets in Southern California with their produce for over 20 years. When available, guests dining at Pine & Crane can purchase Ku’s produce to take home.

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We ordered the wood ear mushrooms grown at Ku’s farm. The chef adds sesame oil, soy sauce and a little rice wine to dazzle them.

The eggplant from the farm is sliced and sautéed with basil and chiles until soft in texture and filled with wonderful balanced flavors.

Our friendly server brought us a beef roll made with a deep-fried scallion pancake that is rolled like a burrito. This shareable dish is filled with pieces of seasoned beef shank, long slices of cucumber, scallions and cilantro. Cut into four large bite size pieces, I took one and dipped it into the accompanying slightly sweet hoisin sauce with a touch of ginger. Mary raved about this popular roll, and we noticed over half the diners were enjoying a roll on their table.

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The Dan Dan noodles at Pine & Crane are prepared Taiwanese style rather than the spicier Sichuan version. They’re milder, with more sesame, peanuts and just a dash of house-made chili oil. The large white bowl of noodles had long strips of cucumber, small scallion medallions and sprigs of cilantro. The sesame-peanut sauce adds a touch of sweetness to this shareable dish.

There are about a dozen items to choose from on the small plate menu and even more on the rotating cold appetizer section, plus noodles and rice. With so many more dishes to try on the menu, I plan to come back again soon.

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Pine & Crane does not take reservations, and seating is first-come, first-serve. I recommend calling ahead to see how busy they are in the dining room. Open Wednesday through Monday from 12 to 10 p.m. The restaurant is closed on Tuesdays. $$. 1521 Griffith Park Blvd. (323)668-1128.

 

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