Friday, October 16, 2015

Father’s Office (Santa Monica)

Father's knows best?

Welcome to the land of ketchup exile. Chef Sang Yoon enforced a strict code of, “You’ll eat it and like it.” As in do not touch, sully, or sabotage. Yoon fitted Father’s burger to his exact specifications and that meant no ketchup on the premises. Inserting that type of personal perspective was akin to adding a blob of paint to a Degas or editing a piece by Vonnegut. It just wasn’t done.

Actually, it was almost as if Father’s Office was daring you to give him lip about the way he ran things – starting out with getting physically barred at the door by a bouncer’s stiff arm until your ID was checked (21 and up, even during the daytime) or ordering food through the bartenders, who were already busy slinging beers, so you’d have to wait until they got to you.

If you didn’t like it, then leave. They dared ya.

But it was obvious there was heart beneath the tough bravado and a homespun intimacy to the place - bare bones with a handful of wooden tables and chairs; a raw plank designated as the bar. I think the idea was that if you were willing to stick around through a little abuse and minimal fanfare, then Father’s would agree to feed you. We came for the much talked about burger, but I was already coveting other items like the lamb skewers with Japanese eggplant, goat cheese gratin, and spicy, oatmeal stout ribs with orange blossom honey glaze.

Burger (and frites served with garlic, parsley aioli): Caramelized onion, applewood bacon, Gruyere, Maytag blue cheese, arugula

I ordered my burger medium rare, but would probably go for medium next time – a little bloody for my liking, but the quality of beef was so extraordinary that I didn’t mind. A thin patty of caramelized onions seated itself atop the meat like a sweet and savory settee, making it clear why the synthetic sugars of ketchup weren't necessary. Peppery sprigs of arugula blossomed between sticks of bacon and pungent blooms of blue cheese for a bouquet of bold flavors, thoughtfully arranged with all the spontaneity of an English garden.

My only complaint was the choice of bun - some type of French roll that dissolved into a soggy wet-nap due to the burger's juicy center. Besides that, I had to admit it was one damn, good burger. The best burger? I wasn’t sure whether I was ready to call Father’s daddy just yet.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Dede’s Teajuice City (San Diego)

Getting Schooled on Szechuan

I had to admit, I got a little nervous when I heard we were having cold, pigs' ears. All I could picture was gnawing on a chewy piece of cartilage and looking for the closest napkin to discreetly spit it out in. But to my surprise, when the ear appeared in a pickled pile of mismatched meats and greens, it ended up becoming my favorite plate of the night.

My culinary guides knew exactly what to order at Dede's, including this concoction from "the cold box", a refrigerated display case, flaunting its wares and offering an assortment of paper thin slices of pigs’ ears, tripe, spiced brisket, and housemade pickles, along with some sort of chopped greens that were snappish, stemmed and leafy (but not bok choy). It was all tossed together in a meaty salad of vinegar and greens, a Szechuan specialty that immediately became my favorite.

This life-changing appetizer was followed with a hot pot of seasoned beef, scallion pancakes, leek dumplings, and dan dan noodles (squat noodles covered in a thick, fiery paste with a texture similar to peanut butter). Every selection was a success, and somewhat unexpected coming out of this nondescript kitchen planted in a square plot of strip mall; its dining room wallpapered in plastic menus and outfitted with uncomfortable, metal-framed chairs.

Our meal ended with a complimentary plate of melon and it was a gesture that matched the mood of the meal - a refreshing surprise. Especially when it came to that cold, meat plate. I never imagined that pigs’ ears and pickles could have such a symbiotic relationship (now I knew why pickled pigs' feet were so popular!). 

Besides performing phenomenal food feats, the tangible enthusiasm of the staff transmitted like radio waves through the kitchen to its dining room, and Dede's taught me two very important lessons:

1) Pigs' ears were perfection at any temperature.
2) Never judge a Szechuan by its strip mall.