Asian food with a Chez Panisse approach? We've seen this in Oakland, where Ramen Shop is rotating bowls of ramen nightly with produce and raw materials distinct to Northern California. In Los Angeles, Silver Lake's month-old Pine & Crane—a noodle and tea house serving seasonal Taiwanese and Chinese dishes—is the latest testing ground.
"The [California Cuisine] philosophy isn't something that you normally see paired with this type of food," says Vivian Ku, the chef and owner, and a former intern at Alice Waters’s 42-year-old Berkeley restaurant. Ku says she wanted a pared-down menu for Pine & Crane: light, balanced dishes, the kinds of things you'd eat at home, with family.
Of course, Ku cooks with produce grown on her family's farm in Bakersfield (you can also purchase it by the pound from the restaurant), so she has access to a broad palette of greens: pea shoots, garlic chives, Taiwanese spinach, sweet potato leaves, chrysanthemum greens, garlic scapes (pictured), and “A” choy, a vegetable related to celtuce. She's already anticipating summer’s yellow watermelons, crisper and less sweet than standard red varieties—she'll use them for salads and drinks. "I want to be able to eat with the seasons, and celebrate the product for what it is," Ku says. That means, for instance, a conscious effort to sauté vegetables, and less work with the wok.
The spicy shrimp wontons and beef roll I tried were exceptional; so was beef noodle soup, made with shank, bok choy, and mustard greens. You’ll see zha jiang noodles, a mild version of dan dan noodles, and rice bowls with minced pork or Jidori chicken. There’s a thoughtful tea selection that aims to be representative of Taiwan’s regions.
On the wall is a large black-and-white photograph of Ku’s grandpa pulling noodles. He relocated to Taipei from China to escape civil war and opened a noodle factory, the first Pine & Crane. As Ku sat in the dining room explaining this to me, her boyfriend (he works in the Marine Corps, but helps on weekends when he can) interrupted to ask questions about measuring tea. Meanwhile, her mom was in the kitchen, chatting with the cooks. Clearly, family and friends are a core component here.
Ku was drawn to Silver Lake for its small neighborhood feel—there’s foot traffic and people biking, looking for snacks. "Chez Panisse taught me the importance of being part of a larger community,” she says.
Pine & Crane [Silver Lake]
1521 Griffith Park Boulevard, Los Angeles
Photo of Vivian Ku by Justin Bolois; garlic scapes photo from Pine & Crane / Facebook