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Sep 17, 2011 09:12 PM

Malarkey says burgers at The Counter are better than Burlap

Ok, so I'm totally spinning what he said for sensationalist headlines, but read on and find out.

(The following is taken from my blog. A lot of it is not going to make sense but I'm including it to comply with Chowhound rules. For the part stated in the title, scroll down to the bottom where it says "The Abnormal Bit". Note to moderators, the poster is not in any way affiliated with the restaurant. The restaurant did not know the poster was coming to the restaurant ahead of time. At no point prior to finishing the meal did it become known the poster was a blogger. It perhaps could have been inferred by the restaurant staff as the poster carried a dslr camera, but the restaurant did not ask the poster. Had the restaurant asked the poster prior to the meal being finished, the poster would have lied and said that he was not a blogger)

I'm going to digress off the normal format of a review for this restaurant because the experience at Burlap was abnormal. I visited Burlap because with it being walking distance from my place, I figured I would be asked about it and have to have an opinion about it. Furthermore, with Chef Malarkey showcasing his burger on the Today Show, I figured it would be an easy way to kill two birds with one stone and add a stop to the burger shootout series.

Since I'm writing about Burlap's burger now, clearly it will not be a part of that burger shootout. Since I only ordered the burger though, I'll go ahead and give a review of what would have been included, as the eating of the food went normally.

Note: I'll state it now and again when I get to the restaurant burgers but all of these burgers are really good. If you're going to go wrong at these places, I'll let you know. With that said, it is my job to be the nitpicker and split hairs to determine which of these restaurant burgers is the best, so I've really increased the level of criticism for these burgers.

Burlap calls their burger the beefburger and it contains gruyere cheese, butter lettuce, tomato, red onion, grilled onions, and "baconnaise". According to the Today Show, the baconnaise is mayonnaise that is made in house out of bacon fat. For an extra $3, I was able to add a side of sweet potato fries.

sweet potato fries with ginger aioli
The sweet potato fries seemed to be the standard throw away frozen sweet potato fries you see everywhere, but I was actually pretty impressed when these initially came out. They weren't overcooked, were crunchy, and I really enjoyed the ginger dipping sauce. There was also some fried parsley flakes thrown on top to enhance the fries a bit.

I ordered the burger medium rare, but what I got was on the far side of medium. Fortunately, this mistake did not detract too much from the enjoyment of the dish as the burger was still juicy. What was different about this burger was that the burger had a nice sear on the outside the resembled more of the cast iron skillet cooking method rather than the grill. The outer meat formed a nice carmelized crust, which trapped the juices of the burger in the patty. Where I did have an issue was that the beef was allegedly grass fed but turned out to be Brandt chuck. As soon as I took a bite, I knew it wasn't grass fed so I asked the server to confirm the sourcing with the kitchen (and it was confirmed).

I've never been a fan of raw onions on burgers, and I was very skeptical of this burger when I saw it included both raw and grilled onions. However, I didn't end up minding the raw onions as they added some textural contrast to the burger that was otherwise sorely missing it. This brings up the point of the baconnaise. The baconaisse did deliver in that it tasted like bacon and acted as mayo to the burger. However by not actually including bacon, the burger was missing what otherwise would have been a nice crunch for textural contrast.

The bun did not appear to be house made and it wasn't "pretty" in terms of how fluffy it looked, but it was the correct density in terms of not drowning out the flavor of the burger. It was also toasted, which always increases the enjoyability of the bread. It was a standard white bread bun.

Taste: 70.625

Overall: 80
Patty: 50
Bun: 50
Other: 80
Temperature: 65
Value: 85
$12 for the burger and salad, $3 for the fries

Creativitiy: 35
The baconnaise was creative, but I wasn't a big fan of it. The only other aspect of creativity was the inclusion of both grilled and raw onions, which isn't that creative.

Miscellaneous: 76.67
Sides: 60 - I did enjoy the fries, but the soy-ponzu dressing for the salad was overpowering. Asian flavors are clean and refined not raw and overbearing
Plating: 90
Service: 80 - The server was helpful and willing to go ask questions about the food he was unaware of. Food arrived in a timely manner
Overall: 68.1

The Abnormal Bit:
As I was finishing up the food, Chef Malarkey walked into the restaurant (he doesn't actually cook there). He noticed that I was taking photos and I guess he wanted to know why I was there taking the photos. Along with (what I assume) was his head chef and the general manager, he struck up a conversation with me that went the following way (paraphrased to the best of my memory).

Malarkey: Who are you shooting for?
Me: Myself - I'm a blogger.
Malarkey: Oh really? That's nice
Me: Yes, I'm doing a series on gourmet fine dining burgers.
Malarkey: What did you think of the food, are you going to write about it?
Me (deciding if I should tell the truth - why not?): I enjoyed that you got a nice sear on the patty as nobody else did that, but I ordered medium rare and got medium
Malarkey (interrupting): Uh-oh, you're one of those tough ones
Me (continuing): And your patty isn't really grass fed as it's Brandt. At a fine establishment such as this, I'd much rather pay the extra $2 for the real grass fed. You can really taste that last year of the cattle being corn fed.
Malarkey: Well The Counter is right across the parking lot, why don't you go walk over there?
Me: Actually The Counter uses commodity beef...
Malarkey (walking away): Yeesh! Well the world needs more bloggers...

Needless to say, I won't be returning to Burlap anytime soon. It's one thing to be disappointed by the food or the service (which I wasn't in this case), it's an entirely different thing to pay money to the restaurant and leave insulted. I probably should have asked for a refund since the General Manager listened to the entire conversation...

Following the conversation, it was pointed out to be that sourcing of ingredients is a sore point for Malarkey. It looks like Malarkey doesn't believe there are actually chefs that forage for food, shop themselves, and use local and sustainable product. Instead he has someone on his team order product from a farm and then calls his food farm to table. I guess if I had known I would have asked to speak to Tim Mavrakos...

Link with photos and better formatting:

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  1. Hey great write up! the real question is was he wearing a Fancy Hat during the conversation? The answer tells you who you are dealing with.

    1 Reply
    1. re: MrKrispy

      No, he was displaying his highlights very proudly, but he was definitely dressed as if he was ready to be filmed on TV.

    2. Also, did Malarkey ask you if you wanted to step out onto the Muslin Terrace?

      1. I think you created your own problem. You had a chance to ask Mr. Malarkey some questions and instead your chose to be snarky..

        31 Replies
        1. re: scottca075

          I don't think that this "discussion" was handled well from both sides and Malarkey showed some humor without being insulting

          1. re: scottca075

            Yes, I did create the problem myself and I did choose to represent it that way in the blog (I did diverge in the headline for this post, but hey it was juicy)

            What is abundantly clear to me is that there are two Malarkeys:
            1) The TV personality that is nice to the general public - this is the one I would have liked to talk to
            2) The Culinary Industry personality that wears 5 suits of armor, night vision and infrared goggles, and carries a minigun, bazooka, and portable howitzer.

            As soon as I said I was a blogger, he shifted from personality 1 to personality 2 and I probably wouldn't have appreciated anything he had to say anyway.

            1. re: karaethon

              How would you react if somebody you have never seen before comes to your work and starts a discussion with you and directly critizies your work as not good. I am not sure what kind of reaction you would expect from him after you decided to go in that direction with the discussion.

              1. re: honkman

                Sorry, I disagree.

                I have a huge problem with restaurants that advertise grass-fed beef on their menus, but instead serve grain-fed beef on the plate. It's a deceptive practice, and shows a) that people only say they serve it because they view it as a meaningless marketing term, and b) they don't respect their customers enough to be honest with them.

                If they were indeed advertising grass-fed, but not serving it, then I'd probably have called Malarkey on it, too. It would be good to know what the menu actually said.

                1. re: Josh

                  Is the burger advertized as grass-fed ? I am not saying that they don't do it but I can't find the burger on their online menu. I thought karaethon was diappointed about the discussion in general with Malarkey but I wasn't aware that the probem was the wrong advertisment of grass vs. grain-fed.

                  1. re: honkman

                    it's on their lunch menu only - don't have a photo of the menu as I was definitely hiding to the best of my ability.

                    If the chef "catches" you taking a photo and you've already settled the bill, I don't think there's any expectation for them to treat you any differently at that point. I think he thought I was taking a photo for one of the newspapers or magazine publications...

                    1. re: karaethon

                      " I think he thought I was taking a photo for one of the newspapers or magazine publications..." - I doubt that very much. Newspapers/Magazines have special photosessions with restaurants. Today so many people take photos in restaurants that chefs see it as something usual (but not always like it, e.g. Batali etc.) and so it is also very easy to not mention that you are blogger even if the chefs sees you taking pictures.

                      And do they advertize it as grass-fed on their lunch menu ?

                      1. re: honkman

                        Seems like this is going nowhere, but my remark on "don't have a photo of the menu" was my way of saying I don't remember exactly what it says.

                        Regardless, all of Malarkey's restaurants have a reputation for being farm to table as his own slogan is "farm to table, table to mouth". Farm to table doesn't necessarily indicate grass fed beef, but usually that is a general expectation.

                        For me, it's still not whether they advertise grass fed or not as the issue, I just have issue with what they would say to a paying customer. If you think that's perfectly fine for someone to say to you, we can respectfully disagree.

                        1. re: karaethon

                          "Farm to table doesn't necessarily indicate grass fed beef, but usually that is a general expectation" - Other farm-to-table restaurants like Starlite (even Linkery in the very early days) also use Brandt Beef. I think the minority of farm-to-table restaurants actually serve pure grass-fed beef.

                          1. re: karaethon

                            >>>Farm to table doesn't necessarily indicate grass fed beef, but usually that is a general expectation.<<<

                            No, "farm to table" implies using locally produced products and having a personal relationship with your supplier. It doesn't mean or imply grass fed beef or even that the produce is necessarily organic. It is more about freshness, knowing your producers and not getting the ingredients shipped in from far away.

                            1. re: scottca075

                              FWIW, as someone who has worked within the label for quite a while, I'd like to second scottca075's interpretation of "farm-to-table." I'd go further and say that specifically, it means (or should mean) also that the ingredients don't get mixed, matched, aggregated, consolidated or processed by a distributor, between leaving the farm and reaching the restaurant. i.e., farm-directly-to-kitchen.

                              This method of working is very compatible with farms who grow the best food (including, IMO, raising ruminants on pasture instead of grain), but it is not a guarantee of that, or of what kind of ingredients the restaurant is serving. For that, you have to ask questions, look up the farm names listed on the menu, etc. And, of course, pay attention to your palate, as the OP did.

                              Also FWIW (not much), I can't recall ever seeing Searsucker or Burlap call itself farm-to-table. But I've heard that Searsucker sources produce from local farms, and I know the lead chef (under Malarkey) at Searsucker is passionate about sourcing good ingredients (I worked with him for a couple years).

                              Meanwhile, I do see other places that overtly lie on their menus about serving grass-fed beef, local produce, etc. Which is a shame.

                              611 5th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101

                              1. re: jayporter

                                >>>Also FWIW (not much), I can't recall ever seeing Searsucker or Burlap call itself farm-to-table.<<<
                                I've included a photo from Searsucker's menu that proves otherwise.

                                1. re: karaethon

                                  That little profile pic is, well, the marketing machine in motion.
                                  Looks like a little logo from a detective thriller.

                                  1. re: Tripeler

                                    I don't see why they are not Farm to Table as we don't know the details of the sourcing of their produce etc.

                                  2. re: karaethon

                                    Farm to table does not mean grassfed. It means it came from a farm, to your table. Kind of like how my kid's drinks all say "natural flavorings". Tells you almost nothing.

                        2. re: honkman

                          I don't know, I'm going based off of karaethon's comment. It sounds like they told him it was grass-fed and it wasn't. I, too, don't see any discussion of sourcing on the menu.

                      2. re: honkman

                        I actually have met him before, but I'm sure he didn't remember me. It was a similar chance meeting at Searsucker...

                        For how I would react:
                        1) If I was me: I would be defensive, but I would consider that the other person could have a point and try to convince them to my side
                        2) If I was him - I would be defensive, I would think the guy is some random person who doesn't know anything, but I would realize that as somewhat of a public figure, I can't say anything bad because it will get put into media, so I would either brush off the comment or (if I was really angry) just walk away without saying anything.

                        1. re: karaethon

                          Perhaps he is this kind of person who likes to have the last word and to be honest from your writing I can't really see that he said something insulting. (In addition, I personally would always try to avoid mentioning that I am a food blogger at the first visit because it easily comes over that one expect better/special treatment.) I actually found his comment about The Counter a funny and not a bad comment from him and one of the better ways to finish the discussion

                          1. re: karaethon

                            So bottom line it, was the burger worth $15. which includes a $3, hit for SPF's.

                            1. re: cstr

                              not really, even if it was grass fed - wouldn't have been the difference maker

                            2. re: karaethon

                              Off the food sourcing debate, I find it interesting that when you told him your burger was cooked medium (as opposed to how you had ordered it) he said, "Oh, you're one of those tough ones."

                              I can think of a number of better responses that might come out an owner's mouth when an issue like that is brought to their attention.

                              1. re: Stiflers_Mom

                                exactly, that is the point. His demeanor lacked any professionalism or service orientation. Eventually his service/staff will degrade to his demeanor...

                                1. re: rffirefly

                                  This came after he mentioned he was a blogger - which as honkman points out is saying "I'm expecting special treatment". I agree with honkman that neither person handled this well, although in an owner's case it's his responsibility to handle it well regardless.

                                2. re: Stiflers_Mom

                                  This is not about this particular case but I have seen so often that people eat their meal and once they are finished completely complain to the server/chef that something was not good. I can understand if restaurants don't react on it than - either somebody is unhappy about a dish than complain before you eat or you eat it but than don't complain afterwards because a customer is not ways right.

                                  1. re: honkman

                                    hmm, well I have friends and acquaintances that own restaurants, and I assure you, that all of them that I know want to know about eater's experience. Their one complaint to me was that they wanted to know a problem because then they could correct it. Too many people would just tell them to their face that everything was ok, and then badmouth the place thereafter. It drove them nuts, as they had no way to respond to that. And the fact that you finish a meal and then complain is a little over the top. If I'm hungry, I'll eat the darn thing. I may complain as soon as I get a reasonable chance to do so. Sometimes I'll eat something that isn't 100% (maybe 75%) and then say something about it later. Why the heck should I ruin my meal and everybody else that is having dinner around me? You see, a dinner is not only about the meal, but the service, the ambiance and the people you are with. Why ruin it if you can deal with it at the moment. You have to use common sense in these cases. You can't just make a rule and say that's it.

                                    So in my observation of the event unfolding, the chef/owner should have been much more service oriented. But, it is his place and he can do what he wants. Of course, all potential customers can also do what they want. In the end, he is just another high priced burger place. IMHO, an owner's attitude permeates the environment.

                                    1. re: rffirefly

                                      That's a discussion you have on many foodboards - what is good service and you will never get an agreement. I think it is a responsibility of the restaurant and the customer to create an athmosphere/environment for good service and not only of the restaurant. Over the years we get know many servers, chefs and owners of restaurants in SD and LA and all agree with you thst they want to know if something doesn't work. If it is service related you can complain anytime but wr have heard now so often that it doesn't really help if you complain about food after you have eaten it - than it couldn't be so bad and you would be surprised how many people are trying to get something comped by complaining after they have eaten something they actually liked. Complains are always a difficult situation for the restaurant and the customer as there is no "best" way as you can see in this discussion where people have already very different opinions.

                            3. re: karaethon

                              It sounds like you basically accused him and his restaurant of trying to mislead the public and acting borderline fraudulently by claiming they advertise grass-fed beef and not providing it. As someone who has actively thrust himself into the public consciousness, he should take criticism politely but I am not surprised that he got upset by those comments.

                              1. re: JRSD

                                It would be good to know what the menu does and does not say. If it doesn't specifically say grass-fed beef, then it doesn't seem there's much justification for being upset.

                                1. re: Josh

                                  There is definitely not enough information to tell whether the criticism was accurate.

                              2. re: karaethon

                                Yeah, it's a provocative conversation but I don't see that it was meant to be insulting. That's not to say your comments weren't fair.

                                I know nothing about Malarky except I keep hearing about him on chowhound. So I know the third Malarky - some boogeyman who happens to run a restaurant in my neighborhood. Thanks chowhound! =)

                              3. re: scottca075

                                That was my reaction too. Save the "it was medium instead of medium rare" bit for the blog and spend your 30 seconds with the chef asking questions you think the readers of your blog would like to hear the answers to. I figure anyone can write an opinion and while opinion writing is important in food blogs digging up new and useful information which no one else has is what makes a blog great. That's how you bring something unique, new, and good to the table.

                                1. re: Fake Name

                                  So much for this thread - I was really looking forward to Fakey's take. Sigh...

                                  1. re: RB Hound

                                    I know- how WILL you get by? But you can mosey on over to the Not About Food section where there's a lively and educational discussion about Nonspecificelectronicdevicemenus. Bloviated and Bombastic are my middle names.

                                    1. re: Fake Name

                                      The fact that you started this post with a snarky, exaggerated title as you did give us some insight into how the conversation with Malarkey went down. Just because Malarkey has made himself a public figure of sorts, doesn't mean people can say what ever they would like to him, how ever they like and he is to just smile. He could have even had a bad or off day. (btw, I am in no way associated with or know Malarkey and have not yet even eaten at one of his restaurants, nor was I a fan of his on Top Chef).

                                      "It's one thing to be disappointed by the food or the service (which I wasn't in this case), it's an entirely different thing to pay money to the restaurant and leave insulted. I probably should have asked for a refund since the General Manager listened to the entire conversation..." You paid money for your meal, received and liked your meal, so why should you have asked for a refund? Your conversation with Malarky occurred because you were NOT a regular customer but were in fact a blogger and were taking photos. He didn't just walk up to you and start insulting you. In fact, like others stated, I don't see that his comments were insulting at all but rather responses to your approach.

                                      1. re: sdnosh

                                        Umm...Fakey was not the original poster. The quote to which you attribute him is, alas, not his

                                          1. re: DiningDiva

                                            It was my error in attaching my post to Fake Name, however, I am clearly referring to the original poster for both the snarky title and the quote.

                                          2. re: sdnosh

                                            I did exaggerate on the title and I did point that out myself as the very first thing in the original post. If that is controversial so be it.

                                            >>>Just because Malarkey has made himself a public figure of sorts, doesn't mean people can say what ever they would like to him, how ever they like and he is to just smile.<<<

                                            I disagree with your statement (and probably not for the reason you think). It has nothing to do with the fact that he is a public figure, but simply that he is a chef. As long as chefs are chefs, they are in a service industry and should concentrate on ensuring their guests have a good experience.

                                            While I might have had the wrong approach in discussing the issues I had with the food, he might have also had the wrong approach in his reactions. It has been mentioned that he might have been trying to be sarcastic to the comments to approach it with humor, but how do you know the customer will get the sarcasm when the line in this scenario is so thin for the various interpretations.

                                            And while we're dissecting my 948 words against his roughly 50 to find the portion you want to spin, let's examine his parting words of roughly "well the world needs more bloggers."

                                            <sarcasm>Clearly this portion of the conversation indicates that he was thrilled with how the conversation went as he knew I would write a glowing review for him. He had no problems with our interaction and thought that I loved his joke poking fun at all the plebs that would have the honor and privilege of eating his spectacular three star michelin food. He was so jubilant that he actually wanted me to help him convert all his customers to bloggers so they could pay homage to the temple of baconnaise and blog about how they frolicked in the pools of porcine pleasure. Oh the ecstasy!</sarcasm>

                                            1. re: karaethon

                                              The thing many here are missing is that you can't please everyone. Many people don't care if a patty is brandt vs grass fed. They make their decision based on what they think the majority of the customers will like, not a handful and if it can make them more money in the process, more power to them. Hence, his response to go to the counter if that's what you like. Maybe it's not the best way to get his point across. I understand why he was being defensive though, opinions are like a*******, everyone has one and they all stink. In this age, you can substitute out food blogs for opinions in the last sentence.

                                              1. re: karaethon

                                                "I disagree with your statement (and probably not for the reason you think). It has nothing to do with the fact that he is a public figure, but simply that he is a chef. As long as chefs are chefs, they are in a service industry and should concentrate on ensuring their guests have a good experience."

                                                O.K., replace the word 'chef' or for that matter, 'person' for the words 'public figure'.

                                                You keep forgetting that this entire conversation occurred because you are a blogger and ate at this restaurant for the explicit purpose of reviewing it for your blog. You dd NOT go to this restaurant as a regular guest. You chose not to tell the restaurant you were a blogger at the beginning of the meal and made a point of mentioning that in your review. One would assume this is so that you would not be treated differently than a regular guest. You seem to not recognize that once it was revealed that you were writing a review for your blog (and approached it the way you did), you were treated differently. I would guess (and yest it is just a guess) that if a regular guest had made the same comments you did and even in the same way, the response would have been much different.

                                                1. re: sdnosh

                                                  That is a fair point. However, going down that line of reasoning, they (the restaurant) would then have to know that whatever they said was likely to be placed in the media. Do you further support that the statements Malarkey made came out as intended and reflect the restaurant the way he wants it to be perceived?

                                      2. When you're a Marketeer Chef (the personal glory and money mean more than the food and the establishment) you know how to design food, hype yourself, spend a bunch on restaurants. What you don't always know is how to act like a Professional Chef, which is one of two things. 1. The customer is always right, and the chef is at his/her service 2. Or the customer is lucky to eat at the chef's place, and the chef doesn't give a damn what anyone says. He cares only for the reputation of his food.

                                        I wasn't there, but from K's description I can imagine it only too well. I haven't read anything about Malarkey's food that would make me want to spend money at his restaurants. But then I'm an old crank.