Hours: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday and Tuesday and Thursday through Saturday; 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday; closed Wednesday. Prices: Dinner for two with appetizers and drinks costs about $25-$30, including tax and tip. Cards: MasterCard, Visa.
From the outside, with its shabby wooden porch and location amid auto dealerships, The Pine does not look particularly inviting. But inside, up the stairs, is a pretty surprise: a cozy Japanese restaurant with two dining rooms and a plain pine sushi bar. By calling itself only a Japanese restaurant, though, The Pine is being too modest, for you can order more than half a dozen Korean dishes not listed on the menu.
The restaurant opened four months ago, and the kitchen is still trying to find its rhythm. Some nights orders seem to take forever, other nights some of the cooking falters; but in general, the food is quite good and The Pine has gotten off to a promising start.
Start, naturally, with the house specialty: sushi or sashimi (sushi is raw fish on rice, with a dab of Japanese horseradish; sashimi's raw fish without the rice, nothing on or under it). This is high-quality sushi, utterly fresh. Even the octopus, which at some restaurants tastes like tire parts, is mild and tender. You can order the usual sushi or sashimi variations a la carte -- tuna, yellowtail, flounder, salmon and others -- but the best deal is the combination: five chunks of sushi and 13 slices of five different kinds of fish, sashimi style, for $7.95. Or order California rolls, rice wrapped around sticks of avocado and crab meat, speckled with pretty pink roe -- sweet and sensuous.
Other appetizers include traditional yakitory, Japanese-style shish kebab -- chicken with onions and green peppers -- and tofu, chunks of creamy white bean curd in a soy-ginger sauce. The menu lists the tofu dish as served cold, but it's better hot.
The Pine also prides itself on its tempura, deep-fried vegetables and shrimp. One recent night, the tempura was delicious, wrapped in thin, crisp batter, fresh tasting with no grease; but another night the batter tasted as if it had been fried in old, dreary oil. You also can order half a dozen other entrees, including tonkatsu -- thin, lean pork, moist and crusty with a sweetish, sour sauce -- and fish teriyaki, a large fish filet draped with a glaze that's a bit too thick.
Now for some of the best and most intriguing dishes at The Pine, which you'd never know about unless you happen to understand the Korean placard on the table. The owners of The Pine are Korean and, judging from two recent visits, so are many of the customers. The kitchen makes more than half a dozen Korean dishes. Be sure to order Korean pancakes, perhaps as an appetizer. They're like succulent omelettes, loaded with onions, scallions and big chunks of shrimp, with a sesame sauce on the side for dipping -- really wonderful.
Also try the fish soup, slabs of white croaker, scallions and vegetables in a spicy broth -- spicy from good red and green chiles, not from some bottled hot sauce; the whole thing's topped with a fried egg that oozes into the soup and hardens as you eat it. Spicy squid and batter-fried squid haven't been as successful; the squid's too chewy.
We're looking forward to going back to The Pine in another six months. It's good now, but with a few adjustments, a bit more consistency, it will be a fine little restaurant -- especially for the price.