Redwood Bar & Grill
316 West 2nd St # 202, Los Angeles CA 90012 (map); 213-680-2600; theredwoodbar.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Blimey! This pirate-themed restaurant serves up a tasty burger that defied my expectations.
Want Fries with That? Yes, but go for the spiced up version.
Prices: The Redwood Burger w/fries, $12
When it comes to my restaurants, I don't usually care for kitsch. I don't like waitstaffs that are instructed to be surly; I don't like tchotchke-lined walls; and I certainly don't go in for a theme restaurant. It's all trying too hard to have fun. I don't need any help enjoying my scotch, my burger, and my tattered dreams (thank you very much). But for Redwood Bar & Grill I made an exception. There was tell of a burger treasure that awaited me should I endure all of the pirate paraphernalia that adorns the place in its new turn as a pirate-themed bar and eatery.
Once upon a time the original Redwood Saloon played host to the likes of Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. I don't think the new iteration is attracting the same presidential pedigree of clientele, but from the look of the crowd on a recent Friday night, it doesn't need it. They pour into this pirate-themed paradise in search of the generous libations and what Los Angeles Downtown News once called the best burger in Downtown Los Angeles. Even my grizzled, old-man disdain for anything that smacks of a good time has to give in to the draw of a great burger.
The eight-ounce Angus patty was lightly seasoned with a bit of salt and showed a favorable char. It wasn't the prodigious crust of a serious char-broiling, but that also meant there wasn't any overpowering carbon taste. It would be fair to say the patty was a tad dry, but I liked the fact that it wasn't a grease bomb. That said, to fulfill my ideal meat-to-fat ratio the burger would have to be a little fattier.
The menu calls the bun brioche, but this (like so many versions these days) is misleading. It's really a hybrid of brioche and the traditional hamburger bun. It had a look that read as bready and dry, but it turned out to be perfectly pliant and squishy. I could even pick up some of the toasted texture on the interior half way through the burger.
The lettuce and tomato toppings were a good version of the standard fare. They were placed under the patty, which has become my preferred construction despite being a little nontraditional. The moisture from the tomato and lettuce helped balance the hint of dryness in the patty.
All three burgers my group ordered came out much closer medium than our requested medium rare so I'd suggest an extra mention to your server should you prefer a genuine mid-rare burger.
Kudos to Redwood for getting the ratio of meat-to-bread right; I see that a lot less often than you'd guess. The cheddar cheese, though melted well, was a little heavy handed. It tasted as though it might not be of the highest quality, which argues for another cheese option or none at all.
I got the spicy fries, which are the clear winner over the totally bland regular fries. They were both well cooked, fresh, thick cut, and showed some skin remnants. The spicy fries were tossed with a seasoning powder made of a secret blend, one I would guess to be mostly chili powder, salt, and onion flakes. It's the kind of thing that would usually put me off, but in this case it really worked. It was served with a watery but (according to my better half) delicious cool ranch dipping sauce. I have already gone on record against ranch dressing.
So Redwood Bar & Grill managed to make eating amongst all of the self-conscious, pirate decor a worthwhile experience, but that's what good burgers can do. They take us places we didn't know we wanted to go and make good times out of low expectations. Redwood doesn't make the best burger in Downtown LA, but it's certainly a good one. Alas, I fear I am duty-bound to remind you to order it medium raaaaarrrre.
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