If you arrive at Pine & Crane, a Taiwanese eatery in Silver Lake, minutes before the doors open, be prepared to wait in line. More than two months after starting lunch and dinner service, the restaurant is still drawing in an impressive crowd, and seating can be scarce. Don't let the line deter you, though—it moves quickly as you order and pay at the register and are given a number for your table. You'll have time to look around at the serene decor, achieved through the use of pale wood and soft yellow accents, and the streams of afternoon light that trickle in if you are lucky enough to spend your lunch hour here. Bulbous lamps hanging above evoke open bird cages. It's a lovely space, one that is cheery and captivating while allowing the kitchen, run by chef and owner Vivian Ku, to remain the star.
With a succint menu comprised of cold appetizers, vegetables, small plates, noodles and rice, there is little that you can order and find yourself suffering from regret. That being said, a couple of dishes left us slightly underwhelmed. The three cup trumpet mushrooms, a vegetarian pick that features chewy mushrooms as a substitute for meat, was a touch too sweet. The tart flavors were all there—a little bit of basil, some sesame oil and rice wine with a touch of pepper for heat—but between the mushrooms' gummy texture and the sweetness, I wouldn't order it again. A better experience was had with the mapo tofu. The traditional Sichuan dish can be a little daunting for those first trying it out: more stew than anything else, the soft tofu has a tendency to dissolve in your mouth along with the ground pork and peppercorns that are best served over rice. But Pine & Crane's version was on point, delivering a delicious pot of the stuff that many Taiwanese consider a comfort food. The one hang-up: There wasn't enough pork. "I keep expecting there to be more here," said my friend, looking at her plate with disappointment, and it was true—a small complaint, but one that stuck in our minds after the meal had ended.
Thankfully, most of our dishes were a pure delight. There are a couple soup options on the menu, and of those you shouldn't hesitate to order the beef noodle soup. The bowl arrived almost filled to the brim with a near black broth, one that was addictive enough in itself. Yet the soup is also packed with equally satisfying additions: thick udon noodles that only get better the longer they soak in the liquid; bright green stalks of bok choy, at once earthy and sweet; slightly bitter mustard greens that offset the chunks of beef shank resting on the surface (there is plenty of meat here, unlike the mapo tofu). We found complete success with some of the smaller dishes as well, like the warm sautéed pea shoots, which were served as a delicate, tangled pile in a garlicky oyster sauce. The pork dumplings arrived eight to an order and were simple but flavorful, as were the cold daikon pickles—a crunchy appetizer that I would most certainly come back for. As the plates filled our table and the line out the door grew even longer, there was little to make us doubt Pine & Crane's longevity in Silver Lake.
What to Eat: The sautéed pea shoots ($6.50). The beef noodle soup ($9). The mapo tofu ($9). The potstickers ($6). The daikon pickles ($3.50).
What to Drink: Pine & Crane is still working on its beer and wine license, tempting diners in the meantime with a board listing the cans and bottles they plan to serve (a preview: Taiwan Beer, Modern Times Saison, Omission IPA). For now, there are iced teas to enjoy (add boba for 50 cents), as well as a selection of loose leaf teas. Try the Taro Milk Tea ($3.75) with boba as a refreshing, not-too-sweet option.
Where to Sit: If you're visiting during peak hours—weekdays at lunchtime and Sunday for dinner—seating may be an issue; the line often spills out the door. Snag a table inside if you can find one, but if the restaurant's seating is full, you might want to order your meal to go. That way, you can sit in the picnic area outside—you won't get service here, but you'll at least have a place to sit.
Conversation Piece: Much of the produce at Pine & Crane comes from the Ku family farm, Sunfield, which is located in Bakersfield.