LUCKYINSIDER: Vivian Ku
Photo Credit: Saavedra Photography
Located in the heart of Silver Lake, California, Pine & Crane, a fast-casual Taiwanese restaurant, delivers authentic, delicious Asian fare in a modern setting. Named after chef and owner Vivian Ku's grandfather's noodle company, the restaurant's philosophy revolves around memories and family - all of the freshly harvested produce comes from her family's nearby Asian vegetable farm. In addition to Taiwanese staples like Three Cup Chicken and Beef Noodle Soup, the restaurant offers a variety of small plates, traditional appetizers, and vegetarian/vegan options, together with a curated selection of fine teas sourced from Taiwan. In this episode of LUCKYINSIDER, we delve inside the mind of a chef putting her own spin on Taiwanese staples:
LUCKYRICE: Pine & Crane's goal is to provide authentic Taiwanese and Chinese fare in a modern setting - has it been difficult to organically execute this paradox, bringing together the traditional and the contemporary?
Vivian Ku: Not nearly as much as you’d think and I don’t think the two have to be contradictory! Our mission is to create a memorable experience for our guests with authentic and delicious food in a comfortable setting. We have seen some skeptical guests walk into our doors taken aback by the decor and music, but nothing is more rewarding than seeing a younger generation of Asian Americans bringing in their parents or grandparents and gaining their approval. We’re not really doing anything new here; there are plenty of restaurants in Taiwan and all over Asia with the most amazing and creative spaces and we constantly look there for inspiration.
LUCKYRICE: The Californian cuisine philosophy is not commonly paired with Chinese food - why was applying this seasonal, farm-to-table mantra to the menu important to you?
Vivian: I think farm-to-table has become really prevalent only in the last decade or so. A lot of restaurants in America, regardless of cuisine type, are used to serving the same menu year-long, which is a reflection of our agricultural and supply system more than anything else. At the end of the day, farm-to-table makes a lot of sense in terms of flavor and freshness. Produce simply does not taste as great when grown out of season or shipped from far away. Having grown up on a farm, we always ate produce that was in season and I wanted to apply it to Pine & Crane as much as possible. The bulk of the produce we feature are always in season and sometimes harvested as early as that same morning from no more than 100 miles away. We still have access to a global market and we still use some items that are not locally in season when we feel like it doesn’t compromise a dish but actually makes it better.
LUCKYRICE: Would you mind telling us a bit more about the creative process of coming up with a new dish and how you keep it seasonal?
Vivian: Oftentimes, it’s about finding a classic dish that features ingredients that are at its best. For instance, when cabbage is at its prime and garlic chives are in season, twice-cooked pork just feels right, especially since the weather is a bit colder and people crave a heartier dish. Our menu is limited and some dishes do not have as much of a seasonality component to it but the vegetables we sauté here definitely do. We’re super in tune with the season and do very little to the vegetables during the cooking process so they can shine.
LUCKYRICE: Is there a specific dish that represents the restaurant and if so, why?
Vivian: Dan dan noodles. I think Taiwanese food is so unique because it has such an interesting culinary heritage. After the Chinese Civil War, people from various provinces all over China with different culinary styles and diets were all of a sudden congregated on a small island, so naturally a lot of food exchanges occurred. The Taiwanese who traditionally had a more rice-based diet were now living alongside neighbors whose staples included dumplings, noodles, and buns. Although a lot of these dishes originated in China, they definitely have taken on a regional twist once in Taiwan. Our version of dan dan noodles is a reflection of that exchange and not nearly as spicy as the version you would find in Sichuan.
LUCKYRICE: A curated selection of teas is a major part in the menu at Pine & Crane - do you have a favorite tea-dish pairing?
Vivian: We really wanted to showcase all the oolongs Taiwan produces so we did spend a lot of time coming up with a robust tea selection featuring a variety of styles throughout the island. As much as I wish I had a tea pairing, I would suggest enjoying the teas alone after a meal at Pine & Crane.
LUCKYRICE: Go-to late-night snack?
Vivian: I have so many! For something fast and if I am still at Pine & Crane, I usually end up making a rice bowl consisting of our spicy peanut salad, soy braised soy egg, and cucumbers. My other easy go-to is some simple bonito flakes, pickles, and soy sauce over rice. I also have a huge weakness for late night french fries!
Pine & Crane 1521 Griffith Park Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90026