Z: From the entrance, we could see the restaurant was long and narrow and discovered the room opened into a sizeable space at the opposite end. Along each wall were banquettes with numerous fluffy pillows for comfort, each with a different color-coordinated design. A few small tables plus a large booth in the alcove provided the restaurant with seating for about 40 people inside, while the four tables on the patio accommodated about 16 more.
Z: While we rarely come to a newly opened restaurant in its first month, we gave in to our curiosity and came for dinner only two weeks after Little Pine's opening. It was humming with every table filled and several eager diners waiting to be seated. Without reservations, we waited about 30 minutes for our table for three.
R: Making it worth the wait was a brief chat with Moby who said his aim in creating the restaurant was to support the organic farmers, promote veganism, delve into architecture, and provide a special dining experience for the community. This, incidentally, is the community where he lives.
Z: Moby even paused a few moments to pose for a photo with me.
R: When seated, we noted the extremely low lighting with only a few softly lit droplights along some of the banquettes and little candles in petite glasses on each table. The paper menu, a little challenge to read in the dimly lit room, offers an intriguing array of little plates that range from soup and salad to vegetables and slightly heartier dishes.
Z: Our server, Alexis, was a well-informed delight and joyfully guided us along our dining journey. She told us the serving style of Little Pine was to bring little plates from the kitchen one at a time. We loved that feature. It gave each little dish the special attention it deserved and allowed us to fully savor the unique flavors.
R: Arriving first was the Broccoli Arancini served simply on a white dish. The four crisply browned patties were about one and one-half inches in diameter and were garnished with tiny bits of chives.
Z: They were so flavorful I could have made a meal of these--or at least had a double order! These savory little cakes were delicate and deliciously crisp on the outside and consisted of a heavenly, melt-in-the-mouth cheesy broccoli risotto inside.
R: The Fried Cauliflower arrived in golden glory, heaped into a small, square bowl. Each floret was cut into smaller, bite-size bits and fried until the outer edges were nicely browned and crisp. The Romesco Aioli accompanying the cauliflower was made of red peppers and cashews. It was delicately flavored, yet seasoned just enough to make the perfect dipping sauce for each golden tidbit.
Z: Delivered in a white fluted bowl was the exquisite little Cassoulet topped with bright slices of fresh tomatoes sprinkled with garlic breadcrumbs and chopped fresh basil. Beneath the tomato layer was a flavorful medley of white beans, house-made Italian sausage, baked seitan slices, and a light, fresh tomato confit that bound the ingredients into a pleasing stew.
R: This dish borrowed ingredients and seasonings from both Italian and French cooking with flavors that reflected both cuisines equally. We loved the freshness of the tomatoes and confit and learned that all the fruits and vegetables the chefs use are organic and freshly purchased from the Santa Monica and Hollywood Farmers' Markets.
Z: The adorable Trio of Stuffed Shells was a fun romp into a flavor pairing of Italian ingredients consisting of three large pasta shells stuffed with house-made ricotta. The first shell was topped with olives and creamy pesto, the second was filled with spinach and vegan ricotta and crowned with fresh tomato sauce, and the third featured artichokes and lemon sauced with a creamy house-made cheese.
R: We came with our friend Bruce visiting from the Philippines and had never eaten vegan foods so flavorful and attractive. His favorite dish was the Roasted Tomato Agnolotti. Imagine six rectangular, homemade raviolis stuffed with house-made, tofu-based ricotta. These were arranged on a white dish and slathered with an exceptionally rich, silky, truffled cream sauce. Serving as the eye-appealing garnish were six orange, roasted cherry tomatoes and a few tiny bits of chopped chives.
Z: Those darling cherry tomatoes were ultra sweet and provided a tasty complement to the savory sauce. Bruce also enjoyed the pleasant selections of alternative music that provided just enough background to be heard above the conversation of other diners.
R: Now it was time to devote some concentration to the serious part of the meal--the dessert. Because I have an annoying cashew allergy that causes an itchy rash, I asked Alexis if there were any desserts that contained cashews and was surprised to learn many of them did. She also mentioned that many of the sauces in the savory dishes contained cashews, too.
Z: The separate dessert menu listed many tempting desserts. One free of cashews was a little treat called Apple Berry Crumble with a scoop of homemade ice cream on the top. We forgot to ask if the ice cream contained cashews. Alexis delivered it in a small casserole dish with handles and warned us it was steaming hot.
R: No problem. We took tiny bites and enjoyed the juxtaposition of the hot berry crumble with bits of well-chilled ice cream with every spoonful. The crumble was composed of small chunks of apples in a sea of raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries in a base of almonds and rolled oats.
Z: Neither the food nor the ambience is adorned with fussy garnishes or décor. Rather, the focus is on well-prepared food and outstanding service. The restaurant does have some features that deserve mention. At the entrance is a small shop with unique items like cookbooks, herbal body care products, soy candles, and various gift items.
R: At one end of the restaurant is a large wine rack located above ceiling height. We learned one of the staff climbs a ladder to bring down a selection of wines for the day. Behind the large booth alcove is an attractive wall mural of a pine forest. We surmised that mural had some influence in the naming of the restaurant, or vice versa. To the left is a stately head of a deer with antlers--not a real one. This deer head is made of wood.
Z: Thank goodness Reuben's cashew allergy is not life threatening, but it would be helpful to find any dishes containing nuts listed in the menu descriptions. Because of the dim lighting, we weren't able to read the miniscule note at the bottom of the menu until we got home. It did mention that because of shared cooking and preparation areas in the kitchen, the staff could not promise the foods could be completely free of nuts, gluten, or other common allergens.
R: We should also mention the restaurant has no parking lot, but parking is available on the surrounding streets. Frequent diners will be delighted to learn the menu will change frequently and reflect seasonal availability of fruits and vegetables.
Z: The dinner menu prices for Soups and Salads ranged from $6 to $12, Plates were $7 to $16, Hot Beverages were $3 to $6. Dessert menu is separate and changing regularly. Wine and beer choices are available on a separate menu. The restaurant offers a wide selection of teas from $3 to $6, featuring green, oolong, black, white, herbal, yerba mate, and guayusa. The menu is 100% organic.
Reviewed December 2015