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The Counter (burgers, Palo Alto)

As I've seen reported in earlier messages, the Counter -- Santa Monica's upscale burger joint -- has opened in Palo Alto. They opened yesterday, but today was the first day they served lunch, as it turned out, and I trekked over from my office in Mountain View.

What the Counter's claim to fame is--you may know this already--the choices. I had my burger with cheddar, grilled onion, roasted chile and baby greens, with garlic aioli on a honey wheat bun. Would you rather have a turkey burger with herb goat cheese, roasted red peppers, sprouts and ginger soy glaze on an English muffin? No problem. Carrot strings? Grilled pineapple? Horseradish cheddar? Whatever.

But that's literally dressing. I gotta say, I was curious but had a bit of trepidation from some of the love/hate messages in the LA area board, as well as a couple dismissive replies here. But I'm pretty firmly on the love side, at least with the burger I had today. Good quality beef, cooked medium, and really medium: pink on the inside, crusty on the outside, juicy enough the bun got a bit soggy (I forgive them). I saw some complaints here about the burger being small, but if that was small, these folks are used to bigger burgers than I am. (The menu claims their weights are measured _after_ cooking, not before; whether or not that's true, it certainly didn't seem like less than a third of a pound to me.) The fries were also pretty good--not rave-worthy, but well-cooked, well-salted, and not greasy. They're also pretty substantial--one order is enough for two people, I'd say.

I know one burger isn't enough of a data set to draw firm conclusions on, and as much as I liked the place I doubt I'll fulfill the server's cheerful "See you tomorrow!" when I left. But at the least, I'll certainly be back for more data points!

(Since burgers are pretty subjective, I've also tried Kirk's, Val's, Luka's Taproom, Jeffrey's in San Mateo, Clarke's, Mojo Burger, Quinn's Lighthouse, and the Girl and the Fig. Val's I liked the most, and Clarke's the least--Quinn's just about ties, but probably by virtue of being ridiculously big, served on great sourdough and smeared with garlic butter.)

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  1. Haven't heard of this. What happens if you order all 54 toppings? (Apparently, young people like to try these sorts of crazy challenges: http://jimmylin.imeem.com/blogentry/8...

    )

    What do you think about the Palo Alto Creamery? Last time I ordered they told me it's Niman Ranch beef so I could have it medium rare without fear. (I'm usually a grilled chicken sandwich guy, so I won't try to offer any comparative assessment.)

    4 Replies
    1. re: Jefferson

      I've had Peninsula creamery and the Counter and I like the Counter better. The meat seems like it is better seasoned and the burger is also juicier. The Counter's best claim is that you can put whatever you want on it whereas Peninsula is pretty standard (with or without cheese). The buns at the Counter are vastly superior to Peninsula Creamery.

      I went to The Counter on Tuesday night and it was quite well packed for opening week (2nd day of opening)

      1. re: peachblossom

        > Peninsula is pretty standard (with or without cheese).

        Palo Alto Creamery at the corner of Emerson & Hamilton? They do a bit more than that, like mushroom/swiss; bacon/avocado; Dom Perignon combo. But I agree the meat is lean, less juicy than what you would make yourself at home.

        1. re: Jefferson

          You're correct. My mistake. Peninsula Creamery does offer the other options but I think of them all as standard since there are lots of other burger places (even Chilis) which allow for the mushroom/swiss combo, etc. The Counter is unique in that the combos can be as atrocious/delicious as you desire

      2. re: Jefferson

        Went to Peninsula once. It was abominable, had a bone dry french dip and fries that were hard as in undercooked in the middle. It seems like the once fry their fries (instead of the twice trick to get the insides fluffy and the outsides crispy).

      3. Where is the Counter in Palo Alto?

        5 Replies
          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Thanks! I'm in Palo Alto week-days for a while and will try it soon.

            1. re: Mick Ruthven

              Mick, since you're in the neighborhood, you might want to check out BBQ Man on Willow Rd. in Menlo Park which took over Tara's space. It's been open a couple months. I haven't tried it yet, but my brother says that it can be good but the quality varies widely. Sounds like it has potential if you catch 'em on a good day.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Thanks for that. I've heen pretty heavy on the meat this week so I'll probably get there some time next week.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  I've tried BBQ Man, I haven't posted because they are really nice, but it isn't great. I think the meat might be well cooked but it isn't that flavorful and it gets served in a lake of sauce. I need to go back and get sauce on the side. I'm not a BBQ snob (this doesn't mean I'm not experienced, it means that I realize there are a lot of traditions, and they are different everywhere). The BBQ man seems like a guy who just wanted to have a BBQ place- it is worth a try, just get the sauce on the side. He takes store bought sauce and kicks it up (from a review on the web- local paper I think). I had the brisket, ribs, chicken combo. The chicken had a deeply smoky flavor but was a little dry. The ribs were meaty, pretty decently trimmed spareribs that didn't have too strong a flavor, but were really tender, which made me suspect par-boiling, but maybe not. They still had the membrane on the back (I don't mind that, I know that aficianados would poohpooh such a thing). Brisket was well cooked but tender, served sliced. Not super smoky, but it was "OK." What I mean by that is I really like brisket, so I like eating it even if it is just OK. I cook a much better brisket myself, but I'm not gonna say anything there is inedible.

                  This report is more a prediction that some people on this board might be disapointed if they make special trip. Service was nice and friendly.

          2. I had lunch (takeout) at the Counter in Palo Alto today and it was a very good and large burger, larger than any 1/3 lb burger I've had. I also had their mixed-greens salad, which included tomatoes and red onions, pretty good and $2.95 I think. Not much to add except I'll go back when it's time for another burger (not too often...).

            1. I give it a decent "thumbs up" for now. Had a fairly standard burger with only bermuda red onion for the "meat test". Burger was very good ... I would rate it equal or slightly better than the old Kirk's on CA Ave and better than anything I've had on the Peninsula lately. 1/3 lb (after cooking), cooked perfectly Med Rare per my request, good bun with, it seems, some butter? on it before it hit the grill. The onion was sweet & very fresh. Had the fries/onion strings combo. Fries ok -- I've had better ( I think even In & Out's are better); they were cooked too crisply for my taste and lost some of the potato flavor. Onion strings I don't get; in most restaurants these taste like somebody opened a can of onion strings and threw them in the toaster oven for a few minutes. These were no exception. This seems like the kind of place that should make killer, homemade onion rings, but they don't.
              Service was fine but they are clearly working some kinks out (open only 4 days). It is not clear what to do when you enter the restaurant -- , no signs like "order here", etc, no obvious hostess stand by the door. The people who brought the food didn't seem to be able to match the tables with the orders, and my table had no salt/pepper. I was at one of the outdoor tables, so maybe the problems were specific to that area. I like the "fill out your own form" approach to ordering, but they should also put a checkbox on the form re how you want your burger cooked ... in fact, I don't understand why the self-order form only includes the "build your own burger" stuff ... why not order fries, drinks, etc the same way? It should reduce the kitchen errors. My burger, 50/50, and drink was over $13 ... I don't know what the going burger rate is these days, but that seems high to me.
              All in all ... very good burger, worth another try.

              1 Reply
              1. re: doc

                I really love onion strings with burgers, it is hard to explain. It is one of the positives about going to Kirk's (getting strings AND potato wedges)

              2. If you are looking for a deliciously juicy burger and large battered onion rings try Main Street Burger in Los Gatos. The meat is from Harris Ranch and is hormone and antibiotic free.