Pine and Crane warms my soul

Several months ago, while spending the day with my BFF up in LA, we decided to have lunch at Pine and Crane, a restaurant I had read about located in Silverlake. A few weeks ago, while up in LA for a conference, I returned again and decided to see if my return visit warranted the same love I felt on my first trip here. It absolutely did.

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It is hard not to love Pine and Crane. From the moment you step inside the clean, minimalistic decor of this modern eatery, a feeling of serenity washes over you. Pick up a menu by the door, and when you’re ready, walk up to the counter and order.

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On my first visit, we order Dan Dan Noodles ($7.50), usually served cold or at room temperature. The one here is warm, tossed with a sesame peanut sauce, chili oil and topped with julienned cucumbers and crushed peanuts. We order this on the second visit as well and I noticed a lot more noodles this time around, not always a good thing because there wasn’t enough sauce to go with it. The noodles are delicious and nicely al dente.

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Beef Roll ($6) is the staple of any respectable Taiwanese meal at a restaurant. The one here is very tasty, but on the small side. Usually, when ordering this at a restaurant, I like to have at least three to four people to finish this. Here, you can easily polish an order off on your own. The pancake is not greasy and the beef not overly sweet. Just perfect. (please excuse this photo as I took it with my phone).

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“San bei ji” is Three Cup Jidori Chicken ($12) while I love this dish, traditionally, it is served bone-in and tedious to eat. Here, only chunks of chicken meat is used with one of the lightest, yet so very flavorful soy and rice wine sauce combos around. Chinese basil (or Thai basil) adds to the aroma of this savory dish. We loved it (sorry, this photo was taken with my phone too).

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On my subsequent visit, we enjoyed Zha Jiang Noodles ($8), something my mother makes all the time when I was growing up. Here, a ground Kurobuta pork with black bean sauce mix sits atop the noodles with julienned cucumbers and scallions. It tastes pretty close to my mother’s version and the best part? The hints of fresh garlic! — at home, we would take a nibble off a fresh clove of garlic and then a bite of noodles.

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I love Mapo Tofu ($9) and even though I try to make it at home, it never quite comes out the way I want it to. Here, bits of ground Kurobota pork is nestled between the soft cubes of tofu seasoned with Sichuan peppercorns. It is not greasy at all! In fact, everything here is not greasy, a really difficult feat to make Chinese food taste good at a restaurant.

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Don’t forget to order some greens, which comes from the owners’ farm in Bakersfield. Sweet Potato Leaves ($6) is my favorite as I don’t often find it at the farmers market. So tasty and addicting I can polish an entire plate on my own.

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We didn’t eat the next two items, but I asked some people sitting at the next table if I could take a photo of theirs. Pork Dumplings ($5) look just the ones I’m used to eating — very respectable! I’m definitely trying these next time.

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Beef Noodle Soup ($9) is usually on the oily side, but I did not detect a drop of oil in this bowl of deep, dark, beef broth swimming with beef shank, baby bok choy and preserved mustard greens. I wish I was bold enough to ask if I could taste it — but that would have been rude.

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Pine and Crane is one of those places I wish was right here in Irvine, but then again, I’ll be broke because I would eat here every single week — maybe even several times a week!

Pine and Crane
1521 Griffith Park Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Tel: 323-668-1128

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>Liang’s Kitchen — long lines mislead what awaits

>I’m convinced that newly opened restaurants get the “new restaurant hype” and the long lines outside the place affirms that hype even more. This is what happened to Liang’s Kitchen, newly opened in Orange Tree Square Irvine, taking over the Takaraya space in the Ranch 99 Market plaza off Walnut. We tried to go there several times in the past few weeks and each time, we drove by there and the crowd outside was insane, so I opted out. I do not like standing in line for food, it puts me in a bad mood and makes my dining experience very unpleasant.

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This time, we got there early and stood in line at around 10.50am (they open at 11am) and there were only a few parties waiting, Believe it or not, they put out a “sign in sheet” and make you put yourself on a “waiting list” and this is BEFORE they even open. Of course the minute the sign in sheet was placed outside, those who were in line behind us descended upon it like vultures trying to get in on the game. This is the reason why I hate eating in Chinese establishments around Irvine. People are rude and do not follow protocol. It is a highly stressful experience when you feel like you have to fight others just to get fed.

At 11am sharp, a guy comes to the door and reads off from the ‘waiting list’ and customers are seated. Menus are already on the table so the intention is for you to quickly order, so they can quickly feed you, so you can quickly get the hell out of there so they can keep the momentum going.

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The menu is reminiscent of that from A&J, Nice Time Deli and even Yu’s Garden. An order sheet is provided as well as a menu with tons of photos to help you along the way. I’m a huge fan of tendon and beef noodle soup and although I like the one at A&J it’s not the best I’ve ever had. I was really hoping that the one here would be good. Sadly, it wasn’t and to add insult to injury, the whole thing tasted rancid from the broth to the tendon. It made my son and I gag and when that happened, no one else wanted to try it.

Scallion pancakes (cong you bing) is my son’s favorite item whenever we go to Chinese/Taiwanese breakfast but ironically, the ones here didn’t impress him at all. He ate one piece and didn’t touch it again. The pancake was undercooked, very greasy and was chewy instead of crispy on the outside. To make matters worse, the beef roll we ordered was wrapped with the same undercooked scallion pancake making it extremely soggy. When I took a bite, the grease oozed out from the scallion pancake — this is due to the pancake not being cooked at the right temperature and left to sit in the oil in low temperature.

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Dan dan noodles (spicy sesame noodles) was terribly weak. The sauce was watery, lacked flavor and basically, consisted of nothing but just the sauce, a pinch of chopped scallions and such a small amount of crushed peanuts that it didn’t do anything to enhance the flavor.

I love bittermelon so I ordered the stewed bittermelon and was glad the flavor was nice and was soaked into the melon, but the seeds weren’t removed so the initial bite caught me off guard and I bit into a bunch of seeds which made the whole eating experience very tedious.

Fried pork chop bento was probably the best thing we had. The pork chop was nicely fried, even the ground pork on the rice was nicely flavored, but when I took a bite of the pickled vegetables, they tasted weird…. and I realized they were OFF. I quickly removed them from the plate and prayed that I wouldn’t get sick from this AND the rancid beef noodle soup.

If the food had been good, I wouldn’t have had a problem paying what we did for this meal. However, I don’t believe in paying for bad food, whether it’s a lot or a little. There is no excuse for serving bad food to customers, let alone rancid food.

The lines outside this place do not justify the quality you will receive and frankly I think it’s just that Liang’s Kitchen is new and people are curious that the line is so long. Once the hype dies down and everyone goes back to this being just another restaurant in Irvine, Liang’s Kitchen will have trouble staying so popular if it continues to serve its customers such crappy food.

Liang’s Kitchen, 5408 Walnut Ave, Irvine, CA 92618 — CASH ONLY

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>Yu’s Garden — I likee!

>I often come here by myself whenever I want a quick lunch. You choose your items from a ‘steam table’ except most of the items are cold. My favorites are the vegetarian options. I usually get bitter melon, tofu sheets with celery and carrots and either dried tofu strips or bamboo shoots. The selection is impressive ranging from ‘three cup chicken’ to stewed pork and you can choose two or three items to go with either steamed rice or sweet potato porridge. If you go with a bunch of people you can all get a variety of things and share, which is what I do when I come with my family. The new owner is a really sharp lady. She remembers you even if you’ve only been once. When I went today she asked me where my mom and aunt were — great memory since I’ve only been there one time with them. Generally, I fly solo when I come here.

Yu’s Garden, 5408 Walnut Avenue, Irvine, CA 92604. Tel: 949-654-2366

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>Din Tai Fung — dumplings galore

>After so many trips to DTF, we actually were beginning to think that the little soup dumplings were a myth — until today. We got there so early, that we had to stand in line to wait for them to open. I put in the order for the little soup dumplings and lo and behold, they didn’t tell me that they had ran out! YAY!!! When they arrived, there were about 20 to a basket and served with a bowl of soup with chiffonade egg strips on the side. They were really quite tasty, but go with more friends, otherwise you end up having to eat a lot of them and you won’t have room for the xiao long baos!!

Din Tai Fung, 1108 S Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA. Tel: 626-574-7068

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>Formosa — comfort all around

>It’s rainy, cold and I’m in the mood for some comfort food. The question is, what kind of comfort food? Well, today I wanted Chinese. So here we were at Formosa and I’m debating between soup noodles and my friend, kung pao chicken, and we just thought, what the hell, they give you free soup with your lunch anyway, so we got some dishes to share. The next table had beef stir fried noodles and they looked good! That’s what we want I told Vivian, the owner’s wife. My friend got his kung pao chicken and we got some string beans as well. You just can’t go wrong with this place for a cheap and quick lunch. Don’t take my word for it. Just go!

Formosa, 23702 Rockfield Blvd, Lake Forest, CA 92630. Tel: 949-458-7125

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>Mama’s Kitchen — oh Mama!

>Who doesn’t love dan dan noodles? But not everyone makes it well. One place you can expect to find good dan dan noodles is at this hole-in-the-wall where decor may be lacking, but more than makes up in terms of food. Their cold appetizers are all rather tasty and the noodles and rice dishes are like that your mom or aunt might make — that is, if you have a Chinese mom or aunt! Only drawback is that if you can’t speak Chinese, you’re pretty much screwed.

Mama’s Kitchen, 1718 New Avenue, San Gabriel, CA 91776. Tel: 626-28-8984

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