3229 Helms Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90034
Sat 03/14/2009, 11:40p-12:30a
It should come as no surprise that the omakase at Wakasan I had earlier in the night wasn't enough to fill me up. Thus, after making a brief detour at Orchid in K-Town (a restaurant-cum-lounge-cum-karaoke club), we decided to pay a visit to the infamous Father's Office. Believe it or not, despite all the hype and fanfare surrounding the joint, I'd never made it out before.
The place is the brainchild of chef/owner Sang Yoon, former Executive Chef at Michael's in Santa Monica. Although hailing from a fine dining background, Yoon decided against opening a haute cuisine eatery and instead purchased and transformed a dive bar in Santa Monica, turning it into the first Father's Office back in 2005. The place was wildly successful, resulting in long lines and making it difficult for patrons to even get a place to sit (no reservations are taken). Thus, the second location, the subject of this post, was opened on April 21, 2008.
Father's Office is oft described as a "gastropub," basically a bar that offers food a notch above your typical pub grub. Their signature item is the Office Burger, touted by many as the best burger in Los Angeles. In addition, Father's Office focuses on providing patrons with a huge selection of craft and microbrew beers, offering a rotating selection of about around three dozen beers on tap at any given time. The restaurant also prides itself on its selection of unique wines and spirits.
The second coming of Father's Office is located on the site of the former Helms Bakery near Culver City. In addition to housing several restaurants, the complex is home to a large number of furniture stores. Parking, fortunately, is plentiful.
With a capacity of roughly 150, the new location is considerably larger than the original, significantly eliminating the need to "hover" for a seat. The room is dominated by the tap-lined bar, and there's also a private room for 28, as well as a long outdoor terrace. You won't find table service here, so all ordering is done via the bartenders, who can be quite surly from what I've heard.
The drink and food menus are shown above; click for larger versions. The beer selection is truly impressive, easily one of the most comprehensive I've seen. In addition to the beers, Father's Office is known for its rigid "no substitutions, modifications, alterations or deletions" policy, which I find irksome.
The daily specials are shown on an LCD screen at the bar. I guess it works, since we ended up ordering the mushrooms.
To drink, we ordered a 750mL bottle of Foret [$19], a bottle-conditioned Saison/Farmhouse Ale from Brasserie Dupont in Tourpes, Belgium. The Foret is unique because it's Belgium's only certified organic beer, made from 100% organically grown hops and barley and filtered artesian well water, without the use of pesticides or chemicals. Saisons are generally light, refreshing, effervescent beers, and the Foret was no exception. Its flavor was simultaneously spicy, tart, fruity, grassy, and acidic, all intermingled over a backdrop of bitter hops. A great example of the style.
Forest Mushrooms [$12.00]
Hedgehog, Black Trumpet, Shimeji, Asparagus, Bacon, One Hour Egg. This dish sounded promising, but failed to deliver. I appreciated the use of four different types of mushrooms, and their corresponding interplay of textures and tastes. However, the use of bacon made the dish far too salty, all but covering the mushrooms' natural flavors. All nuance was lost, resulting in a rather blunt taste overall. I did like the use of asparagus and egg in tempering the overwhelming savoriness of the bacon, but even they couldn't save the dish.
The Office Burger with Frites [$14.50]
Caramelized Onion, Bacon, Gruyére, Maytag Blue, Arugula. The moment of truth--my first bite instantly told me that this was a burger to be reckoned with. Apparently, Father's Office uses dry-aged meat, resulting in a deeper, bolder, more intensely beefy flavor than your typical hamburger patty. The beef was done medium rare, allowing the flavor of the meat to shine, while still maintaining a tender, juicy consistency in the process. The meat went superbly with the cheese, forming a delicious amalgam, though the Maytag wasn't particularly apparent. Meanwhile, I enjoyed the contrast between the sweetness of the onion, the intense savoriness of the applewood bacon compote, and the bitterness of the arugula. We ordered the burger with a side of pommes frites, for $2.50 extra. They had a nice, herb-tinged flavor, but texture-wise, they were too well-done for me. The accompanying aioli did the fries justice, adding a lemony tang to counter their saltiness.
Frankly, I'm not so sure what the hype is about. The burger was delicious, but the mushrooms fell short, and from what I've heard, the food in general is a step above typical bar food, but that sets a low bar to begin with. So basically, we have a bar with a fantastic beer selection, and passable food. Certainly nothing wrong with that, but people praise the place like it's the Second Coming. What I find more troubling is the draconian menu policy. I can "have it my way" with my Whopper at Burger King, I can substitute an ingredient on the Chef's Tasting Menu at French Laundry, so why can't I have ketchup with my fries? The whole policy smacks of arrogance, of being difficult for difficulty's sake, perhaps to convey some sort of false sense of pretension. Get over yourself Sang--your food ain't that great.