448 N Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles CA 90036 (map); 323-944-0980; rosewoodtavern.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: A balanced approach to adding Korean flair to this burger makes it worth a taste.
Want Fries with That? Yes; these are the best fries I've tried this year
Price: Seoul Man Burger (w/fries), $12
There is no Los Angeles restaurateur more committed to honoring the New York eatery aesthetic than George Abou-Daoud. Since moving to Los Angeles in 2001, Abou-Daoud has opened eight restaurants: The Bowery, Delancey Bar & Pizzeria, Mission Cantina, Tamarind Ave. Deli, Township Saloon, The Mercantile, Urban Garden and, this review's protagonist, Rosewood Tavern. Each is said to be inspired by a type of restaurant that Abou-Daoud likes to frequent. It seems one could fairly rephrase that as inspired by a type of restaurant Abou-Daoud likes to frequent in New York City.
I'm pointing this out not as a failing, but rather to give context. Exporting a little New York appeal is a tried and perfectly acceptable method for opening an eatery just about anywhere. Being that New York City is where this burger reviewer was born and raised, I can, at times, be a little overly critical of the results. So perhaps Rosewood Tavern gets a little extra credit from me since I found it to be such a solid restaurant.
I recently visited to try a burger that some of my burgerati friends had been mumbling about. It's called the Seoul Man Burger ($12) because it fuses some Korean flavors with classic American ones and because, apparently, restaurant menu writers just can't resist a pun. To be fair, I suffer the same frailty. In any case, I'm (medium) rarely excited by a fusion burger, but I also am wiling to try most anything folks deem a burger.
The Seoul Man Burger starts with eight ounces of medium ground, 80/20 chuck from Paso Prime. It's topped with bulgogi, daikon and Napa cabbage kimchi slaw, and sambal aioli. The bun is a King's Hawaiian hamburger roll.
The first thing to note is that bulgogi marinade will mean a dangerous level of sweetness for a burger. Chef BJ Munoz handles this by balancing the sweetness with the acid of the kimchi, so while you definitely get a strong flavor from the bulgogi, it doesn't overpower the burger as I thought it might. It plays out like the measured sweetness of just the right amount of ketchup or Thousand Island. The patty itself was full of robust beefy flavor set off by a proper seasoning. Further, it had a great sear, though in the case of the burger delivered to me it was woefully overcooked, particularly considering my medium-rare request. (I considered sending it back after I cut it in half, but I determined that I'd give it a try as served.) Surprisingly, the patty still had a decent amount of juice. Add to that the spicy, fatty appeal of the sambal aioli and I found myself happily eating my overcooked burger. This is a credit to the quality of the ingredients and balance of flavors of this burger.
Happily, my delight didn't end there. The fries that accompanied my burger were among the very best I've tried all year. I'd venture the only comparable effort can be found at The Pikey. These medium-wide cut Yukon Golds clearly were given a double frying. They were seasoned with a hearty salt that added a tiny bit of texture as well as flavor. I could eat these fries as a meal.
In fact, there is much on the menu at Rosewood Tavern that I could say the same about. I tried the Little Gem salad with burrata, tomatoes, and crispy quinoa dressed in a lemon-ginger vinaigrette and found it deeply appealing. The roasted butternut squash was rich and nicely seasoned.
The spicy buttermilk fried chicken sliders were full of good flavor, but I found the bun-to-chicken ratio to be a little too heavily weighted in favor of the bread. Still, they're a clever little bar snack.
Add to all of this creditable cookery, a welcoming staff, and a soaring room with a dark, reclaimed wood kind of appeal and one imagines Rosewood staking claim to its location for years to come. This would be no small feat considering the excellent The Golden State is just a few doors down. Is it the New York aesthetic that makes Rosewood work? With a bulgogi nod to our large Korean population burger and decidedly friendly (non-NYC) service, maybe this burger spot works because it embraces Los Angeles.