Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Counter

12117 Ventura Blvd
Studio City, CA 91604
(818) 980-0004

By Sandwich Koufax

Writing reviews about sandwiches is proving to be harder than I thought it would be. Spearheading the Los Angeles expansion of The Cleveland Sandwich Board seemed like it was going to be so easy. I eat sandwiches all the time (seriously, all the time). I’ve been quoted as saying that the meaning of life is “the pursuit of a better sandwich” and when Beau told me I’d be able to include Cheeseburgers in my missives to the Midwest it felt like the work was already done. All I had to do was sit down and let the descriptions flow and the greatest city in Ohio would begin to learn about the dining options available to a native San Diegan who has converted to the Los Angeles lifestyle. But then I sat down to write about the burger I ate from The Counter and I was stumped. Is my experience as a diner affected by my perspective as a critic? Can I just say that my burger arrived woefully undercooked or does it need to be directed through some sort of prism? These are the questions I wrestled with while writing my first review.

My burger at The Counter arrived woefully undercooked. I asked for it Medium Rare and received it Rare. Ordinarily I wouldn’t complain, but cooking things quickly seems like it might be a problem at this establishment as my colleague’s grilled cheese sandwich arrived with the cheese un-melted, which basically means he ordered a cheese sandwich. (Side note: my colleague is a “Food, Inc.” disciple and does not eat meat at restaurants. This is a craze currently sweeping Los Angeles; I’d be curious to know if it’s spreading).

The burger is a “hot item” in LA at the moment. It seems like there are two or three “must eat” burger joints that have sprung up recently and The Counter is at the top of a lot of people’s list. The Counter’s gimmick is that when you are seated you are given a checklist of everything you can order on your burger. You select your patty, your bun, your toppings, your sides and everything else you could imagine. All told the number of combinations is impressive. For the unimaginative you may also choose a burger that is pre-organized. As I understand it The Counter got its first big jolt when Oprah ate there (Note: this is a rumor I heard, I will not spend a moment verifying it).

Of the LA “hot burgers” (Note: I’m not quoting anybody) The Counter is my least favorite. Ignoring the aforementioned undercooking, I found the meat had very little flavor and the truth is that given so many options it is incredibly easy to go wrong. Sometimes the freedom of choice leads to you combining sun-dried tomato spread with pickles and croutons. I also found the checklist approach to ordering to be impersonal. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always enjoyed the feedback process while ordering. There is nothing more satisfying than a waitress saying something like, “good choice.” Who is going to take the time to scan a checklist and give someone feedback? Certainly not the waitresses at The Counter.

All that being said, I feel like perhaps the pressure of knowing I was going to be writing about the experience tainted the whole thing. I love cheeseburgers, but throughout my consumption of this particular cheeseburger I found myself planning what I would write about it. I can’t honestly say that my feelings about it weren’t affected by my new approach to burgers in general, which leaves me feeling like my reviews aren’t pure. Perhaps it would be best to eat somewhere and then have someone force a written review of it. We could enlist all of America as food critics much like we’ve enlisted them to Jury Duty. Upon exiting a restaurant there would be a chance, one in a ten million, that you would be randomly selected to critique your experience. We might get some differing opinions, but at least the reactions would be pure and untainted by knowing they must be shared upon completion of the meal.

The Counter on Urbanspoon


AS said...

This is interesting, because Ed and I often note that the CSB has made us much more attentive toward what we eat, and we think it's positive.

Also, Billionaire's Vinegar is making me want to drink more wine.



Joe said...

I imagine it'll eventually heighten my senses, but at first I found it distracting me at every turn. Can't wait until my next sandwich.