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Nights at the Office

Chef Sang Yoon's Spanish-inspired dishes redefine bar food at the Santa Monica eatery. The kitchen takes its time, but then, the long beer list takes a while to study.

November 08, 2001

It looks a little like an office--a long, plain, narrow room with new blond wood paneling (but a distinct lack of acoustic tile in the ceiling). Father's Office is generally a lot more crowded than your usual office, though, and it serves a much longer list of Belgian and boutique California beers and ales. Nearly 40 are available on draft.

This Santa Monica neighborhood joint has always been called Father's Office, the wheeze being that it has always been a bar. If you wanted to eat here, you'd get something to go from Louise's Trattoria down the street. (Actually, Father's Office did serve undistinguished bar snacks for a short time in the old days.)

In April, though, the kitchen was taken over by Sang Yoon, formerly a chef at the venerable California cuisine palace Michael's, and since then, food has turned into a major draw. Yoon has distinctive ideas about bar food, and they're quite settled ones. When the menu says no substitutions are allowed, it's not kidding. Just try asking to hold the bleu cheese on the hamburger. You'll get absolutely nowhere.

Nor should you try, on the whole. This is really great bar food, better than just about anything you can find this side of the tapas bars of Spain.

In fact, the inspiration is largely Spanish; the short "Definitive Bar Menu" is divided into two sections, "Tapas" and "Real Food." Even the larger "Real Food" portions are likely to contain some Spanish cheese or ham.

It's on the tapas menu that you find the most traditional bar food. It includes toasted almonds--still warm, and reddish with paprika--and a bowl of spicy olives: Kalamatas, Picholines, green Moroccan olives and two Spanish varieties, Manzanillas and Obregons.

There are also white anchovies, cured on the premises. You get about a dozen tiny silvery fish, no thicker than a straw, on a slice of baguette. These are not the familiar black anchovies, rank with fermented fish aroma; they're rich but delicately flavored miniature fish in a tart marinade.

The Spanish section is rounded out with a platter of (mostly Spanish) cheeses and imported meat products, such as aged chorizo, like a thin-sliced salami with a mouth-filling flavor of cured pork.

At various times the menu has treated French fries as tapas or real food. At the moment they're the latter. You get a little bag of skinny fries in a tabletop model of a shopping cart, along with a pot of aioli (not very garlicky aioli, though). They're not bad, but the sweet potato fries are better, fried rather dark so that the sugars in the sweet potato caramelize.

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"Real Food" is a shorter list. There's a ham and cheese sandwich on baguette bread--Spanish serrano ham and Manchego cheese, of course. At Father's Office, the peppers and sausage dish is made with Spanish fresh chorizo, a pork sausage dosed with cumin.

"Colorado lamb lollipops" means little lamb chops marinated with thyme, meant to be eaten as finger food. It comes with braised radicchio, which happens to be the only bow this menu makes toward Italy. The blackboard menu often lists frisee aux lardons , a French salad of frisee in a mustardy dressing, mixed with chewy bits of fried pork and topped with a poached egg.

These are all quite good, but the most impressive Real Food is the Office Burger. This is a mixture of chuck, sirloin and dry-aged New York steak trim, topped with two cheeses (Gruyere and Maytag bleu) and a compote of caramelized onions and apple-wood bacon. With its sweet fresh meat, pungent cheeses, smoky bacon and browned onions, all on a crunchy baguette with arugula, this is an eye-opener of a hamburger.

Father's Office is emphatically a bar, not a restaurant. There's no dessert course, although you might end with the cheese plate if you're feeling European. There are no waiters, either, though somebody will bring the food to your table. You place your own order at the bar and leave your credit card there as security until you pay.

The food comes when it comes. Until then, kick back with a Spanish wine or a Great White Ale flavored with lemon grass.

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Father's Office, 1018 Montana Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 393-2337. Bar opens at 3 p.m. daily; menu is served after 5 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. All major cards. Snacks, $2.50 to $14.50.

What to get: olives, chorizo, warm almonds, frisee aux lardons , sweet potato fries, Office Burger, lamb lollipops, peppers and sausage.

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