I wear glasses, but don't let that fool you. I can be pretty stupid sometimes. For example, I hadn't set out to review The Griffin, but I discovered that the restaurant I had intended to review had closed for the day by the time I arrived. Oops. Thankfully, Atwater Village has its share of restaurants and The Griffin looked promising.
Once your eyes adjust to the darkness inside, you'll note that the decor feels like a 1970s American approximation of what an English public house might look like. Lots of brick, a few arches and some quaint British vernacular paintings. It's as though they decorated it 40 years ago and decided that this was going to be good enough for the rest of time eternal. You also have a very alternative playlist going on in the background; this is a hip place after all. The tables are dark, but the pair of firepits add just enough lumens to make reading the menu possible, and offer just enough warmth to make you wonder if they could roast a marshmallow.
But then we get to the service. The waitstaff is physically present, but not too much beyond that. My friend and I had been sitting for almost 45 minutes before we came to the conclusion that the only way to get food was to order it at the bar. This was not explained to us, and the bar was not busy enough that somebody could not have ventured out onto the restaurant floor and taken our order. Then again, a 45 minute wait isn't going to make the staff entirely to blame; my friend concluded that “after a certain point, it becomes your fault”
The special of the day was an open faced sandwich of tri-tip, arugula, blackberries, roast poblano pepper and pecorino, served on crostini: not exactly typical pub fare. Was this beyond their reach? A step too far, too fancy? Not really. The sandwich elements worked well together, and in a way where you have to take a step back and admire the thought process that came up with that combination. I wasn't wowed by the way the tri-tip was slightly overcooked, and that's the only negative I can come up with.
The slider trio is hamburger, lamb, and pork and it looked like a great way to put the kitchen to the test. Even in the low light, the cheese on the hamburger slider looked questionable, so my hopes were not high. The first bite proved otherwise. It was a good burger, fatty and juicy but beyond those not an incredibly flavorful patty. It was good, but not incredibly unique in its goodness. The best way to summarize it is that it's three stars out of four.
I don't often eat lamb and I know a lot of other people share that habit, but if there is a moment of divine presence that happened during this meal, it was that lamb slider. America, this is what lamb tastes like and it is what we must eat more of right away. One bite and I immediately recalled the best lamb dishes I've had – all this is from a humble slider. The challenge is that lamb is not a very fatty meat, but the toppings were chosen to counteract this. All in all, it's a palm-sized sandwich packed with flavor.
My enjoyment of the burger, and then awe of the lamb left me with great expectations for slider number three, and the pulled pork just couldn't live up to the benchmark. Dry pork lacking in barbequed flavor was slathered in an inadequate amount of sauce that didn't complement the bits of goats cheese coleslaw added for texture. It was like eating the sad trombone sound they play when you don't win on The Price is Right.
On happier news, the chicken fried steak checked off almost all the right boxes. The mashed potatoes were velvety smooth, and when they mix with the cream gravy and a bite of the steak, the taste is worth the cholesterol. Only two boxes don't get full checks. Personally, I wanted a little more crunch in the breading because I'm a fan of the least heart healthy parts of traditional foods. Also, my first bite must have been from a thinner part of the steak. I was already brainstorming how I'd phrase how chewy the steak was. Then bite two came and I was forced to throw out all that line of thought. I recommend it wholeheartedly because The Griffin is close to my favorite place to buy running shoes. Problem solved.
During the 45 minute long period before we had the idea to go to the bar to get food, I began to hate The Griffin. I wanted the food to be terrible so I could justifiably write a bad review about all the myriad flaws. Then the food came and made it worth the wait. A wait that didn't need to happen. A wait that existed only because I'm an idiot sometimes. And I know that you, dear reader, are not an idiot. If you're in Atwater Village and need a good place for dinner and drinks, The Griffin is a smart choice.