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FIRST LOOK

An Office specializing in fine beers, but there's good grub too

May 22, 2008|S. Irene Virbila | Times Restaurant Critic

My FRIEND Sonya has parking karma like nobody else I know. Turning onto Helms Avenue on our way to the new Father's Office in Culver City's Helms Bakery complex, she eased her vintage Aston Martin into the one empty parking slot -- obviously waiting just for her -- directly across from Father's Office neighbor the Jazz Bakery. Whoee!

Then I saw the line -- the looooong line. It unfurled at the far end of the outdoor terrace in front of the long-awaited offshoot of chef-owner Sang Yoon's tiny, perennially mobbed Santa Monica spot. At tables lined up on that broad, inviting terrace, Father's Office fans made merry: lifting hefty burgers to their mouths, plucking skinny fries from miniature shopping carts and hoisting glasses of weissbier, eclectic Pilseners and ales.

We got behind maybe 75 people, feeling glum. Half of my party wanted to leave and go somewhere else. (That would be the men of the party.) Let's see how it goes for 15 minutes, I said as soothingly as possible.

The line did move. The guy in charge of the red tape (the casual version of the velvet rope) smartly opened and closed it as one group left and another got in.

The twentysomethings in front of us discussed every noteworthy cheap eats place in town. They'd tried them all. The girl directly in front asked me if the burger is worth the wait. The chic couple behind us, French or some other variety of European tourists (it was hard to tell which as they never opened their mouths), seemed grimly intent on going through this bizarre American ritual of waiting for the definitive burger.

The line lurched forward. After about half an hour, we were in! Ah, but that doesn't mean you necessarily get a table. It's free-form.

One of us went to order at the bar; the other three split up to look for a table, prowling the terrace and inside, looking for plates that were almost finished or someone paying the check. We lurked, ready to pounce. And then miracle of miracles, two guys at a table left without ordering. Why? Because the guardian at the gate wouldn't let their third friend in without his going to the back of the line.

We ordered -- some of the 36 handcrafted brews on tap, including a fine North Coast Scrimshaw Pilsener and a Belgian-style white ale from Portland, Maine. More exotic brews include Scaldis Prestige from Belgium (the highest priced bottle on the list) and several Trappist ales.

Matching the food with the beer is an entertaining exercise, much helped by the friendly crew behind the bar. For what is basically a bar or a pub, Father's Office serves up some delicious grub. I loved the smoked eel with fennel, creme fraiche and a runny-yolked poached egg, and the lemon grass-red curry mussels steamed in white ale. There's a farmers market fresh organic beet salad with Cabrales blue cheese from Spain, walnuts and a sherry vinaigrette. And also those adorable frites (either showered with garlic and parsley) or the rich sweet potato variation.

But that burger? Not my favorite. The beef is most excellent, but the bun is bready and the caramelized onions too sweet. It needs something crunchy and maybe some mustard too. But at Father's Office there are "no substitutions, modifications, alterations or deletions." And no ketchup either. Me, I prefer the bistro steak with shallot butter and frites for a modest $16.

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virbila@latimes.com

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FATHER'S OFFICE L.A.

WHERE: 3229 Helms Ave., L.A.

WHEN: Mon.-Thu.: 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. (kitchen closes at 11 p.m.); Fri.-Sun.: 12 p.m. to 2 a.m. (kitchen closes at 12 a.m.).

PRICE: Small plates, $4.50 to $8.50; big plates, $5 to $16; specials can run $1-$2 more.

INFO: (310) 736-2224; www.fathersoffice.com

ON THE WEB: For more photos of Father's Office, go to latimes.com/fathers

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