A European friend has a teenage son who loves ketchup so much that Dad carts home giant bottles of the stuff in his checked suitcase every time he visits the U.S. I know one person I won't be taking to Father's Office the next time he visits, because they don't allow the tomato-based condiment. No how. No way.
"How will I eat my French fries?," the ketchup-addicted might wail. Without the red sauce, that's for sure. Unless, like a couple of rebellious college-age kids I've noticed, you smuggle in a bottle and staff members turn their heads the other way. Otherwise, the lemony aioli that comes with your piping hot and suitably skinny shoestring fries or fatter gnarled sweet potato ones will have to do -- and they do quite nicely. (Note: The miniature shopping carts the fries were once served in seem to have gone the way of the dodo bird. Instead, fries now come in a miniature metal fryer basket.)
The injunction against ketchup doesn't seem to be doing any damage to the new Father's Office in the Helms Bakery complex at the border of Culver City and Los Angeles -- or the original funky locale on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica. The 6-month-old venue is crowded all the time, though I'm happy to report that now if you drop in on weeknights after 8, you quite possibly won't have to wait in line to get in.
You will have to pass muster at the door, though. No, no, no, you just don't walk into Father's Office. Someone has to ask if you've been there before and if not, explain the policies -- no table service, no substitutions, order at the bar.
With its rules and regulations and chaotic ordering, this is like no other restaurant in town. On the other hand, Father's Office boasts a killer beer list, sophisticated pub grub from a chef/owner who worked in fine dining, and now, at this new locale, high-class spirits instead of dessert, and that California necessity, an outdoor terrace.
You will have to seat yourself, however. That is, if you can find a table. That might make sense at the original, tiny Father's Office, but at this one, where more than a dozen Parsons-style tables, beautifully crafted in lacquered mahogany, are lined up on the terrace, with more tables crowded inside, it's annoying. You end up prowling in back of tables, hovering as you try to ascertain whether the people sitting there have just come, have just finished or are going to order more. Or worse, you interrupt them, to inquire.
On the other hand, all this jockeying for tables (and sometimes seats) does create a congenial atmosphere. We're all in this together, so to speak. And you can't play passive. You have to engage. Maybe the woman next to you will ask you to watch the purse that's marking her spot while she goes off to order a second round of Trappist ale and some smoked eel. Or you might strike up a conversation with the couple at the other end of your shared table, who it turns out are friends of friends of friends. The policy seems to bring out the best in people: I haven't run into any louts yet.
OK, I did get impatient when the six women in the party in front of me not only wouldn't split the check, but then in addition to ordering individually, insisted on a protracted negotiation over who would order what while the bartender waited patiently.
That's because there's no table service either. And good luck finding a menu. The drill is you order from the bar, a long, crowded counter with taps for draft beer and a whimsical collection of vintage beer taps mounted on the wall behind. The idea is that the bartender starts a tab for you, so you can order your beer or wine first, maybe a few starter dishes and then come back later to replenish drinks and eats.
Note to young chefs: Pay attention to what chef/owner Sang Yoon is up to at Father's Office. The place is a rousing success. He's making money, and lots of it, by "cooking down" in a manner of speaking. With a background in fine dining (he was formerly chef at Michael's), he decided against opening a highfalutin place and instead bought a decrepit beer bar in Santa Monica. And by adding a small menu of good eats -- a signature burger, great fries, so-so tapas and a few other dishes -- he created a venue so popular you couldn't get in the door most nights. The Father's Office burger became a cult item that every member of Chowhound.com and the world at large had to weigh in on.
I'm not the biggest fan of that burger. It's more like a beef patty sandwich. The beef is nice and juicy, but the bun is more like a sandwich bun than a classic burger bun, and spongy to boot. I don't like the sweetness (and sliminess) of the caramelized onions or the embellishment of the blue cheese. No lettuce, no mustard, too rich -- and greasy. But I'm definitely in the minority. Fortunately, that's not all there is to eat. With this second location, a real kitchen means Yoon has been able to expand the menu and get creative with the specials, scratching his itch to do something more than burgers.