So recently I was talking to a friend and he said that there’s an LA Vegan Trifecta for fine dining—Cross Roads, Au Lac and Little Pine. While I agree that all three of these places are ritzier than most vegans restaurants in LA, some are arguably higher in quality taste than others (for those of you who have read my past posts, you know my thoughts on Cross Roads), making it difficult for me to place all three in the same league.
Little Pine is what I would consider Cross Roads and AuLac coming down the middle; while Cross Roads offers a spectacular ambiance and subpar food, Au Lac offers exquisite and inventive dishes along with a pleasantly inviting ambiance; Little Pine is an equal balance of both elements. The food is decent—some dishes amazing while others not so much—and the ambiance is quaint and mellow enough to be considered both fine dining and casual alike.
I’ve been here on dates and friend dates and big gatherings, and the experience is always the same: decent. I do keep coming back for a reason.
I’ll go down the list from most to least favorite…
The Smashed Potatoes (small plate): As to why this dish is called “smashed potatoes” is beyond me because it really isn’t. This is more of a take on breakfast potatoes and potato wedges combined and it is absolutely heavenly; crispy, savory, perfectly seasoned and not overly salty; starchy perfection along with a romesco aioli you’ll be asking for seconds of. A ten.
Sriracha Glazed Brussel Sprouts: These too are heavenly; crispy, juicy, slightly greasy brussels that are delectable from start to finish. This is saying a lot because I detest—loathe—despise anything bordering spice level-three in curries, noodles, you name it. The sheer thought of jalapeños nauseate me, but the sriracha glaze in these brussels is so diligently applied that I actually welcome it when eating these cruciferous wonders.
The Panko Crusted Piccata (large plate): My favorite from the large plates, and even though it has room for improvement, it’s a solid dish. You get Scallopini ( lightly panko crusted faux-Chicken) served on- top of mashed potatoes (actual mashed potatoes), all swimming on a pool of caper infused garlic butter-white wine-lemon sauce. This dish goes heavy on the lemon which is probably why I feel it has room for improvement; a more balanced mixture of all three sauce ingredients would probably resonate with a higher volume of palettes, but that’s just my suggestion.
The Shepard’s Pie (large plate) No longer on the menu (sigh). This was one solid dish; layers of lentils, mashed potatoes, and veggies. It was evenly balanced with each layer and the flavor was spot-on. As to why it was discontinued is beyond me.
Sausage and Polenta (large plate): This dish is, simply put, underwhelming. While the breading on the polenta is tasty, the polenta filling is on the bland side; the sausage is dry and the marinara is overwhelmingly fused with basil to the point of sourness. Unfortunately, this is a poorly executed dish.
King Trumpet Scallops (large plate): My friend let me try some of this off his dish and it took one bite for me to know I wouldn’t order it. It wasn’t bad, but it isn’t an explosion of flavors either (I like quinoa, but it isn’t the most flavorful of ingredients) and I could barely taste the garlic cashew cream. Maybe I just got an off-bite?
Mac and Cheese (large plate): I’ve looked through my phone for a single picture of this dish to no avail; so you’ll just have to take my word when I say that it isn’t anything innovative. If I had to compare it to another variation of its sort, I’d think Veggie Grill. Personally, I have always favored a nut-cheese Mac and Cheese preparation, and that’s probably where this dish misses the mark with me. If you like vegan cheese sauce, this dish might just be for you.
Now, considering that I’ve only been ecstatic by about half of the menu, you’re probably wondering “Why does he classify this place down the middle when compared to Cross Roads or AuLac? Why does he keep going back?” Well of course, because of dessert! Little Pine delivers a dessert quality superior to any vegan restaurant I’ve been to.
Banana Cream Pie: Ok, so I am biased
in my classifying this as my favorite dessert from the lot because I used to work at Magnolia Bakery, where Banana Pudding and Banana Cream Pie and really banana-dessert anything is their specialty; ever since becoming vegan, I’ve had a mad desire for the vegan replication of these desserts. All I can say is “Thank you, Little Pine. Thank You from here to Mount Olympus and back!” This pie is everything that constitutes a good pie; creamy, whipped banana-vanilla filling inside a crumbly crust (used to be a croissant crust, but the newer one works just fine), drizzled with caramel sauce and a whipped cream topping that will make moan and moan and moan until nothing but crumbs are left and you are left to poke at the them, contemplating whether to order one togo for the morning. A ten bordering on eleven! There’s a reason why this dessert was brought back only months after being discontinued.
Milk and Cookies: This is the dessert that brings back those childhood memories of mom’s kitchen, her baking fresh chocolate chip cookies on any given afternoon or for the holidays; these cookies will make you cry for more than one reason; ooey, gooey, melt-in-your mouth goodness from first to last bite. Chocolaty Galore and paired with a glass of almond milk (you get the option of vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate), you’ll be coming back to Little Pine just for these. I guarantee it!
S’mores Ganache: This dessert is one that strictly derives from the fine-dining universe; petite, super cute and thoroughly thought-out in presentation, and actually quite decadent given its size. A chocolaty decadence that I recommend only to hard-core chocolate lovers (like myself). Exquisitely indulgent.
Now, that’s Little Pine in nutshell for you. The one thing you will probably wonder during your future visit will be “Where’s Moby?” But really, where in his restaurant is he hiding? I’d like to see Moby in there sometime!