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Critic's Choice: Lively gastropubs for fun that can go late

October 27, 2012|By S. Irene Virbila, Los Angeles Times Restaurant Critic
  • Slow-roasted chicken panzanella at Freddy Smalls Bar   Kitchen in West L.A.
Slow-roasted chicken panzanella at Freddy Smalls Bar Kitchen in West L.A. (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)

When Ben Ford introduced his Ford's Filling Station in 2006, the fledgling gastropub was mobbed. The right idea at the right time: moderately priced comfort food in a rustic, no-frills setting. Big portions and hearty dishes — in other words, fuel. Now we've got gastropubs — a term that originated in London to denote pubs with seriously good food — popping up all over the city. Some, like Bar Marmont in WeHo, Waterloo & City in Culver City and the Parish in downtown L.A., hew to a British model. Others, such as Spanish Fly in Koreatown or the Tripel in Playa del Rey, are more eclectic. But one thing they all have in common is a loose, lively vibe, food made from scratch and not only craft beer but often well-chosen wines and inventive cocktails too. Hours tend to run later than conventional restaurants. Hungry after 10 p.m.? Head to a gastropub.

Father's Office

The father of them all launched when former Michael's chef Sang Yoon bought an old bar in Santa Monica and had the then-novel concept of adding some grub — good grub, like his signature Office burger. And, of course, skinny French fries served in a miniature shopping cart. No reservations, often standing room only, and a roster of hand-picked craft beers made this spot a hit. Then came Father's Office 2 in the Helms Bakery complex . This time Yoon had a real kitchen and therefore a larger menu that includes experimental nightly specials: braised pork cheeks with black-eyed peas, sea urchin crostini, or brandade cakes. Affordable and fun.

1018 Montana Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 736-2224, and 3229 Helms Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 736-2224; Dishes, $6 to $19.

Freddy Smalls Bar + Kitchen

OK, it's noisy. Get over it if you want to enjoy chef Charlie Parker's buffalo deviled eggs or lightly smoked fingerling potatoes. His fried Brussels sprouts with apple cider glaze are worth a drive. So too the flash-grilled steak tartare and the slow-roasted chicken panzanella with fresh ricotta and mint. Freddy Smalls is the complete package, with lusty cooking from a hardworking young chef and seriously good beers and cocktails. In short, it's a kind of happy dream best enjoyed early in the week when the place is less crowded and you can actually hear the eclectic soundtrack.

11520 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 479-3000, Dishes, $5 to $26.

Fat Cow

That British chef on TV who yells and throws hissy fits in restaurant kitchens? It's Gordon Ramsay, who, hard as it may be to believe, possesses three Michelin stars for Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London. He's just opened a 200-seat gastropub at the Grove next door to the movie theaters. It's called Fat Cow, and it offers some decent enough grub. There's an excellent Caesar salad, beets with burrata, "stone-baked" pizzas, shepherd's pie and, of course, the Fat Cow burger made with short ribs and Kobe beef. Not much is surprising or notable about the menu except for the fact that it's very well executed.

189 the Grove Drive, Los Angeles, (323) 900-8080, Dishes, $7 to $25.

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