We have chef and owner Vivian Ku to thank for Pine & Crane, which last month took the place of Cru in Silver Lake. Named for Ku's grandfather's noodle company in China, the restaurant is easy on the eyes, full of pale wood, natural light and clean lines. Sophia Lin, a neighbor, helped design the space; another neighbor, Peter Sheldon, threw and fired the handmade ceramic noodle bowls. A close friend, Moonlynn Tsai, manages the front of house.
On one wall, there's a large photograph of a man gently pulling a thin sheet of dough from a machine. "My grandfather - who turned 90 last month - didn't know that I'd planned to put a photo of him in the restaurant. He was so surprised when he saw it for the first time this past weekend!" Ku says.
In fact, memories and family play a big part in the raison d'etre for Pine & Crane. "My parents didn't cook much," Ku says, "so my memories of home-cooked food are all tied up in my memories of visiting my grandparents." The family emigrated to California before Ku was born. "There were always noodles," she recalls, "and fresh produce from the farm." The Ku family farm - Sunfield, located in Bakersfield - has supplied Asian markets in Southern California with produce for 22 years.
The business plan for Pine & Crane was written four years ago, when Ku was working as a server and general manager for "a grill-type restaurant that served chicken fingers and fries." She went on to study at the Culinary Institute of America to get a better understanding of cooking techniques and how to apply them to the food she ate as a child.
Ku then spent some time at Alice Waters' Chez Panisse, which brought everything full circle. "After working [at Chez Panisse], I have a deeper appreciation for sourcing produce from our family farm, and only using what's in season," she says. Allan Lai, another chef, came on board to keep the food grounded in a style found only in Taiwan.
And this is why Pine & Crane's dan dan noodles won't taste like many of the standout versions available in the San Gabriel Valley. The original Sichuan version of the dish is shockingly spicy, mouth-numbing in the best way. The Taiwanese version is milder, with more peanuts, more sesame, less spice and less sauce. Though Ku's version is truer to Taiwan than to Sichuan, she's still hitting the dish with a splash of house-made chili oil, for kicks. "I want the menu to be Taiwanese, but it's also my restaurant," Ku says of putting her own spin on things.
There's sanbeiji (three-cup chicken), twice-cooked pork (tender, salty), beef noodle soup (with springy noodles), potstickers, minced pork, and a crisp and doughy scallion pancake. Naturally, vegetables are sourced from Sunfield. "We get pea shoots all year long, but the seasons dictate the rest. Last week we had chrysanthemum greens, next week we'll have water spinach and sweet potato leaves. We should have yellow watermelon in August." And what will Ku do with yellow watermelon? "You'll have to come back in August to find out!"
Pine & Crane, which has been soft-open since March 31, serves lunch and dinner Wednesday through Monday each week; the restaurant is closed on Tuesdays.
Pine & Crane: 1521 Griffith Park Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 668-1128.
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