9546 Washington Blvd, Culver City CA 90232 (map); 310-837-9546; rushstreetculvercity.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: This Hollywood-sized gastropub production delivers a delicious burger
Want Fries with That? This solid iteration of shoestrings doesn't do anything to change my mind about the varietal
Prices: Dry-aged burger, $11
Perhaps nothing is as much a sign of high-end restaurant culture going mainstream as the popularization of the gastropub. In the U.S., our bars are where we meet, drink, and --of course--eat. What we opt for in bar food is what we came for in the first place, comfort. Whether it's our burger and fries or a plate of mac and cheese, we are looking for that taste of home while we drink the night away in our home away from it.
The gastropub promises the pleasures of the casual native to a night out at your local without the meal becoming a casualty of it. Here in Los Angeles—where dressy means giving your flip flops the night off and an original idea is one that you stole without getting caught—it's no surprise that this high concept dining experience has spread like superhero movies. It seems as though you can find one popping up on every other corner and can no longer get a pork chop without some sort of glaze on it. One is a burger legend, most have have had big-time debuts, and few have lived up to their promise.
On the Southern edge of L.A. you'll find Culver City's newest gastopub, Rush Street. It lays claim to a Chicago germline, but when I heard that it had Hollywood origins, I rolled my eyes and lowered my expectations.
Rush Street is a breathtakingly large and attractive restaurant that has been designed to embrace the industrial bones of the sign shop that once occupied the space. It actually has some similar elements to it neighbor Gyenari which sits right next door, but the is a more successful use of the extant architectural elements (exposed bricks and supports, etc.).
The name and some of its concept of Rush Street is an homage to the Chicago strip of the same name famous for its bar scene. I was about to dismiss this as yet another example of empty, Hollywood artifice, and then I met the man behind the idea. Not only was Brian McKeaney born and bred in the Windy City but his family owns so many bars on the real Rush Street that you'll find the intersection of Rush and Division Streets renamed "McKeaney Way."
He and his partners, Kenneth Kaufman and Tom Patchett, used make movies and television shows, but these days, they don't seem to be interested in anything but their restaurant. A few artifacts betray their past (a painting featuring Gwyneth Paltrow that hangs on the eastern wall is the one painted by Viggo Mortensen in A Perfect Murder), but as long as the food is good, I'm OK with it. Speaking of which, I'll have the burger.
The Rush Street Dry Aged Burger comes topped with Applewood smoked bacon, cheddar, shoestring onions, a few sprigs of arugula, a "Confire" sauce, and a choice of a side. I went with the French fries. Oh, and I ordered a small bowl of baked mac and cheese as well (because I am gluttonous by nature and lack self-discipline by nurture). The dry aged part sounds exciting to me, but the toppings? I must admit, they ignite suspicions borne of my bias against an overly complex preparation when serving high-quality meat, but I've learned to open my mind when opening my mouth. Bring it on (but make sure it's medium rare).
The burger arrives in a basket and is surrounded by a bird's nest of shoestring fries. It's got the sheen of a movie star and—again—I can feel the psychic weight of my prejudice pulling on me. Stylish good-looks make me think that there is little substance behind it.
Sampling a few fries I find my first suspicions confirmed. They are the shoestring variety and I've always found that this preparation means a lacks of creamy interior contrast to the exterior crunch that is so pleasing to me about a good fry. It's not all disappointment as they seem very strong iteration of the type. I dig into the beautiful, ceramic bowl of mac and cheese (above) and things are looking way up. Cheesy and smooth without the soupy béchamel is how I like it. I am thrilled to find that Rush Street agrees with me.
Slicing my burger in two I find it cooked as close to perfection as I've had in a long while beautiful reddish-pink hues against a dark char from a high-heat grill. Oh my. The first bite confirms it. The dry aged meat is well-seasoned and gives off hints of that satisfying funk that only comes with technique plus time. In this case, the patty is an 80/20 blend of dry aged clod from Rocco Bros. The cheddar is Tillamook Sharp and offers up some added tang which is welcomed, and the shoestring onions (crunchies) are even a nice little textural contrast. The Confire sauce is what the chef describes as a French take on barbecue sauce. It starts as a red onion and sugar sauté that is caramelized. Some ketchup and spices are added to round it out. It's got a sweet, pleasing flavor, but the fact that it's lightly applied is a good thing. Any more would mask the vibrant beefiness of this sandwich.
Unfortunately, as usual, the bacon (from North Country) won't be suppressed. The beef, cheese, onion don't need all that extra fat and salt. After a few bites I remove it, as it seems a distraction from this lovely patty.
What I like so much about this burger production is that the two stars are, in fact, the two stars. A patty and a bun; at its core, this is what makes a hamburger sandwich. Now I'm in full favor of finding ways of dressing it up that add appeal, but in the end—I am most interested in what's underneath. Rush Street delivers a beautifully cooked, well-seasoned patty and puts inside one of my favorite buns (the Rockenwagner brioche style).
Usually the whole gastropub concept leaves me a bit cold, but in the case of Rush Street, I've warmed to it. The space is attractive; the beer selection is vast; and, most important, the food is tasty. It's a nice feeling to look around the room and see all my fellow Angelenos enjoying some quality food in a relaxed environment. Now, if I could just get them to stop wearing flip-flops.
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