Sunday, December 7, 2008

Have it HIS way

Image courtesy of Abby Abanes.

If you're interested in food in Los Angeles, you've probably heard about the burger that's served at a little bar in Santa Monica called Father's Office.

The bar is on Montana Avenue, which is a strip of boutiques, specialty stores and restaurants in the northern part of Santa Monica. In 2000, the bar, which used to be a biker joint, was bought by chef Sang Yoon who started serving a selection of micro-brew beers and good food to eat while you're drinking good beer.

Father's Office became famous for what some critics have called the Best Burger in Los Angeles - maybe even in America.

It's a dry-aged sirloin burger, garnished with a sweet onion and bacon compote, Gruyere and Maytag bleu cheese and arugula, and served on a french roll. It is unusual, sumptuous, and totally delicious.

But the fame of the burger is eclipsed by the notoriety of the bar's approach to service. First of all, there is no table service at Father's Office. You go up to the bar and order your food and drink. There is no host. You take whatever vacant seat or table you find. When a bar is this popular, this is less simple than it sounds. I've heard of potential diners hovering over occupied tables like vultures, watching people finish their meals.

The other thing Father's Office is famous for is the control the kitchen exerts over the food.The dishes, including the burger, may not be altered. You may not ask the kitchen to hold an ingredient, or add any condiments. Ketchup is not offered. Diners who've smuggled in room-service-sized bottles of Heinz have been ejected from the premises.

Some people chafe at such regimentation. Me, I figure there's no harm in trying the food as the creator intended it. If I want ketchup on my burger or fries, I have lots of other opportunities for that. So I go to Father's Office to have it HIS way.

The original Montana Avenue location is tiny, and given the cult following for Sang Yoon's burger, it's a challenge. But this summer, Father's Office opened a second location in the Helms Bakery complex in Culver City.

Much as I like the old location, I prefer the new one. Parking is easier. And the restaurant is bigger, so even with the odd service, you have a better chance at a table. We go in the afternoon, and we've never had to wait.

We went on a recent Sunday afternoon. We grabbed a couple stools at the long bar. The room is loud with music and talk, but something about the acoustical design of the room works so when you sit down, you share a bubble of intimate air - you can hear one another perfectly, while the hubbub goes on around you.

The bartenders are good, and know their beers. They'll give you a taste if you're trying to decide. [The Man I Love] tried out a Belgian ale recommended by the bartender, and it was wonderful.

As for the food - well, the Office burger has been written about by far better critics than me. They came with a basket of sweet potato fries that were absolutely perfect - crisp to the bite and softly sweet beneath. Observing the no-ketchup law, they were served with a dish of garlicy aoli. We'd shared the roasted beet salad as a starter, and it was good, each bite paired the beets with a bit of sharp cabrales cheese, plump toasted walnuts, and baby greens in a nice vinaigrette. But what I liked best?

We got a dish of marinated mixed olives, served with slivered almonds, that was to die for. Seriously. Huge meaty green olives, small dried black olives, sharp little picholines - rolled in harissa so oily it colored your fingers orange - each full of flavor. Perfect with beer.

With beer, a trip to the ladies' room is inevitable, and the restrooms at the new Father's Office are among the most stylish in town! Gentlemen and ladies have separate spaces to do their private business, but share a long, communal concrete sink for handwashing, divided from the main room by a glass-tiled wall. Ah, brave new world in Culver City!

The top photo is courtesy of Abby Abanes, who blogs about food in Los Angeles at "Pleasure Palate." Check her out, won't you?


Jason, as himself said...

Case in point!

I have a little something for you waiting at The Jason Show, g.

Go get it!

brneyedgal967 said...

Oh wow - the burger looks incredibly mouth-watering and I LOVE ME SOME BELGIAN ALE! Those belgian monks sure know how to brew some good concoctions, that's for sure. Yum.

jeanie said...

Sounds wonderful. I used to go to a similar cafe in terms of service and no changing the menu!

Thanks for popping by my blog and saying hello. :)

Femin Susan said...

Absolutely fantastic post! Good job!
Great! Keep writing…….
Good week……… Welcome to my blog…….

Merry Christmas and happy New year.

ConverseMomma said...

As a vegitarian, this burger sorta creeped me out, just saying!

Nice digs ya got here. Mind if I hang around?

Vylat said...

I'm reading your post just before lunchtime and feel myself getting very hungry and thirsty. Although I do prefer wine to beer. Thanks for dropping by and have a great blogging week.

Queenly Things said...

Lord have mercy, I miss the restaurants down there. That burger is definitely MY way. Wait. I feel a song coming on.

Kathy Rogers said...

I haven't been to the Santa Monica Father's Office since 1990.

I may have to try the new one.

Have you been to Beacon there in the Helms/Culver City area? I liked it the one time we went.

Woman in a Window said...

Oh, no wonder that burger gets so much talk. ummmmm, dead animal. REally, ummmmm.

Was looking for your circus posts and not sure where to look anymore? Can you let me know?