333 Culver Boulevard, Playa Del Rey CA 90293 (map); 310-821-0333; thetripel.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: The team behind the excellent Hudson House has scored with a fantastic gastropub that offers great burgers and much more
Want Fries with That? Yes; these are delicious skinny cut fries, but don't miss out on some of the glorious small plate offerings like the potato dumplings
Prices: Tripel Burger, $15; Pretzel Burger, $11; Lamb Burger, $11
There aren't that many restaurateurs that could convince me to drive across Los Angeles on a Friday evening, but the wife and husband team of Brooke Williamson and Nick Robert are among that group. You've heard me rave about their Redondo Beach spot, Hudson House, so when I heard about their newest venture I gritted my teeth and started my car despite the weekly Carmegeddon that is a Friday evening in LA.
This time I was headed to The Tripel in Playa del Rey. The small beachside community just north of LAX barely boasts a decent restaurant, let alone a restaurant scene, so the very cool looking gastropub that Williamson and Robert have created is wholly out of place on the nondescript stretch of Culver Boulevard (333 Culver to be exact, hence "the Tripel"). Williamson and Robert have spent the majority of their adult lives in professional kitchens, and it shows. These are restless and creative food minds that don't seem to fear challenging their local audience with a menu and decor (in collaboration with Dex Studio) that rivals any Hollywood hotspot for coolness quotient.
The Tripel serves three burgers: the eponymous Tripel Burger, the Pretzel Burger, and the Lamb Burger. Being that the last ingredient always makes me feel a bit un-burgerlike, let's talk about the first two.
The Tripel is an exercise in Williamson's impulse for bold flavor and a noticeable comfort with the decadent. She starts with a custom blend of dry aged beef mixed with pork and then adds a little duck confit. She finishes it off with a little arugula, house-made apricot jam, and truffle percorino, all on an onion bun from Bread Bar.
Normally a battery of high-end ingredients can seem like bribery, but in Williamson's hand they blend into an intense and inviting combination of flavors. The deep char on the patty cuts against the intense fat of the beef/pork blend and duck confit and the subtle sweetness from the jam sneaks through. I'm surprised the onion bun hasn't been adopted by other high-end burger spots; it had just the right heft to stand up to all of the richness of this burger.
When I saw the pretzel burger listed on the menu I thought I'd pass on it since I already reviewed the pretzel burger at Hudson House, but Williamson was quick to point out that they're far from the same. In this case the beautiful, proprietary, dry-aged chuck blend that they source from Rocker Bros. gets the spotlight, and it couldn't be more deserving. The patty's richness is intensified by the dry-aging—which gives it that musky, steak appeal—and the patty matches the chewiness of the Röckenwagner pretzel bun. It's topped with caramelized onion, aged cheddar, and a flavor-defining poppy seed cabbage slaw. The poppy seed slaw—part of WIlliamson's re-imagining of the basic salt and pepper seasoning—is an intensely peppery affair that blends with the salt from the pretzel bun in a way that made me shake my head in delight. It's clever in exactly the way I hope for cheffed-up food to be—deliciously so.
I skipped the lamb burger in favor of fries and some of Williamson's small plates, so I will save talk of that one for a later article. (From what I saw coming out of the kitchen, it showed great promise.) The fries are expertly handled skinny-cut spuds with a nice helping of salt and parsley balanced against a hit of garlic. They are served with two tasty sauces: horseradish honey mustard and spiced aioli.
I tried numerous small bites that were creative and full of flavor, but perhaps none was more pleasing than the baked potato dumplings. They're akin to pan-fried gnocchi, but that just begins to explain these distinct little spuds. Williamson matches them with pancetta and mushrooms, serves them on a bed of salsa verde, then tops them with a poached egg. The flavor of this dish is, for me, exactly what makes Williamson an interesting and talented chef. There's an unexpected quality to her cooking that turns the familiar slightly askew, but still comes out delicious. In this case it's her choice of using vinegar to add sourness. The surprising and jarring hit of acid was somehow exactly what I wanted.
This effect is, in some respects, what I imagine Williamson and Robert are trying to do with their restaurants. Clearly they have no fear of opening the aesthetically unexpected. Both Hudson House and now The Tripel are the kind of restaurant you'd expect to find competing for the spotlight of the hip, urban dining stage, but both are in areas that support nothing like them. What's even better is that the communities seem to have embraced them. Hudson House has found its footing in Redondo Beach and now the folks of Playa del Rey seem happy to claim The Tripel as their own (it was standing-room only on a recent Friday night). I love the inherent courage of this restaurant couple to make a go of it on their own, but more than that I admire their commitment to doing it their way. Now, if I can just convince them to do it all a little closer to my house I'll be all set.