The Federal Bar
5303 Lankershim Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 91601 (map); 323-850-5400; thefederalbar.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: An attractive bar makes an unappealing upscale burger
Want Fries with That? Nope; these thick-cut spuds get have a cardboard texture that is a real disappointment
Price: The Federal (w/fries), $11
The Federal Bar is one of a number of restaurants that dot the gentrifying strip of Lankershim Boulevard that's now rebranded as the NoHo Arts District. While I used to bemoan the bland brush of gentrification, I've long since made my peace with the unstoppable force that is the real estate developer's vision (or do I mean to say greed?). Yes, the New York City of my youth has transformed into something other than the collection of neighborhoods that once beguiled me. So, too, has much of the landscape here in Los Angeles. In both cases, my complaints seem like little more than an old man's fear of the clock running out on him.
So, to the embrace. When I first moved to LA I didn't live far from where The Federal Bar now sits, and the truth is that young man of the past would've loved a watering hole as attractive and full of attractive people as The Federal Bar of the present. I can't take issue with what seems to be a self-conscious capitalization on the gastropub movement from a large scale entertainment group.
What I can take issue with is their burger. I stopped by for lunch to reminisce about the past with the guy I first lived with just minutes from The Federal Bar. The nostalgia was just right—the burger not so much.
The basic burger offering on the menu is called The Federal ($11) and it doesn't sound all that bad. It's an eight-ounce patty topped with garlic chips, smoked cheddar, bibb lettuce, and balsamic onions. What they don't mention is the ridiculously brioche bun and just how bland the execution of all of the above is.
The patty itself seemed to be one of the preformed variety. This doesn't mean it's low quality, but what it does mean is that the meat is too densely packed and, especially in this large portion, unappealing in its texture. The grill marks were present but not pronounced in the way that betrays a properly heated grill. The smoked cheddar was smoke on top of the already smoky flavor from the grilling and seemed to be an odd choice. The onions were overcooked and bitter. Lastly, the bun—a bulbous tragedy of a brioche—was, as you've heard me report time and again about this class of bun, ill-suited to a burger.
The fries were very attractive and I thought they'd be the saving grace of the meal, but alas, all the herbs, parmesan cheese, and garlic couldn't mask the cardboard-like texture. I was so surprised by the disconnect between their look and flavor I double-checked with a taste of my dining companion's order of fries. Same problem.
I know this comes off as a rather harsh review and I'm not so pleased to give it. My experience at The Federal Bar unrelated to the food was great. The service was friendly and very attentive, it's an attractive room, and the beer is plentiful. I suspect a return to The Federal for a little reminiscing would best be served by limiting myself to the adult beverages. They go better with nostalgia anyway.