Author: Jacob Goldstein
This semester, as the Weekly’s food critic, I committed myself to reviewing restaurants that-for one reason or another-represented a part of LA’s diverse culture. It is for this reason that I drove to West LA to potentially rub elbows with celebrities at a crudely named Mexican restaurant (Pink Taco), donned a bow-tie to fit in with the wealthy 70-year-olds at a piano bar (Stoney Point) and tested the new frontiers of fast-food at a drive-thru vegan joint (Orean Health Food Express).
It is fitting, then, that my last column is a review of The York, a year-old restaurant and bar on York Avenue, only a few blocks away from campus. Like Pink Taco and Orean, The York aptly represents a defining characteristic of LA-in this case, the characteristic is gentrification. To put it bluntly, The York is the shining beacon of gentrification in otherwise working-class Highland Park.
If I sound like I am being overly cynical, keep in mind that a restaurant that proudly labels itself “Highland Park’s Neighborhood Gastropub” is pretty much asking for it. (“Gastropub” is the proper, if extremely pretentious, term for a pub that also has a menu of high-quality entrees.)
That is not to say that you should hate The York simply because of its “bourgeois” aspirations. On the contrary, there is a lot to like about the restaurant. Tucked awkwardly between a dental clinic and pet store on York Boulevard, the restaurant’s exterior is fairly anonymous, spiced up only by folding glass doors that open invitingly onto the sidewalk. Inside, the atmosphere is far more sleek and modern, with exposed brick walls, banquette seating and a horseshoe-shaped bar that dominates the center of the restaurant. Come on a Friday or Saturday night and the room is packed with every hip, artsy, 20-something in the Highland Park/Eagle Rock area.
While patrons do not have to be 21 or older to dine at The York, the restaurant has hardly deemphasized its “bar” aspect. You have to order all food at the bar (it is then delivered to your table), and both the beer list and the wine list are far more comprehensive than the food menu. That said, the restaurant does offer a variety of small plates, salads and sandwiches. Prices are generally in the $8-15 range, a bit costly for what is essentially high-end pub grub.
On my recent visit, the standout dish was definitely the “Cheddar Burger,” which is served with spicy aioli, lettuce, tomatoes and pickled onions. While I was initially miffed at paying $13 for a cheeseburger, its taste lived up to the price tag. The burger was perfectly cooked to a delectable juiciness and the pickled onions provided a unique and pleasing counterpoint to the creamy cheese and the crusty bun. My dining companions and I were equally impressed by the beet, walnut and goat cheese salad ($10). Beets and goat cheese are a somewhat standard culinary combination, but The York keeps their salad exciting by using impeccably fresh greens and both red and golden beets. Red and yellow cherry tomatoes and citrus fruit segments were another welcome touch.
Unfortunately, our other entrees could not match this high standard. I was excited to order the “Truffle Grilled Cheese with Tomato Salad,” ($8) which sounded as enticing as it was affordable. However, while the sandwich was undeniably tasty-highlighted by delicious bread and rich, creamy cheese-it contained disappointingly little truffle flavor and the accompanying tomato salad was quite small. The real disappointment was the Cuban pulled-pork and ham sandwich ($12). The inclusion of both pork and ham seemed like overkill and the sandwich really needed some vegetables or a strong, zingy spread to balance the heavy, salty meat and thick, crusty roll.
It is hard to come to a simple, snappy conclusion about The York. Does the restaurant mark a culinary breakthrough for Highland Park, an area better known for its assortment of mom-and-pop taquerias? Or is it just another overpriced “bar and grill” with a classier menu and hipper clientele? In the end, I am willing to give The York the benefit of the doubt. While I was impressed-if not blown away-by the food, the huge amount of positive press that the restaurant has received, coupled with its convenient location and its delicious cheeseburger, is enough to merit my recommendation.
Give it a try-if nothing else, you can always brag that you used to eat there before Highland Park was cool.
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