It is undeniably pleasant, the new Father’s Office Los Angeles, a gastronomically inclined bar fitted into the eastern flank of the old Helms Bakery building, crowded with people who know the difference between a lager and a double IPA, flat-screens discreetly flashing the basketball playoffs in the corners, and long, lacquered-wood picnic tables stretching into the distance on the heated, vaguely nautical patio outside. No matter how busy it is, the bartenders seem happy to explain the comparative hoppiness of Quebec ales or the exact components of a Father’s Office martini, which is made with white Lillet in place of vermouth, homemade orange bitters and your choice of artisanal gins. You could spend a long Friday afternoon here, snacking on Spanish cheeses, glistening Spanish anchovies cured on the premises and dusted with lemon zest, and cumin-crusted skewers of lamb, which collapse in your mouth like a sigh. You will find beers that to the best of my knowledge will elude you anywhere else, like the butterscotch-tinged Allagash Curieux aged in old bourbon barrels or Belgian beers that cost more per bottle than fine wine. The bar’s house-smoked Dutch eel is soft and rich enough to settle into like a warm bath.
The original Father’s Office is easily the most controversial restaurant in town, either a mecca of cuisine or a haven for louts, a hop-scented mosh pit or the source of the best moderately priced dinner on the Westside. There are people who drive 25 miles to get a crack at the sweet-potato fries and Japanese microbrews, and others who refuse to set foot into the place; people for whom the hamburger is worth any amount of discomfort and people for whom the discomfort of the rugby scrum necessary to snag a table is too much to bear for anything. With Father’s Office, which inspires the extremes of behavior often described by scientists studying overcrowded animal cages, there is no middle ground.
Chef-owner Sang Yoon is fond of pointing out that Father’s Office is less a restaurant than a bar that happens to serve food, and as a bar, Father’s Office is not unprecedented. In New York, you could wait half of forever for a wobbly stool at the gastropub Spotted Pig. If I had to choose a single meal in Barcelona, it would probably be at Inopia, a perfected tapas bar in the Sant Antoni neighborhood so popular that many of its customers order from a glorified takeout window in the front of the restaurant and consume their cava and boquerones leaning on cars parked out front. If you are lucky enough to be pointed to one of the better wine bars in Paris, you, your glass of Fleurie and your Morteau sausage will be packed into less space than you’d be allotted during rush hour on the Metro. Yoon, whose background is in haute cuisine instead of taverns, is more or less the Los Angeles equivalent of David Chang, whose Momofuku Ko in New York City typically sells out each day’s seating in less time than it takes to crack an egg, and Yoon could probably get away with serving his goat-cheese gratinée in telephone booths if he felt like it.
As anybody who has ever visited the original might imagine, the rules at Father’s Office Los Angeles are well-established. Except for the fact that the food and the beer are actually good, Father’s Office may be closer to Moose McGillicuddy’s than it is to Lou’s or Rustic Canyon. No reservations are taken ever, even if you happen to be Barack Obama or Paul Bocuse, and when you get to the restaurant, you may well spend the better part of an hour waiting outside on line. When you are finally admitted, your presence will likely go unacknowledged by any of the staff: Protocol insists that you plow your way up to the bar, order, have your credit card run through the machine and take a numbered placard. If you are lucky enough to find a seat: congratulations. If not, a table should be at least as easy to command as a parking space at the Grove the day after Thanksgiving — if you maintain the necessary levels of attention and aggression.
If you’d rather eat your hamburger without onions, you’re out of luck. If you want your martini made with vodka, go down the street. If you want coffee, go to Starbucks. If you want dessert, you’re also out of luck for the moment, although Yoon has been conducting diabolical experiments with a soft-serve machine. And if you want catsup, you need to strap a bottle of Heinz to your thigh, because there isn’t a drop of the stuff in the house.
Is the food perfect? Not quite yet. The Thai steak salad was made with microgreens and leaves of sparkling-fresh romaine lettuce, but the chile-citrus dressing was closer to the orange goop you may remember from your high school cafeteria than to what probably dressed your last order of neua nam tok. The pork ribs in a sticky reduction of oatmeal stout were glistening and gorgeous, but without heat or depth.
But one thing about the new Father’s Office — it’s a lot bigger than the first one, and your chances of acquiring a table, a bowl of curried mussels, a glass of exotic tap ale and an allotment of new friends at any given time are exponentially greater than they would be at the Santa Monica bar.
The food, at least in the opening weeks, is close to that served in the original bar: a few Spanish-style tapas; a few composed salads (a roasted-beet salad with Cabrales blue and sherry vinegar was especially good); and occasional fish specials, sauteed loup de mer last week. But you will inevitably get the famous no-substitutions cheeseburger, a soft, oozing patty garnished with blue cheese, a homeopathic dose of bacon and a thick blanket of deeply caramelized onions, served with a small forest’s worth of arugula on a hard-crusted French roll.
I have heard from several sources that when Yoon visited Osteria Mozza and asked whether he could order the pasta tasting for just two people instead of for the entire table, as was printed on the menu, Nancy Silverton said: “Only if you let me order a hamburger without cheese the next time I’m at your restaurant.”
Father’s Office Los Angeles, 3229 Helms Ave., L.A., (310) 815-9820 or www.fathersoffice.com. Kitchen open Mon.-Thurs., 5 p.m.-11 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., noon-mid; Sun., noon-10 p.m. Full bar. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Patio. Nobody under 21 admitted. Dinner for two, food only, $24-$34.