5018 York Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90042
It feels like October has been all about the Chicago Cubs and their date with destiny. They’re the latest beneficiary (see also 2004 Red Sox, 2010 Giants, 1998 Jay-Z) of the special treatment we give to baseball teams that are awful for long enough. After over a century of losing, the Cubs – finally – are good. And like the Red Sox, the Giants, and Jay-Z before them, the entire nation (but for we select few who don’t share the impulse for alacritous bandwagoneering) will love them until they finally win. Then we’ll revile them for doing the very thing we hoped they’d do all along. To be a “lovable loser,” you have to keep losing.
I watched the final innings of Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at The York, which was a Highland Park mainstay long before Highland Park was cool. It’s a vaulting industrial space, where Edison bulbs throw barely enough light on roughly erased chalkboards sporting the menu of the day, and onto the carmine bricks behind. The one television is located inconveniently at the back end of the bar, obscured by something from almost any angle. It was there that I watched Adrián González smack a game-tying single, and then shortly thereafter, Miguel Montero be spoon-fed a hanging slider with the bases loaded.
Much like the Cubs, the York has established itself as a good-natured neighborhood standard. And much like the Cubs, it’s kind of hard to see what all the fuss is about. Besides the cool (but imitable) vibe, the cocktails are weak, the food is fine, and the staff just mostly competent. The clientele is a weird mashup of young fathers and old bachelors, thirty-somethings all. It’s as if the York is the last place where those two demographics can meet and remember times not too many years ago, when their lives looked more alike.
Kristen, Tristan, Peter, Shahin, Kelsey and I took a trip to the York for dinner to catch the end of the baseball game before going to Creep LA, which – spoiler alert – was basically me paying $53.50 to be called “daddy” by an emo kid in lingerie and then locked in a closet the size of a moving box (with two other people, one of whom, blessedly, was Kelsey) by a small man in yoga pants.
The Order: Cheddar Burger, medium rare
The Price: $15
The York’s burger is served on Bread Bar brioche, a heavily marbled sirloin and chuck hybrid patty, rocket (which, more or less, is hipster for “arugula,” which, more or less, is douchebag for “bitter spinach”), harissa aioli (harissa being a North/West-African chili paste that you may have run into at Moun-Of-Tunis, Koutoubia, or a similar spot), and pickled onion. And cheddar, obviously.
Just by reading that list of ingredients, you may have the impression that there’s a lot – potentially too much – going on here. That was my concern going in, too. Imagine my surprise, then, when the burger actually wound up being strangely tame on the palette. There was no pinching bitterness from the flaccid arugula, no astringent sourness from the too-soupy onions, no blunted bite from the aioli. Everything got mixed together, reduced into some tasteless primordial ooze, the culinary equivalent of Cage’s 4’33”. And to top it all off, there wasn’t even the buttery, eggy, cloudlike sweetness you would expect from the brioche (though this had more to do with the fact that it tasted a day old than any fault of poor Bread Bar’s) it was crumbly and Gobi-dry.
And that’s a shame, considering the patty was quite well-conceived. Heavily marbled and a well-executed medium rare (evenly rouge-hued and barely bloody), the flavor was rich, the texture hardy and coarse. It was crisped on the outside, but retained its juiciness exceptionally well. Just like Charlize Theron in The Devil’s Advocate, it deserved a better supporting cast (instead, we got Shouty Al and dead-eyes Keanu; I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that’s a metaphor or not).
Were I predisposed to being snarky, I’d say the good news is that the burger York was only the third-most unpleasant thing that happened to me that night. But since I am miles above snark and the solicitation of cheap laughs, I’ll leave it at this: Notwithstanding all the neighborhood affection, all the history, all the prescient neo-industrial decor, the York’s burger left a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe not quite as bitter and caustic as Miguel Montero left, not quite as parched and salty as being locked in that closet, but the fact that those three things are part of the same conversation probably tells you all you need to know.
Flavor: 7.20 / 10.00
Freshness / Quality: 8.10 / 10.00
Value: 6.90 / 10.00
Efficiency: 7.00 / 10.00
Creativity / Style: 8.50 / 10.00
Bun: 4.80 / 10.00
Patty: 9.40 / 10.00
Toppings: 7.60 / 10.00
Sauce: 7.30 / 10.00
Balance: 7.00 / 10.00
Total: 73.80 / 100.00