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Why Moby’s new restaurant is a gourmet vegan game-changer


little-pine-2Electronic musician and devout vegan Moby has jumped back into the hospitality game (insert mental image of him on the Play album cover)—but this time, he’s traded the Lower East Side for Los Angeles.

His new restaurant venture, Little Pine, is a buzzy, all-day dining destination that brings together the multi-talented artist’s loves of plant-based food, architecture, design, and his Silver Lake ‘hood. While it has some things in common with Teany, the New York City vegan teahouse he co-founded in 2002 (it still exists, but he’s no longer involved), this project is decidedly more ambitious.

For one thing, Little Pine is 100 percent organic—something that’s not as common as you’d expect in LA, which Moby dubs “the vegan capital of the world.” As he explains, “A lot of the vegan restaurants here are really remarkable, but in order to stay in business they only use organic products sparingly.” To prepare these organic dishes, Moby teamed up with chef Kristyne Starling, formerly of Hollywood Italian hotspot Aventine (Food Network personality Anne Thornton, who was originally named head chef, amicably departed the project a few months ago).

It’s also more grown-up than his previous venture, from the menu (rooted in Mediterranean-inspired comfort dishes) to the Scandinavian-mod décor that looks like it came straight out of a shelter mag (courtesy of Studio Hus’s Tatum Kendrick). “I wanted it to be family-oriented and comforting, but still beautifully designed,” says Moby of the space, which inhabits a seriously cool 1940s Art Deco building. “Objectively speaking, my neighborhood didn’t need another vegan restaurant, but what didn’t exist was a modern but unpretentious place with a great wine list and great beers. Basically, a vegan restaurant that would easily appeal to non-vegans.”

So how did he pull it off? Read on for Moby’s thoughts on his experimental (read: no kale-quinoa bowls) culinary concept, why cheese isn’t getting quotations marks on the menu, and what to expect on the soundtrack. —Erin Magner

little-pine-3
You and chef Kristyne Starling developed a menu full of amazing comfort food—everything from grilled cheese to cassoulet. Is that how you eat at home?
When I’m home I tend to eat very simply… almost monastically. But when I go out to dinner with my friends, I don’t want to eat the food I can make at home. [So I realized] the menu needs to be fun and a little bit experimental, but ultimately really satisfying. If I opened a restaurant and only served rice, quinoa, and sprouted lentils, we’d go out of business in about 10 hours.

Which dish is your favorite?
When I was growing up, my mom used to make stuffed shells and they were my favorite thing. So we have three [kinds of] stuffed shells—one has a Kalamata olive-ricotta stuffing with a walnut pesto sauce, another has a lemon and white wine caper sauce, and the third is a basil stuffing with a traditional marinara sauce.

There’s no disclaimer in the menu descriptions that indicates dishes like meatballs and sausage are, in fact, meatless. Was this intentional?
My friend Tal Ronnen, who opened the restaurant Crossroads, also has a cheese company called Kite Hill; he didn’t put the word vegan on the packaging. I was asking him about that and his response made so much sense. He said, “It’s just cheese made from a different medium.” To that end, I didn’t feel the need to put quotes around any of these things, because we’re not serving fake sausage; we’re serving sausage made from non-meat [ingredients]. It confuses some people—I had one fan write something really scathing on one of my message boards, saying “You’re a vegan, how could you be serving cheese and meatballs?”

You clearly spent a lot of time working on these recipes. What are some of your favorite albums to listen to in the kitchen?
For some reason, the two things that make me the happiest are David Bowie and Led Zeppelin. I had this moment the other day at the end of brunch when “Heroes” by David Bowie came on the playlist—it was 3:15 in the afternoon, the restaurant was really sunny, there were only about 15 other people in there, and it was one of those moments that reminded me why, even with all the stress and expense and frustration, I wanted to open a restaurant. It’s because you have that ability to cultivate a space where people can come in and eat organic food and be happy. And that, to me, is the payoff.

Little Pine, 2870 Rowena Ave., Silver Lake, CA, 90039, 323-741-8148, littlepinerestaurant.com

But what to snack on if you’re stuck in LA traffic (or just need an on-the-go vegan snack)? Here are the 6 best plant-based nutrition bars to grab.

(Photos: Little Pine)