Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Counter

Even though I don't eat meatburgers, I still go to burger joints in search of a replacement for the beloved Cheesecake Factory Veggie Burger that is now discontinued.

This pencil is the most essential tool at The Counter.

Seeing Elmomonster's tantalizing photos of the burgers created at The Counter, my friend immediately decided that we had to try it. After investigating the menu posted on their website and discovering they have sweet potato fries, I couldn't stop thinking about The Counter for days.

Seeing Elmomonster's photos of The Counter's interior, I expected the dining area to be much larger than it actually is and I was disappointed to discover that the roll-up garage door is just a prop, unlike the ones at UCI's Pippin dining hall which actually open and let in fresh air.

There is an actual counter at The Counter, which also serves as the bar. In addition to bottled beers, they also have some on tap.

The Counter's website claims there are 312,120+ burger combinations you can create with their menu because you choose everything, from the meat of the patty and type of bread for the bun, to the sauce that comes on the side. When you are seated, you're given the above menu and a pencil to check-mark your choices. It can be overwhelming.

Devin loves french fries, I craved the sweet potato fries, and Eric had nothing against getting the onion strings, so our compromise was the 3x3, an item not on found the menu, but suggested by our server. These were amazing, all freshly fried, crisp, and bursting with flavor, especially the onion strings and the sweet potato fries. The onion strings were delicate and somehow had an exceptionally pronounced onion flavor.

Accompanying our 3x3 were three dipping sauces: sweet BBQ sauce, chipotle sauce, and ranch. The BBQ and chipotle sauces were very thick, liberally covering each dipped item, but when I dipped a french fry into the ranch sauce and brought it up to my lips, the watery ranch sauce dripped onto my black tank top.

You're not seeing double. Well, I guess you are because I requested that my veggie burger be cut in half since in my research before visiting The Counter, I sometimes found the burger's height to be a problem. This is my 1/3 lb. veggie patty with Tillamook cheddar, Bermuda red onions, mixed baby greens, sprouts, and tomatoes on honey wheat bread and with roasted garlic aioli on the side.

I was really excited about this burger because I asked our server if I needed to check mark a patty size and was told that their veggie patties come in all their available sizes (1/3 lb., 2/3 lb., 1 lb.). This was an indication that The Counter makes, mixes, and forms their own veggie patties instead of using the standard Boca patty or Gardenburger that many restaurants unfortunately believe are adequate "substitutes" for vegetarians.

I was hoping that this patty would be my answer to the now discontinued veggie burger from Cheesecake Factory (which was a delicious signature mix instead of Boca or Gardenburger), but I'm sad to say that it was not. The main component of this veggie patty was brown rice, and while I prefer brown rice over white, the high ratio of brown rice to the black beans, corn, red onion, red pepper, and herbs was bland and mushy. They essentially could have listed this "patty" as a thick vegetarian spread. The toppings that I chose for this burger rescued the taste and texture, especially the sprouts.

Devin's 2/3 lb. beef hamburger with Tillamook cheddar, Bermuda red onions, grilled onions, lettuce blend, tomatoes, and avocado on a white hamburger bun with mayonnaise on the side.

Eric's 2/3 lb. beef with Tillamook cheddar, Bermuda red onions, grilled onions, and roasted red peppers on a white hamburger bun with peppercorn steak sauce on the side. Eric ended up using the BBQ sauce that came with our 3x3 appetizer and deemed this combination better than using the steak sauce.

Both Devin and Eric commented that their burgers were extremely greasy, especially the buns. We were all expecting monstrous burgers, but these burgers were only large in height, and not even an unmanageable height. Devin and I were expecting more from The Counter, Devin more so because he hadn't eaten a beef burger in over a year. I am in love with the 3x3, but other than that, it will be a while until we return.

The Counter
6416 Irvine Boulevard
Irvine, CA 92620

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Five Layer Tortilla Pie

Devin is a selective eater, so when I make a dish, using ingredients he has previously expressed dislike for, and he ends up liking the dish, then I consider it a success. I then proceed to gloat and he consequently regrets telling me that he likes what I've cooked.

The All Recipes Seven Layer Tortilla Pie is one of my successes. I have gotten Devin to try, eat, and enjoy black beans. This recipe is quick, cheap, and if one doesn't go overboard on the cheese, it can be healthy. It is the perfect meal for college students (even though I no longer am one!) and it is delicious.

Essentially, prepare one bowl of mashed pinto beans (or refried beans to make the preparation even easier) and add salsa and crushed garlic, and then another bowl of black beans, fresh tomatoes, and salsa. Then, starting with a flour tortilla in a pie pan, layer the pinto bean mixture on top, add cheddar cheese, top with another tortilla, then substitute the pinto beans with the black bean mixture. Continue adding layers, alternating between the pinto beans and the black beans with cheddar atop each bean layer, until there are no beans left to add.

Unfortunately, I use tortillas larger than those the recipe calls for, so instead of a Seven Layer Tortilla Pie, I only have enough beans to spread over five layers.

This gets baked for 40 minutes at 400 degrees.

Although it's not called for in the recipe, I top each serving with an avocado slice and then plain, nonfat yogurt on mine and sour cream on Devin's. We've been having this recipe every week since I discovered it.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Cajun Kitchen Cafe

Remembering that my brother's girlfriend deemed the Cajun Kitchen Cafe "the best breakfast in town" on her Facebook profile, I wanted to be sure to make a stop there while we were in Santa Barbara for the weekend.

Although the restaurant looks deserted, this photo was taken after we had finished brunch. When we first arrived to the Cajun Kitchen Cafe, there was a mass of people waiting outside on the sidewalk, steps, and sitting on the retaining wall. We walked inside to write our name on the waiting list and then stepped outside with the hope of having brunch within the hour.

Appropriately, there was a small bathtub of Knott's Berry Farm jelly waiting for us at the table.

At every table was a shaker of Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning to transform any dish into Creole cuisine.

The reason I subscribe to a pescetarian diet is because of the heart disease that runs in my family and I think this is where I fail as a food blogger. I sometimes choose my health over taste and that is why I requested that my Cajun Veggie three egg omelet be made with only egg whites. This was a mistake on my part because even with the broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, mushrooms, and cheddar cheese, the omelet lacked the richness of egg yolks that make a succulent omelet. Additionally, the egg whites didn't incorporate the vegetables very well, so it was more of an egg whites scramble with vegetables than an omelet.

On the other hand, the hash browns that came with my omelet were fantastic. The golden brown exterior was crisp, while the interior potatoes were soft and creamy, almost like mashed potatoes.

This was the heavily buttered wheat toast that came with my omelet.

Devin had the St. Charles Breakfast Burrito which we were surprised to find out came with a small side salad of mixed greens. This burrito of sausage, cheddar cheese, eggs, and potatoes, all wrapped in a flour tortilla was on the small side. While Devin enjoyed it, he didn't think it was outstanding and especially not worth the forty-five minute wait.

The Cajun Kitchen Cafe
901 Chapala St.
Santa Barbara, CA 93101

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Andersen's

Bicycling through downtown Santa Barbara at night, Devin and I started to get hungry after browsing through several shops, visiting the beach, and sharing a conversation with a bum. Whizzing past the shops, I spotted a bakery and knew that if I didn't find dinner there, I could at least pick up a couple of after-dinner treats.

The Andersen's is a small Danish bakery and restaurant with seating both indoors and out. The outdoor seating was romantically lit by candles at each of the cafe tables. Once inside, I was given a sample of their fruit tart, with fresh strawberries, kiwi, and custard in a flaky crust. Unfortunately, I didn't think the fruit tart would survive the journey back to our hotel on our bicycles, so I chose (clockwise from left) a kringle, french waffle, almond macaroon, and chocolate oatmeal cookie. The chocolate oatmeal cookie was huge, about five inches in diameter, so you can imagine how big the kringle was.

I've never had a kringle and chose it because I was drawn to its size. It was crisp and flaky and had a light cinnamon flavor. It often broke when I picked it up, so I was a bit disappointed that so much of the kringle ended up as broken crumbled pieces.

I don't know how the french waffle endured both the handling of the young man who helped me at the bakery and the bicycle trip back to our hotel because as soon as I reached into the bag to draw out the french waffle, my thumb went straight through the pastry! The french waffle was incredibly delicate and filled with a sweet cream. I didn't realize it until halfway through eating it, but there was a thin line of raspberry jam atop the cream which gave it just a hint of raspberry flavor.

Devin's favorite was the almond macaroon because it was chewy. It had a chew reminiscent of taffy and had the aroma of almonds, but the almond flavor was overpowered by the dark chocolate.

The chocolate oatmeal cookie was large and crisp, but standard in flavor.

The next morning when we drove through downtown, I noticed that all the outdoor tables were filled with people having brunch. They have a wide variety of offerings from schnitzel and smorrebrod to curry and goulasch.

The Andersen's
1106 State St.
Santa Barbara, CA