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[Photographs: Damon Gambuto]

The Grill on the Alley

9560 Dayton Way, Beverly Hills CA 90210 (map); 310-276-0615; thegrill.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: There are few burgers that will satisfy your simple, soulful desire for ground beef on a bun like the 12 ounces of grilled pleasure you'll find at The Grill.
Want Fries with That? Yes. The house-cut shoestring option are the way to go.
Prices: The Grill Burger, $16.75
Notes: There aren't any big secrets to enjoying yourself at The Grill and that's one of the things that makes me like it so much. Let them know it's your first visit and they'll make you feel like an instant regular.

One of my favorite tasks of my first job in Hollywood while working as an assistant to an agent was making reservations. Each day the power brokers of the television and movie business slogged through unproductive morning hours waiting for the work the day to really get going... at lunch. Sadly, by the time I arrived the two martini and steak lunch had been replaced with a business meeting accompanied by a chopped salad and an iced tea. Still, there were a few hold-outs from the bygone days of Hollywood—they liked to lunch at some of the classic eateries that had been the playgrounds of the last tycoons.

I remember how much I enjoyed helping choose the restaurant that my boss would go to. It was a vicarious thrill to hear the goings on at restaurants like (the sadly defunct) Chasen's. They sounded like crosses between country clubs and fine dining establishments.

One of the places that made it through Hollywood's cultural shift is The Grill on the Alley. Conceived in the style of the grand San Francisco and New York grills that defined the steak house aesthetic, The Grill has become a Los Angeles institution. I remember my first visit years ago took me by surprise: I expected to be crushed with fancy restaurant ceremony, but instead was met with the kind of upscale, yet inviting dining room that I could imagine coming to everyday. Of course, on a lot of those days, I'd have a burger for lunch. I went back recently to do just that.

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The Grill was opened in a strange little location just off Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills over 25 years ago. It's not quite a speakeasy entrance, but it has an off-the-main-drag feel ("the alley") that helps build the old-time environment. The interior is just as you'd imagine it and a bit more. The lovely manager, Pamela, or one of the hosts greets you, and the dark wood bar awaits your bidding.

The Grill is now one of a large group of restaurants, but the growth, rather than diminish the personal touch, seems to be what it's built on. Everyone I interacted with was the perfect match of familiar and helpful. The white-coated waiters have the acerbic wit that comes with serving food for a living, but lack the rancor you can run into in so many classic steak houses. (Why people enjoy the abuse at Peter Luger in New York has always escaped me.) The Grill is a place you feel like they'd know your usual by your second visit.

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The Grill Burger is something to behold. It's a full 12 ounces of meat, which isn't to say this is some ordinary slab of ground chuck. The original chef at this, the original location, Izzy Camacho, still presides over the kitchen. With a smiling pride, he took me through the construction of this beautiful beast.

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Izzy Camacho manning the grill.

Camacho starts with a blend of the trimmings from his impressive list of steaks: sirloin, New York, and some fillet. He makes sure the fat ratio stays at 20 percent and the grind at a medium coarseness. The patty then gets a major league seasoning of salt, pepper, and garlic powder. The cooking is done on the wood-fired grill, which gets oiled by some fat trimmings he keeps nearby. The buns are from La Brea Bakery and the burger comes with a hefty helping of lettuce and tomato (not that you need it). Camacho prefers his burgers with a serious amount of cheddar, but I wanted mine unadulterated so I had my medium rare burger placed on a bun and got to eating.

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The first bite was unadulterated bliss. The juice of the patty was more than enough condiment as the meat itself had a complexity reminiscent of—you guessed it—a great steak. There was a smoothness to the flavor of the interior that was matched by a thick crust from that intense wood-fire. The combination of flavors and textures from just the patty made chewing an exercise in synergy. The bun itself was nicely toasted and pleasantly spongy. It somehow managed to contain all of the juice and patty—well, almost. After going in for the autopsy cut, the juice ran all over my plate. It was tragic and beautiful and evidence of just well-handled this upscale burger is.

If it sounds as though I am a bit smitten by The Grill and its burger, it is, quite simply, because I am. Certainly the prices there mean that the pleasures I've described are for me, like most, to be dished out sparingly. The privilege of calling a place like The Grill your everyday lunch spot come with, well, privilege.

The day I ate there the dining room was dotted with celebrities, Beverly Hills wealth, and the shadow elite of Hollywood. They may not all feast on a lunch like mine—a burger and martini—but they still come in droves. It seems that what I ordered has become, in today's world, a measured decadence meant for a holiday. The Grill makes me long for the working lunch of Hollywood's past.

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